4 Old Plantation Hymns
[Hymn “Howdy, Howdy!”]
This is the entire hymn, except that it goes on to greet, and be greeted by, the sisters, mothers, fathers, preachers and mourners of the company. It is a song for the opening of service; and no type can indicate its warmth and fervor. The “M-m-m-m-m” is a humming sound with closed lips. Any one who will close the lips and hum this sound will discern something of the perfectly delicious expression of the joy of meeting.
There are several songs that tell of going down in the valley to pray. The valley seems to the colored Christian the proper place for all prayer save that of ecstatic fervor; and that fervor voices itself in song rather than in prayer. Prayer, to the negro, was so commonly associated with the thought of trouble that often had no other outlet, that all the drapery of the valley seemed to fit its mental association. Sometimes he rose to sing,
“When I git up on de mountain top, I’ll shout an’ shout and nebber stop.”
“I’ll praise de Lord an’ nebber stop!”
But this shout or praise was either song or hallelujah-it was not commonly prayer. One of these songs, with a very pretty melody, is given here.
The words are similar to those of a song used by the Jubilee singers, but the melody is different.
[Hymn “Down In The Valley To Pray”.]
This song does not usually follow through the family in order, but, being in the nature of an exhortation, addresses the “mourners,” “sinners,” “seekers,” etc. The “mourners” of these songs, it should be remembered, are not necessarily those in affliction, but those who frequent the “mourners’ bench” and have not yet “got through.” Some of these songs inform these mourners that,
“When I was a mourner just like you, I prayed and prayed till I got through.”
Not “till I got through mourning” or praying, but till that limbo bordering upon regeneration, was passed. A period of “mourning” is counted a prerequisite for conversion.
The music in this piece is very expressive. The word “down” has always a descending note, and in the first and third lines covers three notes, re, do, la; the word “pray” falls as it were to its knees on the dominant below and is held for four beats.
Old Plantation Hymns.
So many of the negro songs are solemn and in 2:2 or 4:4 time, that when one trips along in 2:4 time with a lively step it is worth noticing. One of these, in which the Christian way is neither a struggle nor a climb, but a joyous progress with confident hope, and almost gleeful measure is
[Hymn “Goin’ Over On De Uddah Side Of Jordan”]
The B flat in the fourth line is meant to suggest a slight variation of tone which cannot be written.
In this, as in many such songs, the melody turns back to the refrain almost before the stanza is completed, so that the held “O!” belongs almost as much to the end of one line as the beginning of the next. The stanzas then take up “my sister,” “my mother,” and other godly relatives, but “my Lord” is retained in each.
One of the most effective uses of syncopation which I have ever heard is in the song “Tell Bruddah ‘Lijah!” or “No harm!” Brother Elijah is probably the prophet, for there is no human character in the Bible too great to be counted a “brother,” and some of the allusions to “Brer Jonah” and “Brer Simon Peter” are as unexpected as can well be imagined.
In this hymn the explosive stress upon the word “Sinnah” is startling; and the question, “Ain’ you tired of sinning’?” is wonderfully direct.
[Hymn “Tell Bruddah Lijah.”]
A corrupted version of a Jubilee song is familiar to many people, called “Sooner in de Morning.” I should not be “sooner,” but “soon,” or early. Another song with the same burden, but very different tune, I have often heard in meetings of colored people. There is a marked contrast between the two parts of its melody, the refrain keeping the middle registers, and the verses swinging much lower, beginning an octave below the first part, about middle C. It is a major melody, and moves almost entirely in thirds. The few intermediate tones are quite as likely to be accidentals as to take other notes of the diatonic scale: indeed, the negro rarely sings the seventh note true, to a musical instrument, but generally flats it more ore less as in the minor scales. Fondness for these slightly variable tones suggest a reason for the negro’s love of a banjo or violin.