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singer cannot be reproduced on paper. And I despair of conveying any notion of the effect of a number singing together, especially in a complicated shout, like “I can't stay behind, my Lord” (No. 8), or “Turn, sinner, turn O!” (No. 48). There is no singing in parts,* as we un. derstand it, and yet no two appear to be singing the same thing—the leading singer starts the words of each verse, often improvising, and the others, who "base" him, as it is called, strike in with the refrain, or even join in the solo, when the words are familiar. When the “base” begins, the leader often stops, leaving the rest of his words to be guessed at, or it may be they are taken up by one of the other singers. And the “basers" themselves seem to follow their own whims, beginning when they please and leaving off when they please, striking an octave above or below (in case they have pitched the tune too low or too high), or hitting some other note that chords, so as to produce the effect of a marvellous complication and variety, and yet with the most perfect time, and rarely with any discord. And what makes it all the harder to unravel a thread of mel. ody out of this strange network is that, like birds, they seem not infrequently to strike sounds that cannot be precisely represented by the gamut, and abound in
*“The high voices, all in unison, and the admirable time and true accent with which their responses are made, always make me wish that some great musical composer could hear these semi-savage performances. With a very little skilful adaptation and instrumentation, I think one or two barbaric chants and choruses might be evoked from them that would make the fortune of an opera."- Mrs. Kemble's “ Life on a Georgian Plantation,” p. 218.
"slides from one note to another, and turns and cadences not in articulated notes." “It is difficult," writes Miss McKim, “to express the entire character of these negro ballads by mere musical notes and signs. The odd turns made in the throat, and the curious rhythmic effect produced by single voices chiming in at different irregular intervals, seem almost as impossible to place on the score as the singing of birds or the tones of an Æolian Harp.” There are also apparent irregularities in the time, which it is no less difficult to express accurately, and of which Nos. 10, 130, 131, and (eminently) 128, are examples.
Still, the chief part of the negro music is civilized in its character-partly composed under the influence of association with the whites, partly actually imitated from their music. In the main it appears to be original in the best sense of the word, and the more we examine the subject, the more genuine it appears to us to be. In a very few songs, as Nos. 19, 23, and 25, strains of familiar tunes are readily traced; and it may easily be that others contain strains of less familiar music, which the slaves heard their masters sing or play.*
On the other hand there are very few which are of an intrinsically barbaric character, and where this character does appear,
it is chiefly in short passages, intermingled
* We have rejected as spurious “Give me Jesus," “ Climb Jacob's Ladder," (both sung at Port Royal), and “I'll take the wings of the morning," which we find in Methodist hymn-books. A few others, the character of which seemed somewhat suspicious, we have not felt at liberty to reject without direct evidence
with others of a different character. Such passages may be found perhaps in Nos. 10, 12, and 18; and “Becky Lawton,” for instance (No. 29), “Shall I die?” (No. 52) “Round the corn, Sally" (No. 87), and “O'er the crossing” (No. 93) may very well be purely African in origin. Indeed, it is very likely that if we had found it possible to get at more of their secular music, we should have come to another conclusion as to the proportion of the barbaric element. A gentleman in Delaware writes:
“We must look among their non-religious songs for the purest specimens of negro minstrelsy. It is remarkable that they have themselves transferred the best of these to the uses of their churches—I suppose on Mı. Wesley's principle that it is not right the Devil should have all the good tunes.' Their leaders and preachers have not found this change difficult to effect; or at least they have taken so little pains about it that one often detects the profane cropping out, and revealing the ori. gin of their most solemn "hymns,' in spite of the best intentions of the poet and artist. Some of the best pure negro songs I have ever heard were those that used to be sung by the black stevedores, or perhaps the crews themselves, of the West India vessels, loading and unloading at the wharves in Philadelphia and Baltimore. I have stood for more than an hour, often, listening to them, as they hoisted and lowered the hogsheads and boxes of their cargoes; one man taking the burden of the song (and the slack of the rope) and the others striking in with the chorus. They would sing in this
way more than a dozen different songs in an hour; most
a of which might indeed be warranted to contain 'nothing religious'—a few of them, 'on the contrary, quite the reverse'—but generally rather innocent and proper in their language, and strangely attractive in their music; and with a volume of voice that reached a square or two away. That plan of labor has now passed away, in Phil. adelphia at least, and the songs, I suppose, with it. So that these performances are to be heard only among black sailors on their vessels, or 'long-shore men in outof-the-way places, where opportunities for respectable persons to hear them are rather few."
These are the songs that are still heard upon the Mississippi steamboats-wild and strangely fascinatingone of which we have been so fortunate as to secure for this collection. This, too, is no doubt the music of the colored firemen of Savannah, graphically described by Mr. Kane O'Donnel, in a letter to the Philadelphia Press, and one of which he was able to contribute for our
Mr. E. S. Philbrick was struck with the resem. blance of some of the rowing tunes at Port-Royal to the boatmen's
songs he had heard upon the Nile. The greater number of the songs which have come into our possession seem to be the natural and original production of a race of remarkable musical capacity and very teachable, which has been long enough associated with the more cultivated race to have become imbued with the mode and spirit of European music—often, nevertheless, retaining a distinct tinge of their native Africa
The words are, of course, in a large measure taken
, from Scripture, and from the hymns heard at church and for this reason these religious songs do not by any means illustrate the full extent of the debasement of the dialect. Such expressions as “Cross Jordan,” “O Lord, remember me," "I'm going home,” “There's room enough in Heaven for you,” we find abundantly in Methodist hymn-books; but with much searching I have been able to find hardly a trace of the tunes. The words of the fine hymn, “Praise, member” (No. 5), are found, with very little variation, in “Choral Hymns" (No. 138). The editor of this collection informs us,
, however, that many of his songs were learned from negroes in Philadelphia, and Lt.-Col. Trowbridge tells us that he heard this hymn, before the war, among the col. ored people of Brooklyn.* For some very comical speci
. mens of the way in which half-understood words and phrases are distorted by them, see Nos. 22, 23. Another illustration is given by Col. Higginson :t
“The popular camp-song of Marching Along was entirely new to them until our quartermaster taught it to them at my request. The words ‘Gird on the armor were to them a stumbling-block, and no wonder, until
* We have generally preserved the words as sung, even where clearly nonsensical, as in No. 89; so Why don't you move so slow ?” (No. 22). We will add that “Paul and Silas, bound in jail” (No. 4), is often sung “Bounden Cyrus born in jail," and the words of No. 11 would appear as “I take my tex in Matchew and by de Revolutions—I know you by your gammon," &c.; SO “Ringy Rosy Land” for “Ring Jerusalem.”
+ Atlantic Monthly, June, 1867.