History of American Music Essay

Music has always been around from the start of the human experience. Before the first words were spoken, noises that people made was strung together to make clear music that others could relate to. As the Native Americans followed their religion, they would sing and dance to the sky to stay at one with nature. America was formed through the teachings and principles that the political and religious leaders followed. It has been learned through time that for several generations passed on to another, music has also become a separating element that identified one generation from another (Anderson, 2006, 54). Music within religion has always been of importance in giving praise, worship, and song. Religion and music are among the two most influential foundations that provide identity to any particular race and culture. Music has always been a calming remedy in helping new settlers deal with the uncertainty of adjusting to their new home.

The Beginning of Music: America and Religion

Crawford pointed out, “Religion extends the world upward in space so that communication with the spiritual world is possible.”(Crawford, 2002, pg 22) While looking at the formation of America and the beginning of American music, Crawford points out that through the exploitations of the New World traveling from the Old World bringing slaves and settlers to expand the West, much of the music history was formed. When the Spanish conquistadors took over Mexico, there they wanted to convert everyone to Christianity, “thus the first Christian sacred music to take root…was that of the Roman Catholic liturgy.” (Crawford, 2001, pg. 16) The church has always favored singing when showing God the upmost praise in practicing their religion. It is not surprised that when invaders came from the Old World they did so out of religious beliefs. Roman Catholics, Protestants, and the English settlers brought along their rituals in worship, praise and singing of sacred hymns. “Sacred music making in America reflected the character of the colonizing process that lay behind it.” (Crawford, 2001, pg. 20)

As time progressed, and more colonies were established, soon the songs that were sung from their religious belief soon began to reflect their living situations. Crawford points out that the differences in the Old and New World, in the Old World the state and the church influenced the music. However, in the New World, no such church was established yet, so settlers began to make up their own songs taken from those learn in Europe which was woven into their new psalms, beliefs, and songs.

The Voice of the Church

Since leaving Europe the settlers always practiced the same rituals, beliefs, and religion as governed by the state and Church of England. Through all the hardship that the settlers endured most of the rituals in church waned, and church goes took up different ways to sing praises in church. “What had begun primarily as a written tradition of psalm singing became largely an oral one, with variant practices springing up.” (Heywood, 2002, pg 18) The expansion of population and the lack of paper transformed written songs into oral vocations. “The clergy responded against the unconventional ways of church singing that had developed in the rural areas because of the social and political instability of the region.”(Heywood, 2002, pg 18) Symmes and other religious figures that argued for the traditional way to be left in the churches. “The skills of regular singing are among the Gifts of God unto Children of Men.” (Heywood, 2002, pg 18)

Thomas Symmes and Cotton Mather marked the release of musical arrangements for public listening. From here on, the primary purpose of using music as a source of religious foundation had been redefined through making music according to the necessity of making the people or the audience hear what is being sent by the arrangement as a message. These traditions that were being challenged were breaking way to a new method of worship in America.

Significance of African Slaves and Spiritual Hymns

More time passed and the arrival of the African slaves was a pivotal role in American history. Slaves were not able to communicate however, other rituals that they took from Africa expressed through song and dance. Crawford points out, “in African religion, “religion extends the world upward in space so that communication with the spiritual world is possible, and time is extended backward to establish contact with ancestors and with the Gods.”(Crawford, 2001, pg 106) Because of these beliefs, Africans were able to exist in a realm where they could practice their culture to help, “endure, and to leave a legacy of their own.” Many whites moved to convert slaves to Christianity, from that conversion many slaves took up the characteristics of their African heritage along with the hymns and songs of praise in the Bible and characterized a different approach to their white counterparts. Although it is hard to trace the history of black musicians during slavery, many observers mostly white would write about what they seen in black churches or camp meetings, including Fredricka Bremer.

