Either accompanied or unaccompanied, traditional songs from the past were inspired by slavery. Thought to have evolved from the singing of psalms in the 1600s, it takes some of its’ influences from Christian music. Common themes are: homecoming, perseverance and triumph within a religious context. Gospel music has origins in this style.
Involving improvisation, early spiritual music was unaccompanied. Spread orally, pieces were eventually recorded in hymnbooks. Between the eighteenth and nineteenth century, mass singing in the style was popular at large religious gatherings. Later, melodies and instrumental accompaniment were added.
Pieces tend to begin with higher male voices, women and basses soon join in an octave above or below. A call and response pattern was a popular structure in early spiritual music. Later, the use of common refrains and verses meant that improvisation was popular. Falling out of fashion in the nineteenth century, as European hymn styles spread.
Borrowing from folk music and hymns, its’ structure evolved to include: structured pentatonic (five note) melodies and musical instruments to accompany the singing, which became harmonious. As the genre unfolded, jazz rhythms were added to the repertoire.
Christian spiritual music
Sung as part of worship or whilst working, spiritual music has many Christian themes. Revival spirituals were favored during large church gatherings in both the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Themes included: overcoming Satan, protection from angels and homecoming. Its’ structure and organization has contributed to modern choir music, and can still be found in some rural Christian churches today in its’ original form.
Also known as soaking prayer or worship music, spiritual meditation music creates a space for reflection, relaxation, spiritual healing and rejuvenation. Used during specific sessions for ‘soaking’, it is a very modern phenomenon. It enables an unstructured time of relaxation, to reflect and pray. The music is simple with well-placed melodies and lots of repetition.