Afro-American Folksongs - online book

A Study In Racial And National Music, With Sample Sheet Music & Lyrics.

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MODAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THE SONGS
physiological and psychological explanation of which is-not within the scope of this study), the life of the black slaves was, on the whole, so weighted with physical and spiritual suffering as necessarily to make its musical ex­pression one of hopeless grief. Perhaps an innate lightness of heart and carelessness of disposition, carefully cultivated by the slaveholders for obvious reasons, had much to do with the circumstance that there are few utterances of profound sadness or despair found in the songs, but many of resilient hopefulness and cheerful endurance of present pain in contemplation of the rewards of rest and happiness-hereafter. The two emotional poles in question are touched in the settings of the song "Nobody Knows."
Colonel Higginson seems to have sounded the keynote of the emotional stimulus of the songs when he spoke of their infinitepathos as a commentary on the lives of theircreators: "Nothing but patience for this life—nothing but triumph in the next.5.5 This feeling was encouraged by the attitude, legal and personal, of the slave owners toward their human chattels. To let them acquire an education was dangerous,, for, as a rule, insurrections were fomented by educated men; but to encourage them in their rude, emotional religious worship was not harmful and might be positively beneficial-Under such circumstances it was natural that the poetical expressions of their temporal state should run out in religious allegory, and here the utterance had to be pre­dominantly cheerful in the very nature of the case. They could not sing of the New Jerusalem, toward which they were journeying, in tones of grief. The Biblical tales and imagery, which were all of the book which seized upon their imagination, also called for celebration in jubilant rather than lugubrious accents. The rolling of Jordan's waters, the sound of the last trump, the overwhelming of Pharaoh's hosts, the vision of Jacob5s ladder, the building of the Ark, Daniel in the den of lions, Ezekiel's "wheel in the middle of a wheel," Elijah5s chariot of fire, the breaking up of the uni­verse—all these things and the lurid pictures of the Apoca­lypse, whether hymned with allegorical intent or as literal con­ceptions, asked forswellingproclamation. And all received it.
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E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III