The Birth of American Music

By David Eaton

While attending the 6th World Media Conference in 1983 in Cartagena, Colombia, I had the opportunity with several other musicians to meet with UTS founders, Reverend and Mrs. Sun Myung Moon. In the gathering, Rev. Moon expressed interest in the creative process pertaining to musical composition. He encouraged us to study and master the classical tradition, calling it “the foundation” upon which we could carry out our creative endeavors. He then suggested we combine the best elements of other genres — Rock, Jazz, Gospel, Folk — with the classical tradition in an attempt to create “New Age Music.”

In recollecting that meeting, I came to realize that in many ways American music was something akin to what Rev. Moon alluded to. Owing to America’s immigrant nation heritage, American music is a rich amalgam of highly varied styles and influences that arrived from many places. In a very real way American music is “World Music.”

When the Pilgrims landed in 1620 they not only brought their faith tradition, but also the music that accompanied it. Some of the earliest musical expressions of colonial America were Christian hymns sung in churches and schools utilizing the technique known as “shape-note” singing. Many of these were eventually published in 1835 in the hymnal known as Southern Harmony, including the “Garden Hymn,” a song known to Unificationists as “Song of the Garden.”

Eighteenth century Appalachian folk music was also indicative of the cross-fertilization highly evident in most American music. Immigrants from Scotland, Wales, England, and Ireland brought their ballads, jigs, reels — and their instruments — with them, and these musical influences found their way across the land.

Gospel Music also had religious roots. The “call-and-response” mode of music-making dates back to the early 1600s. As it evolved from 17th century Negro Spirituals and field hollers, it was the Christian revival movement and Holiness-Pentecostal movement of the late 19th century that spawned this new genre. Gospel historian Robert Darden noted the first published use of the term “Gospel” to describe this music style was in 1874 when Philip P. Bliss edited a revival songbook titled Gospel Songs for use in evangelical meetings and revivals.

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