Spirituals

My composition, "One Language is Never Enough" contains a passage inspired by traditional African-American spirituals.

History

Spirituals, also known as jubilees or work songs, were based on material from the Bible and primarily used call and response where individuals made up new verses and were answered by the entire group who sang the chorus.[1] Originally, they were sung by African American slaves in the United States during work, were a cappella, and were considered sorrow songs that were calls to God for rescue from slavery.[2] Popular spirituals include “Steal Away” and “Wade in the Water.”[3] After the Civil War, when freed slaves were able to form their own churches, they incorporated spirituals into worship services.[4]

Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, was founded six months after the end of the American civil war.[5] At first, it struggled financially so it formed the Jubilee Singers that it sent on tour in order to raise funds for the university.[6] The use of spirituals in art song forms intended for performance in concert halls by choirs such as the Jubilee Singers lead to spirituals receiving greater historical recognition.[7]

Modern arrangements of spirituals

Contemporary choirs perform complex choral arrangements of spirituals.[8] An interesting example of a contemporary performance of a spiritual is the recording of “Ezekiel Saw the Wheel” arranged by William Dawson made by Morgan State University choir under the direction of Dr. Nathan Carter.[9] This type of arrangement can be described as an art song or concertized spiritual.[10] This arrangement used word painting to imitate the motion of a wheel by repeating short phrases around different parts of the choir.[11] The choir was divided into four parts (soprano, alto, tenor, and bass) and the harmony was tonal.[12] The texture was polyphonic at times with each part acting independently and there was a call and response exchange between a male soloist and the choir.[13]

 

 

Lesson plans

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) published “Hidden Messages in Spirituals,” an interesting lesson plan based on spirituals, which is intended for grades six through twelve.[14] This lesson plan could be a good resource for a teacher that wanted to construct a unit primarily based on spirituals rather than only incorporating spirituals as a lesson within a unit.

Footnotes

[1] Rose Blue and Corinne J. Naden, 2001. The History of Gospel Music, Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House Publishers, 50.

[2] Diana L. Hayes, 1994. Forged in the Fiery Furnace: African American Spirituality. Marynoll, NY: Orbis.

 

[3] Ibid.

 

[4] Rose Blue and Corinne J. Naden, 2001. The History of Gospel Music, Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House Publishers, 53.

 

[5] Blair Bielawski, 2010. A Celebration of Black History through Music: from Spirituals to Hip-Hop, Milliken Publishing Company, 12.

 

[6] Ibid.

 

[7] Blair Bielawski, 2010. A Celebration of Black History through Music: from Spirituals to Hip-Hop, Milliken Publishing Company, 12.

 

[8] PrazHymn83. 2008. Morgan State Univ. Choir - Ezekiel Saw The Wheel [video].YouTube. Accessed, December 5, 2016. https://youtu.be/AfdMftXRpeM.

 

[9] Ibid.

 

[10] Ibid.

 

[11] Ibid.

 

[12] Ibid.

 

[13] Ibid.

 

[14] “Hidden Messages in Spirituals.” PBS. Accessed July 05, 2017. http://www.pbs.org/black-culture/shows/list/underground-railroad/classroom/hidden-messages-spirituals/.

Materials for

"One Language is Never Enough" (mm. 78-115)

Midi
Gospel Section Midi All Parts -
00:00 / 00:00
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© 2020 by Felicity Mazur-Park