What are Negro Sprituals

Sprituals are essentially folksongs that have a religious significance, they are not to be bonfused with work songs which were sung specifically for the purpose of work. Spirituals grew up out of  the slavery  of  Africans in the Southern states of America. It must be noted that even as we have seen slaves came from many parts of West Africa,the West indies and South America. The phenomenon of Negro Sprituals only comes from the United States. Most Sprituals mainly came from the latter half of the eihtenthe century up to the abolishment of slavery in 1861. As an Art form in itself Negro Sprituals are one of the largest forms of American folksongs. In addition to Negro Sprituals there are actually some white sprituals and these also require further research but not in the scope of this dissertation.

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Where does the Term “Spritual” come from.

Sprituals are religious folksongs based upon the bible. The King James Bible was first printed in 1611 and that would have been the bible that would have been used at the time.The term spiritual comes from the translation of Ephesians 5:19: “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”  The slaves had informal meetings  in what were callerd praise houses inside. Outside these meetings were refewred to by many names “brush arbor meetings” “bush meetings” or as “camp meetings” essentially these were the same thing. In these meeting the, slaves would sing, and dance . The “ring shout” was a circular  shuffling dnce with shouting and handclapping this was anearlier form of entertainment and can also trace its roots back to West African origins. As we have seen in earlier on, music played a vital and pivotal role to life in the West African countries that the slaves had aoriginated from.  In every facet of their life music was used by the Africans whilst in their hom,elamd. Once the slaves reached the United Syates the practice of their music and rituals was not looked upon facourably, it was considered to be savage and aaginsts the tenets of Christianity. This had the effect that the gatherings were banned and so they began to take plkace in secret.

 

Christianity

During the seventeenth century the Africans had been intrioduced to Christianity. Of course the conversion to Chriatianity was very slow, however becasuse many of the biblical stories seemed to parralell the lives of the slaves, they began to vreate these spriyual songs. In the songs they told and retold the stories of the bible figures. This served to in crease this new form of African Christianity and began to spread amongst the slaves with the help of the sprituals. These sprituals were now used as a way for the slaves to epress many things faith, hope  joy and sorrow. All of these things can be heard in Sprituals.

Musical Style

The style of spiritual singing is ususally in a call and response style. Mostly there is a lead singer who may or may  improvise the line of text and then a chirus  joining in with a solid non improvised refrain. Within the standard vocalized response though there was room for more  colour of the lines , perhaps what we might term “Spritual Colaatura”. This made it very difficult for early publishers of sprituals to document accurately what was being sung. A parrlell for this is of course in the early 20th century when composers such as Percy Grainger tried to accurately represent folk songs from England.  The Spirituals themselves come in many form.  Sorrow songs are typically slow and despondent but also come with a great fervor.  In some of these types of  sprituals they use the suffering of Christ as a way to demonstrate their own suffering. There are also spirtuals that are more joyful in nature and  har back to their West African ancestry with the use of fast tempi and syncopated rhtyms. These faster type of spirituals are known as Jubilee’s or camp meeting songs. SCT was knew of the Fisk Jubilee Singers (Biog needed)

The fisk Jubilee singers, were a collection of former slaves  who were at Fisk Universitry in Nashville. They began singing collections of spirtuals as a way to finance the university and beagn to tour all over the united States, garnering interest from hoeme and abroad. They were very siuccesfukl and it is through these international tours that SCT first encountered the Spriyual medium. This was a time of great growth in the art form with many composers now composing them and making  piano arrangemnets of them. Also publishers were beginning to publish them and so it was no great surprise when the Ditson Company apprioached SCT as the 24 Negro melodies were in a book that they already publishded.

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