The Alma College Choir typically sings a wide range of music from different cultures every year—including classical, Middle Eastern, contemporary and gospel music.
Music is a great way to appreciate all of the world’s different backgrounds in an acceptable way. However, there is a fine line to be crossed when performing these kind of pieces in order to be culturally appropriate. T
his past Saturday, the top performing choir performed an African-American spiritual song titled “Wade in the Water.” The arrangement of the song is beautiful and really exemplifies the character of music that came from that time period.
“Wade in the Water” is a piece from the early 1900’s that is heavily associated with slavery and the underground railroad. Sections of this piece refer to “the man all dressed in white” and some historians refer to this song as a musical map to escaping slavery in the south.
However, there are some problems with performing this piece, and most of these issues come from the performers not being educated on the context of a song like this. Songs that come from a different culture can cross the line from appreciation to insensitivity if the performance is not accurate.
Performing these songs is very important for the exposure of world music. The music of other countries can educate in more ways than contemporary music in many circumstances.
Different rhythmic and melodic patterns diversify a concert and make it more entertaining for an audience, as well as more educational. These experiences make a well-rounded musician, but also a well rounded human.
It is the responsibility of the teacher to make sure their students are educated on the social contexts of the songs they are singing, whether that be a discussion in class or an assignment to work on at home.
The importance of education about the music that ensembles are performing is important in all of the arts. As a music department, the students and the professors should put more of a focus on this kind of education.
If you are interested in learning more about world music, the internet is full of selections—dating anywhere from ancient chants to African drumming and more.
Even if you aren’t a musician, educating yourself on the music of other cultures can help you appreciate all of the diversity that is in this country.
As a music department, Alma has to be held accountable for educating their performers on how to accurately perform these important contextual pieces.