Wednesday, November 23, 2016

American music, our colorful tapestry.

As this is a creativity blog, most of the time my metaphors are based on that and of course, bird or swan metaphors (my favorite). Today I have a new metaphor, that of our musical heritage as a tapestry.......we have all heard or used the tapestry metaphor at one time or another: “It's like a tapestry —with many colorful threads woven together to make a whole.”  I am, like so many others, whether consciously or not weaving the story of my life from all the things that have come to me unbidden, and all the things I have chosen, and all of passions and longing and pains and disappointments, all of this grist for the mill, or threads for my creative  loom and such is the tapestry of our music.

To my thinking this metaphor is also an apt description of the origins of American music and how it is woven into the fiber of our lives. I love the idea of a tapestry as something which expresses the connection between people and the diversity of people.  I’ve been thinking about ways that other tapestries give visual evidence of social collaboration and interconnections. All of these thoughts about tapestries and social metaphors have caused me to think also about American music, it’s roots, and it’s evolution into being as a tapestry which binds people together.  The idea that regardless of the talent of individual musicians; in the final analysis, the sum of what has gone before wove like so many threads into the unique genre we call American music. Music speaks to me as I am sure it does many others in many ways; invoking happiness, sadness, spirituality, or love, so I hope you enjoy this look into what makes up our rich, color, creative, and unique blend that in a way becomes a metaphor itself for us, Americans, in all our colorful, unique identities.

American music is reflective of the rich multicultural society as a whole. It evolved as people listened to and adopted new musical forms that they came across. It is a mixture of music influenced by Native American ("Sioux love song" , “Ghost Dance song” Pawnie)  European, African,  Anglo-Celtic traditions folk songs and ballads (“Barbara Allen” by H.J. Beeker) and work songs ("Gypsy Davy” by Woody Guthrie);  Mexican, Cajun, Scandinavian, and Cuban as well as many, many others. From jazz (Louis Armstrong), blues to bluegrass, rock and roll, rhythm and blues, ragtime, salsa to hiphop, techno, alternative; the tapestry is an expansive one. This is one of the creative aspects of music, the blending of forms creating new sounds. The roots of Native American music have its base in sacred songs together with percussion instruments, flutes or whistles. The Europeans brought their own spiritual songs as well as secular musical customs such are hymns, dances, and folk songs. African slaves brought a variety of musical traditions based on their cultural and spiritual songs and music forms. African American music evolved into blues and jazz. European music forms evolved into bluegrass and country music. 

African slaves were brought here on slave ships even before the Mayflower ‘s arrival in New England. With them came their music; which was in printed form as early as the Civil War. These songs, with their syncopated beat like "Music in praise of a Yoruba Chief" (Nigeria”), evolved into spirituals work songs ("Sheep, sheep, don't you know the road" or the "Quittin' time song"), gospel (“John the Revelator”). Their use of syncopated beat, was often used along with variations in the verses and music, which was unfamiliar at that time. This sound combined with European religious songs  to form black spirituals and gospel forms. The first black spiritual was printed in 1862 with sheet music coming five years later. The songs they sang while working the docks or in the cotton fields helped to make their harsh working conditions bearable as well as singing clandestine protest songs, such as the blues traditions, which conveyed the slave’s troubles.  Faster paced African American music using banjos was performed in traveling minstrel shows which carried over into films; were very popular in their day with white audiences, but African-Americans felt this mocked their traditions. Minstrel shows developed into ragtime in the 1800s with a style of music called “cakewalk” which had great emphasis on the syncopated rhythm. Ragtime became very popular in cities. Scott Joplin with his “Maple Leaf Rag.” delighted audiences. In the Storyville section of New Orleans, ragtime blended with blues forms, with the evolution of jazz. With the coming of the “Roaring 20s” jazz had the excitement and beat the young people of America were looking for. In the 1930s and 1940’s came the sound of “Swing” and the “Big Band” era.

Hope you enjoyed this post. As there is so much to our musical scene, I hope to make this a continuing post. If you have a comment, email me.  Marie

Sources:  The Media in Your Life. An Introduction of Mass Communication by Folkerts, Lacy, and Larabee (2008). and American Music, A Panorama by Candelaria, and Kingman (2007) and

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