Musical Chairs

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 11th grade November 2001

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In many ways the music world reflects the changing attitudes and ideologies of societies around the globe. Prior to the 1860's, primarily European classical music and composers dominated the music world. Around this time a new form of music began emerging through the spiritual songs of African slaves in the southern American states. These spirituals were used to keep time while the slaves were bound together for work and transport, thus avoiding taking a wrong step or making an incorrect movement and injuring each other. Spirituals sometimes contained messages, which could be used as escape instructions passed easily during daily chores. After the abolition of slavery in 1865 the purpose of spirituals changed slightly, but the deep African roots remained.

        After a period of transformation this change took shape in what we know as Dixieland jazz, a form common to the southern states, Louisiana in particular. At first Dixieland jazz was seen as the "tool of the devil" that corrupted people with its hypnotic melodies.

This movement in music was also seen as a lower class form of entertainment, and those of higher social classes rarely attended functions where such music was performed. A later, and more widely accepted, form of Dixieland was Ragtime, made popular by numerous well-known music composers in the 1920's and 30's. Ragtime was often composed for just clarinet and piano, and was quieter that traditional Dixieland. At the peak of Ragtime's popularity both it and Dixieland began Page 2 expanding beyond the southern portion of the United States taking root in larger cities like New York and Chicago, where the music evolved to match its environment.

The urban jazz of the late 1930's and early 40's was often more "dirty" than Dixieland or Ragtime had been. New composition and combination styles were being tried. The blues note...