Afro-American Folksongs - online book

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

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STRUCTURE OF THE POEMS; FUNERAL MUSIC
others death and burial were accompanied by noisy lamentations.
The Abbe Proyart, in his "History of Loango, Kakongo and Other Kingdoms of Africa,"1 tells of a custom, when a native is sick, of summoning, with the physician, a band of musicians, who assemble around his house and play on instruments incessantly day and night, presumably till the patient is recovered or dead. It is not unlikely that in this custom (which, in a way, suggests the practices of the shamans of the North American Indians) is to be found the origin of the singular custom of "settm' up," which is described by Professor Charles L. Edwards in his "Bahama Songs and Stories." This nocturnal song-service, which Jenny Woodville described as a feature of slave life in the Southern States,2 is held when a negro is supposed to be dying. "The singers, men, women and children of all ages," says Professor Edwards, "sit about on the floor of the larger room of the hut and stand outside at the doors and windows, while the invalid lies upon the floor in the smaller room. Long into the night they sing their most mournful hymns and 'anthems/ and only in the light of dawn do those who are left as chief mourners silently disperse."
The "anthem" which is most often used on these occa­sions is "I Look o'er Yander." A notable thing about it is that it is one of the rare examples of a negro melody in three-part measure (compound); but there is no sug­gestion of a lightsome mood on that account in the melody. "With all the sad intonation accented by the tense emo­tion of the singers," says Professor Edwards, "it sounds in the distance as though it might well be the death. tri­umph of some old African chief:
Each one of the dusky group, as if by intuition, takes some part in the melody, and the blending of aft tone-colors in the soprano, tenor, alto and bass, without reference to the fixed laws of harmony, makes such peculiarly touching music as I have never heard elsewhere. As this song of consolation ac­companies the sighs of the dying one, it seems to be taken up by the mournful rustle of the palm and to be lost only in the undertone of murmur from the distant coral reef. It is all weird and intensely sad.
1 In the Pinkert Collection.
1 "Lippincott'8 Magazine" for November, 1878.
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