Anthropologists tell us music is found in every known culture, both past and present. It is thought to have existed for at least 50,000 years with the "oldest known song," written in cuneiform (about 4,000 years ago) but early music is generally thought to have started about the 5 century AD. In Europe music became intertwined with the Church and served as the focal point for next millennium. An all out attempt to suppress non-Christian music was made and the absence of music notation meant much of this rich heritage was lost forever but not all. At first music composers for the Church were clerics but in the later Middle Ages increasingly they came from secular backgrounds. Once church music became popular with the nobility who had it played at court for entertainment and dancing, the church banned that style of music. From Pagan times music and dancing were closely associated with love and courtship and the Church did not approve. Music became divided into sacred (spiritual) and secular (no spiritual). Sacred music made spiritual things more understandable and prepared the emotions to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. By the sixteenth century, court music was well established and the tune Green Sleeves is thought to be the oldest dance tune still to have survived in modern times (written by Henry VIII).
After the Reformation, Protestants preferred the secular to sacred and the beginning of modern music took hold. By the nineteenth century many compositions had crossed over from sacred to secular. Arguably the best known was Avia Maria (composed in 1825 by Franz Schubert) which was eventually performed with the adapted Latin words of Hail Mary.
John Newton wrote the hymn Amazing Grace in 1779 for a church service. Newton had previously been a seaman and captain of a slave ship. During a very violent storm he saw the light and was converted. His cathartic experience was caught in the lyrics and Newton eventually left the sea and became a minister of religion.
The hymn became a firm favourite during the American Civil War and was popular among folkies in the early sixties until Judy Collins’s version became a commercial hit in 1970.
A contemporary of John Newton was Napoléon Bonaparte, whose legacy to European cultured was the fashionable balls held in his honour. As the pleasures of dancing swept through the civilised word the waltz became the vogue with father then son Strauss, the main men. The popular dance allowed unchaperoned couples to hold their partners closely and twirl them giddily around the room to up tempo music.
French style Balls became fashionable in the Southern States of the US and the Southern aristocracy took amusement at the antics of their slaves when they lampooned their masters’ dancing style. Prizes of a baked cake were given to the more agile and creative dancers and the competitions became known as The Cakewalk. “Taking the cake” entered into the language meaning a winner who sweets the board. Soon the masses were baying for "ragged" music which accompanied the cake walk and the craze for 'ragtime music" and the prominence of composers like Scott Joplin followed.
As music tempo increased dancing became more daring with young people of the 30s and 40s now openly touching as they intimately supported each other gyrating off-balance. Each era kicked off a new dance craze with music to accompany it. No dance however swept the world faster, than the Tango from Argentina. Hernando’s Hideaway was written for the Broadway musical, Pyjama Game, and over the decades musicals have produced many outstanding songs with an inspirational bent.
In musical theatre the narrative and emotional content including humour, pathos, love, or anger are communicated through the words, music, and movement as an integrated whole. This makes it a very powerful means of communication which becomes all the more memorable by music which captures the human spirit and the ability to triumph over all adversity. Very inspirational. Many of the fifties country stars and rock’n’rollers had been introduced to singing in church. Some, like Little Richard, had problems making the adjustment and whilst he proved very successful playing the Devil’s music, inside he craved to return to his roots.
Others had far less traumatic transitions and revisited their rich heritage of inspirational singing to make gospel, mainstream pop. By the early seventies one women led the sexual revolution and I am not referring to Melbourne’s Germaine Greer. Jane Fonda was singularly responsible for introducing aerobic exercise into the daily lives of millions of ladies, worldwide. As gyms filled with keep fitters dressed in colour coordinated exercise wear including these damned awful shell suits another quite or may be not so quiet revolution took place, disco beat metamorphosed into exercise music timed to synchronise perfectly with heart rates and lyrics specifically geared to give the listener a psychological boost.
Worth a listen
Amazing Grace (1970)
The Pointer Sisters
I’m so excited (1982)
Eurythmics (and Aretha Franklin)
Sisters are doing it for them selves (1985)
I am woman (1971)
Maple Leaf Rag
Hernando’s hideaway (1955)
Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’
Gerry and the Pacemakers
You’ll never walk alone
Just a closer walk with thee
Sister Rosetta Tharp
Up above my head
Edwin Hawkins Singers
Oh Happy Day