Musical History

Influences on Lumbee Hymn-Singing

As we discussed above, the early history of Robeson County, North Carolina most likely involved a great deal of cross-cultural communication between Whites, Blacks and Indians, particularly involving religious expression and theology. Several influences on this expression can be identified, but it is important to remember that much of this analysis is speculative. Lumbees haven't needed to write every step of our evolution down, because our cultural memory serves us perfectly well. Cultural memory dictates that hymn-singing is part of a long process of perfecting our communication with the spirit, using whatever tools are made available to us. Missionary activity has certainly been influential in our musical practice, particularly through travelers from New England who may have been influenced by the Puritan church.

As with any aspect of culture, Lumbee singing today cannot be traced directly and "purely" back to the Puritans. Our social and geographical circumstances, illuminated by scholars' study of the Black church, also had a profound impact on our musical development. Another facet of these social circumstances may have been highlighted in Lumbee experience of the camp meeting, a frontier phenomenon which had doctrinal and musical ramifications for our community. Finally, the complex story of hymn-singing in the Primitive Baptist church provides an interesting context within which to examine the influence of singing schools on Lumbees. In considering these influences, it is important to trace the power of religious doctrine as well as musical form, because they are inseparable in understanding a community's formation of religious structure and experience. Ultimately, a speculative analysis of Lumbee hymn-singing illuminates little concrete information concerning where Christianity came from and why it has stuck around; the importance of this analysis is to understand how a potential source of radical change (such as Christianity for most Native American groups) is transformed, often very messily, into a community institution which sustains and polishes the long-held traditions that have emerged from thousands of years of relationship to landscapes, to each other, and to the spirit.

Historians have shown that the Quaker and Baptist denominations had great influence in eastern North Carolina, unlike many other parts of the South, where the Anglican church had a stronger foothold (Leaming 1995; Jackson 1975, Hill 1984, et. al.). Baptist and Methodist missionaries also traveled to the South from New England in the mid-eighteenth century, and likely brought many of the Puritan singing traditions with them. The decentralized structure and worship form of the Quaker and Baptist churches lent themselves to a similar style of improvisational and spontaneous singing. This worship and song style might have been very attractive to the ancestors of the Lumbee because of its community emphasis and accessibility to those that didn't have songbooks or musical instruments. As you heard from the above example, however, Lumbee long-meter singing is quite different from the Puritan style, with lots of harmony and improvisation. We can begin to make some suppositions about this transformation by looking at the musical experience of African-American churches in the South.

George Pullen Jackson did a good deal of work in African-American churches. He accounts for the origins of African-American long-meter singing in the Calvinist Puritan church and the Wesleyan Methodist church, transmitted by missionaries in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The use of harmony and improvisation in Black churches is the result of those churches' relative isolation and "freedom from musical and textual control." According to Jackson, the primary influence on African-Americans' conversion and practice of Christianity was not their owners - it was outsiders: missionaries, traveling preachers, slaves from other plantations, free Blacks, etc (Jackson 1943: 252). In fact, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, laws existed in several Southern states that prohibited slaveowners from instructing their slaves in religious matters. This circumstance would have given a certain amount of freedom of expression to Black churches, who would not necessarily have had a regular preacher or have known about denominational standards and trends. Jackson ignores the prevalence of slavery in the Northeast before the mid-eighteenth century, however, and does not address the musical experience of slaves in Northern cities and towns that would not have been in the same isolation as those on farms and plantations in the South. The Lumbee community's fair amount of separation from its neighbors probably also led to a similar environment where the original teachings of missionaries evolved according to the needs and customs of the community, apart from the steady influence of outsiders.

