Song of America: The Spiritual on the Concert Stage – UROP Spring Symposium 2021

Song of America: The Spiritual on the Concert Stage

Jordan Key


Pronouns: she/her

Research Mentor(s): Christie Finn, Research Administrator
Research Mentor School/College/Department: Classic Song Research Initiative, School of Music, Theatre & Dance
Presentation Date: Thursday, April 22, 2021
Session: Session 5 (3pm-3:50pm)
Breakout Room: Room 8
Presenter: 6

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As stated by W.E.B. Du Bois, the African American spiritual is one of the most significant and impactful genres of American music. Spirituals originated among enslaved African Americans and were influenced by both African and European traditions, including Protestantism, African music, the ring shout, and the camp meeting. Although spirituals were traditionally sung in daily life and religious gatherings, the spiritual transformed after the Civil War as musicians began arranging spirituals in classical styles for performances by professional musicians. My research focuses on the evolution of “Wade in the Water,” an important spiritual from the Antebellum period and one of the most performed concert spirituals in the modern era. Throughout its transformation into a concert spiritual, many aspects of “Wade in the Water,” including melodic and harmonic elements, accompaniment, singing style, and performance practices, were adapted into classical music styles. In this study, library sources, scores, performances, recordings, and lectures were analyzed to determine influences behind stylistic changes in “Wade in the Water” and how the concert spiritual impacted perceptions of African Americans. Through my analysis, I concluded that “Wade in the Water” experienced several important alterations at the dawn of the twentieth century, as spirituals were arranged for trained vocalists. This paper will contribute to research on the musical influences of concert spiritual, an important topic in studying the development of American music.

Authors: Jordan Key, Christie Finn
Research Method: Library/Archival/Internet Research

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