The Traditional Black Church: Black Hymn Choir, Negro Spirituals
I grew up in a traditional black church from the time I was 5 years old. Although I don't regret leaving as a teenager to attend the contemporary church I still attend today, one thing I do miss about my old church is the old melancholy tunes of what black churches call the "hymn choir."
The hymn choir usually consists of the oldest members of the church who remember these ancient songs they've heard their own grandparents sing in church years and years ago...maybe even dating back to slavery times.
One interesting practice that reveals remnants of our history is the recitation and repetition of song lyrics. Sometimes someone will stand at the front of the church, read a stanza out of a hymn book (not the regular hymn book....but the old black one) and the congregation will repeat the words, singing to a common tune everyone already knows.
This tradition dates back to when black people were not allowed to read. Someone who did know how to read would say the words and everyone else would retain them and sing, a stanza at a time.
Other songs are just short repetitive songs sung for minutes at a time known by memory.
In either case, the songs are unmistakable. There is a gloomy quality to them...almost like moaning. They are sung loudly. There's a distinct pattern of clapping, stomping, and common harmonies.
That's one thing that I would enjoy about having a black mate. Most black people at least have an idea of what I'm talking about. They have grown up in a church like this and would be able to sing some of the old songs I speak of. Or they have a grandparent that sang these songs around the house or with whom they went to church with.
Back then, I used to resent sitting in church having to listen to these "old lady" songs at the beginning of service. I'd sing them....I knew the words, but I would have preferred that they be done away with altogether.
Now, on the rare occasion that I go visit my old church, these songs are what I look forward to the most. I sit there, clap my hands, find my "note" in the harmony, and I'm 8 years old again.
In this one is an example of someone reading, then the congregation repeating.