Other historians dispute Jackson's conclusions about the origins of Black gospel and say that it came from Africa, rather than from White gospel. John Lovell's book, Black Song: The Forge and the Flame, particularly defends this thesis by drawing comparisons between the indigenous traditions of African tribes and the musical expressions of African-Americans. He accounts for call-response patterns and harmony by tracing them back to African cultural patterns, saying that Blacks perpetuated the same forms to give a certain amount of cultural continuity and security to a situation that was entirely foreign and disruptive both to communities and individuals. Such sustainability occurred in the absence of direct control by many slaveowners, especially on the low country plantations of South Carolina, where slaves formed their own communities and cultures in the near-total absence of Whites. Lovell makes a similar argument to Jackson's for the growth of Black musicianship, but he attempts to thoroughly discount Jackson's theories on missionary activity and the influence of Euro-American forms on Black music. One doubts Lovell's analysis, given his strident quest to discount Jackson, but we can nevertheless gain some insight into musical evolution among Lumbees from Lovell's work. The differences in Lumbee long-meter singing from the original Euro-American form can perhaps also be traced to the indigenous customs that our ancestors have long held, particularly the heavy use and continued popularity of harmony and responsorial songs.

Pembroke Men's Chorus

In considering the origins and perpetuation of Lumbee hymn singing, we can also look to two other Southern religious movements to provide models for our inquiry: the proliferation of camp meetings and music's role in the Primitive Baptist church. Camp meetings began on the southern frontier (mainly western Tennessee and Kentucky) with the Second Great Awakening in 1800 (Sutton 1982: 17-18). Large gatherings of church-goers would come to a central area and camp for a few days or a week, socialize with people from other communities and attend worship services. These meetings were created largely in response to spread-out populations with few church facilities, and because people could camp on the grounds, they often came from far distances and would not otherwise have gone to church. It was a form uniquely suited to the lifestyle of the American frontier, where populations were rather isolated from one another, and church facilities had to be built with few materials and resources, somewhat like the Robeson County area in 1800.

The theology of the Presbyterians, General Baptists and Methodists that ran these meetings often drifted toward Arminianism. Arminian followers believed, unlike Calvinists, that God's grace was "resistable; therefore, sin is actual because it is possible, and human responsibility is retained. So also they made salvation dependent upon repentance and willing acceptance of God's justifying grace" (Hill,ed. 1984: 70). Camp meetings emphasized a transformational experience as a prerequisite for salvation (see Contemporary Musical and Religious Expressions for a video clip of this kind of experience), and the focus of the music similarly became emotional and, indeed, "spiritual," designed to carry the gospel to the listener's heart rather than his head. The spartan qualities of Puritan music and Calvinist doctrine therefore became less attractive to communities like the Lumbee who gravitated to a spiritual experience of God, and whose worship forms were most likely similar to those of the camp meeting. Many ethnomusicologists credit the camp meeting with the spread of responsorial singing in America (Patterson 1995; Sutton 1982). This style was particularly suited to the camp meeting because of its emphasis on community participation and its upbeat, spirit-raising qualities. If Lumbees experienced this kind of worship in this kind of setting, their own religious experiences and musical style (past and present) would have resonated greatly with the responsorial style made popular by the camp meeting.

Shape-note tune books and the singing schools that accompanied them emerged just prior to the Second Great Awakening, around 1770 in New England. Jackson writes that they spread from New England to the South via Protestant missionaries (Jackson 1933: 23-24). Singing schools were roughly organized forms of musical instruction that often accompanied missionary efforts in frontier America. The increasing democratization of religion after the early Puritan period in New England gave rise to interdenominational forums where groups of children and adults could learn to celebrate their faith through song, apart from the strict regulations of who could and couldn't participate in Puritan worship. Using "tune books," the Sacred Harp, Southern Harmony, and other shape-note systems were taught through these singing schools. Interestingly, the text of some of these early shape-note hymns often celebrated the defeat or Christianizing of Indians, reflecting many of the religious and social concerns of whites on the frontier (Jackson 1933: 182-183). What was the influence of singing schools on Lumbee long-meter singing?

Ethnomusicologist Brett Sutton's study of tune books among Black and White Primitive Baptist churches provides an interesting model in which to consider this question. The Primitive Baptist church was formed in the early nineteenth century as a response to the increasing mission activities of the Southern Baptists. The founders of the Primitive Baptist church believed that the mission societies established after 1820 were in direct opposition to God's original intent for the church. Primitive Baptists argued that mission societies did not exist in apostolic times, and therefore were "not warranted from the word of God" (Hill, ed. 1984: 612). The first Primitive Baptist association was formed in North Carolina in 1827, centered in Halifax County. Primitive Baptists held firm to the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, and rejected the Arminian beliefs of the individual's free will to accept or reject God's grace.

