Early American Music Featured in Common-place

David W. Stowe

Many readers of this blog will take delight in the beautifully designed and illustrated issue of the online journal Common-place just published this week.

You'll find a forum of reflections and actual performances of early American music by the likes of Hesperus, Newberry Consort, David and Ginger Hildebrand, Norumbega Harmony, and Christian Wig.

Featured articles include Christine DeLucia on "Music of King Philip's War and Memories of Settler Colonialism in the American Northeast," April Masten on "Dancers, Musicians, and Negro Jigs in Early America," Jeanne Eller McDougall on "Musical Encounters between Kikotans and English, 1607-1610," Carol Medlicott on "Gender and Collectivity in the Music of the Shaker West," and Nara L. Newcomer on "The True Story of a Manuscript Hymnal Attributed to the Father of Methodism."

All in all a wealth of new research and useful teaching materials which I've only begun to explore.  From one of the introductory essays, by Steve Marini:

Music, with or without words, has an extraordinary capacity as an agent of ritualization to make symbolic sense of a changing world. All the essays in this issue treat music that registers quintessentially American processes of cultural change—encounter, innovation, contestation, reconfiguration, transfusion. Accordingly, it seems valuable to read them also with an eye to how ritualization contributed to their creation of cultural meaning.
McDougall and DeLucia begin with accounts of English trumpets and drums counterpoised to Kikotan and Algonquian dance and song in primal encounters of peace and violence in the seventeenth century. In these cases, musics that had formerly provided ritual stability suddenly became rivals for symbolic supremacy in their New World encounter, invoking their respective peoples, warriors, and gods first in tentative coexistence and then in fatal conflict.

Gray and Goodman explore how individual Old World songs were textually reconfigured, musically re-presented, and culturally repositioned in the primal political combat between Federalists and Democratic Republicans during the 1790s. In these cases, an iconic English ballad and French Revolutionary anthems of great ritual power in their original national contexts were transformed and redeployed as agencies of public ritualization in a revolutionary society still experimenting with a new mode of political order.

Newcomer, Goodman, and Pappas take this collection into music and ritualization in the world of American Protestant sectarianism and civil religion. Their studies concentrate on music that helped to ritualize Methodism, Shakerism, and Southern nationalism when they were new movements. In these cases, manuscript and printed music served to create new systems of symbolic meaning which, when transmitted through and performed by sectarian constituencies, established the cultural stability critical to their survival.

Finally, Masten's account of the transfusion of African and Irish music and dance suggests powerful processes of ritualization at work both in the creation of the new hybrid genre of "Negro jigs" and in its elaborately codified performance practice.

These brief reflections suggest just the most apparent dimensions of ritualization through music disclosed by these studies. Further reflection on them will reveal important additional aspects of how music serves to ritualize the American experiment's unceasing processes of change.

To read and listen to the rest go to Common-place.


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