Tuesday, November 23, 2004

While You're in Your Post-Dinner Daze this Thanksgiving...

. . .Check out this amazing multimedia website and oral history project supported by the University of Denver Center for Teaching and Learning:

"Sweet Chariot: The Story of the Spirituals"

As far as I'm concerned, it's Christmas!

Here's some information about the project, from the DU site I've linked to above:

"The Spirituals Project, in collaboration with The University of Denver Center for Teaching and Learning, has developed a comprehensive multimedia educational website for use in courses at the University of Denver and for members of the public at large who are interested in learning about the history and ongoing cultural influences of the spirituals. Entitled Sweet Chariot: The Story of the Spirituals, this website includes an historical overview as well as sections outlining the evolving cultural and musical contexts of the spirituals; issues of survival and resilience in the spirituals tradition; the historical use of spirituals in the service of freedom and equality; the influence of the spirituals on the performing arts and on American literature; and a section on the present and projected future influences of the spirituals tradition. The site includes sound clips of songs used to illustrate various points, excerpts of interviews with artists, composers and community workers, and links to library and Internet resources for those interested in further study. The project is supported by the University of Denver Center for Teaching and Learning.

Oral History Project
Supported by grants for the LEF Foundation and the Union Institute and University, The Spirituals Project has interviewed a number of professionals and lay people around the country who have been involved actively in efforts to keep the spirituals tradition alive and vibrant in the twenty-first century. Included among the people interviewed to date are the noted composer/conductors Brazeal Dennard, Roland Carter, Jackie Hairston and Hale Smith; singer/conductors Horace Boyer, Francois Clemmons (Harlem Spiritual Ensemble), Vincent Stringer (National Spiritual Ensemble) and Linda Tillery (Cultural Heritage Choir); pianist/vocal coach Sylvia Olden Lee; and the late great singer/educator William Warfield. Oral excerpts and associated written transcripts from some of these interviews are available on the Sweet Chariot multimedia website.

This is amazing--and I'll post more thoughts later. In the meantime, check out this interesting sidebar, which is part of the introduction. Bold emphases are mine:

What is the Difference Between the Spirituals and Gospel Music?
Many people ask what the difference is between the spirituals and Black gospel music. Simply put, the spirituals are the Southern sacred "folk" songs created and first sung by African Americans during slavery. Their original composers are unknown, and they have assumed a position of collective ownership by the whole community. They lend themselves easily to communal singing. Many are in a call-and-response structure, with back-and-forth exchanges between the leader and the group. A formal concert tradition has evolved from the original spirituals, with solo and choral arrangements based on original slave melodies, employed for performance by amateur and professional artists. Black gospel music originated in the churches of the urban North in the 1920's, and has been the predominant music of the twentieth century Black Church. Each gospel song has an identifiable composer. Gospel fuses musical elements of both the spirituals and the blues, and incorporates extensive musical improvisation, with piano, guitar or other instrumental accompaniment. While the gospel tradition descended directly from the spirituals and the blues, the spirituals have also continued to exist as a parallel cultural force.

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