To note, Fredrika Bremer confirms this fact by saying: “By degree the people begin to assemble within the tabernacle. The white people on the side, the black on the other… (Southern, 104) “during all this tumult, the singing continues loud and beautiful, and the thunder joins in with it’s pealing kettle-drum” (Southern, 105)

Along with such characteristic, the lyrics of the songs consisted of details on how people lived their lives alongside the principles of the religious belief that they had been brought into awareness. Most of the lines of the said songs included notable phrases such as “Oh I am a sinner!” or “Jesus! Jesus!” (Southern, 1983, pg 105). Most of the songs were sung before and after every sermon in the church. During this time, music was the primary element that kept both the white and the black Americans together amidst the differences of their skin and the supposed sectorial division they belong to in the society. To this, Bremer adds:

“Beneath the tabernacle an immense was assembled, certainly from three to four thousand persons. The y sang hymns – a magnificent choir” (104). The singing of the hymns mixes with the invitations of the preachers, and the exhortations of the class leaders. . .” (105).

Music, the People and the Hearing Public

The creation of musical arrangements for public appreciation has changed the course of making music as a whole. Along with this, the American society has also been subjected to the control of several colonizers including the European countries, which notably involves France, England, Spain, Scotland and even Ireland. At this point, the said regions brought in their own songs [mostly religious at the time] and contributed to the reestablishment of the characterization of American music. People from all over the globe [most likely the underdeveloped countries] came to realize what America has to offer. From this, they decided [and still continues to decide] to transfer to America in recognition of hope for a better life and better future (Crawford, 2001, pg 44). Along with their dreams, they carry on their culture and music with them.

With the development of racial diversity in the American society, the development of the new age music has also become an evident result of such changes (Colles, 1978, pg 43). The incorporation of different cultures including earlier Native American music, Mexican musical influences from the Aztec people, and other sacred music. Each culture contributed to the redevelopment of the generation-defined musicality in the country has created a new wave of unique music that the American society currently enjoys. The amalgamation of cultures and time frames in the musical culture of America made it possible for such artistic creations to be recognized and appreciated worldwide.

Conclusion

From the beginning of Western civilization, religion has helped shape and colonize America. Music has been the focal point of appreciation and worships. These rituals have remained a staple throughout American history. As change becomes a regular part of the modern way of living, music also takes a positive turn that continues to evolve through time. Religion became a significant source of the musical basis of the American auditory art. It could be relatively realized that somehow, without the religious context of the American music, its connection with the American culture and the evolution that it is taking into account at present. Singing spiritual hymns and religion riddled songs became away for new settlers and slaves to survive their new homes and deal with their current situation. The music that they sung in church became a connective tissue between white and black congregations as they sung loudly and with reverence.

Today, as the time continues to evolve, it is expected that the characterization of the American music would still take several evolutions through the years. With immigration and cultural amalgamation continues to influence modern life along with the pressure that the economic factor imposes on such development, the American music is seen to have an illustrious future in becoming more market defined, apart from the base role that it has taken into consideration during the ancient times of the American history.

References:

  1. Anderson, Chris .The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More. Hyperion. (2006). Book.
  2. Blume, Friedrich. Classic and Romantic Music: A Comprehensive Survey. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. (1970)/ Book.
  3. Crawford, R. America’s Musical Life: A History. Norton and Company. (2001). Book. Colles, Henry Cope. The Growth of Music: A Study in Musical History, 4th ed., London; New York: Oxford University Press. (1978). Book.
  4. Harwood, Dane. “Universals in Music: A Perspective from Cognitive Psychology”. Ethnomusicology 20 (3): 521–33. (1976). Book.
  5. Hamman, M. “Structure as Performance: Cognitive Musicology and the Objectification of Procedure,” in Otto Laske: Navigating New Musical Horizons, ed. J. Tabor. New York: Greenwood Press. (1999). Book.
  6. Harnsberger, Lindsey. “Articulation.” Essential Dictionary of Music. Alfred Publishing Co., Inc. Los Angeles, CA. (1997). Book.
  7. Heywood Alexander, J. To Stretch Our Ears: A Documentary History of America’s Music Norton Publishing. (2002). Book.
  8. Small, Christopher. Music, Society, Education. John Calder Publishers, London. (1977). Book. Southern, Eileen. Readings in Black American Music. Norton Publishing. (1983). Book
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