Similar to the Puritans, long-meter hymn singing would seem to suit Primitive Baptists particularly well because of their strict doctrine. While most Protestant churches sing part-harmony in hymns, Primitive Baptist churches sing unharmonized, like the early Puritans. But in the Appalachian churches that Sutton visits, each singer sings a slightly different melody than the next, creating an overall impression of heterophony rather than either monophony or strict harmony, or part-singing (Sutton 1982: 20-21). In his study, Sutton wonders if heterophony emerged from the influence of singing schools and tune books, and notes several differences between the use of heterophony in Black and White churches. He determines that singing schools were particularly influential among the White churches, whereas Black churches were more comfortable working within an already established oral tradition to develop a singing style that suited their culture and their religious doctrine. How did "traditional" long-meter singing in Lumbee culture fare against this force of change?

Lumbees took up shape-note singing and part harmony enthusiastically in the twentieth century, probably following their White neighbors or travelling missionaries who had been exposed to the singing schools. It provided an efficient way to pass on traditional songs without having instruments or having to read music. One of Jackson's works, "White Spirituals in the Southern Uplands" (published in 1933), contains a very brief discussion of the history of Christian music among the Indians of Robeson County. Jackson wrote to several people in Robeson County who described the influence of shape-note singing in the Indian church.

E.C. Snoddy, apparently a member of the faculty or administration at the Indian Normal School in Pembroke, said of Indians,

"their singing is almost wholly in shape notes. They have singing contests among their churches every fifth Sunday. These contests will ordinarily have about four to five groups or choirs from that many churches, and each choir will have ten to fifteen singers. . . . They have no instruments (Jackson 1965:417)."

Indian State Normal College, Pembroke, N.C.

This practice is still very much alive in the Lumbee community, and Lumbees of the "Baby Boom" generation and previous learned their music exclusively through shape notes and fa/sol/la techniques. Jackson also wrote to Mr. John R. Oxendine, who gave a hint of the history of shape-note singing:

"Mr. Jim Prevatt was the first man that taught shape note music among us in 1914 and 1915, at Mt. Olive Church (Jackson 1965:417)."

Mt. Olive Church

It is unclear whether Mr. Oxendine meant that Mr. Prevatt was the first to teach shape note music among all Lumbees, or just at Mt. Olive Church. Shape-note singing didn't replace the "traditional" long-meter singing, however; it seemed to persist through this period, perhaps as an alternate form to tune-book singing. The cross-pollination of these forms, existing side-by-side in the Lumbee community, led to a distinctive experience of both "traditional" long-meter singing (perhaps similar to Appalachian Primitive Baptists) and the more "non-traditional" influence of tune books. Lumbee use of musical forms hinges ultimately on the best means to pass on our faith in God and relationship to Him, a relationship that has an institutional and systematic form that has been developed and polished over time. Sutton's analysis of the influence of tune books on "traditional" forms in the Primitive Baptist church results in a very applicable observation about music in the Lumbee church, and indeed the entire influence of Christianity as a "non-traditional" form:

[W]hether a tune book functioned as a support for tradition or as a source for change [in the church] depended not on the book itself so much as on the particular combination of the book and the repertory already available in the . . . tradition of the community (Sutton 1982: 18).

The influences of the Puritan church, the social circumstances of the community, the camp meeting, and the shape-note tune books all combined to create a distinctive form and experience of music in the Lumbee church, a church which already had an available and living tradition of singing and worship. Since contact with Europeans and Africans, Lumbees have consistently enabled themselves to perpetuate and enrich these traditions through the use and adaptation of other forms. Christian hymns represent neither strictly a support for tradition nor a source for change among the Lumbee; rather, they are a mechanism for us to combine the versatility and spiritual strength of the hymns with our own history of long-developed religious structure and experience.