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History of Pop Music in the Early 20th Century Research Paper

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Updated: Sep 18th, 2021

Introduction

Sheet Music provides a visual and aural cue for experienced musicians and conductors and all that expert musicians need is a good score sheet to render a complete composition. There have been many genres of music compositions such as the chamber, orchestra, waltz to Jazz, and the modern forms such as rock and metal. This paper analyses sheet music for “Love Will Find a Way” a ragtime composition by the famed Jazz musician Eubie Blake who composed the song in 1921. The song was a hit composition from the musical Broadway called Shuffle Along.

About Jazz and Ragtime Music

With strong roots that date back to the period when slavery was popular, people of African American descent began playing a new form of music that was called Jazz. According to Gioia (1998, p. 78). Ragtime predated Jazz and was popular during 1899 and 1925 and some great classic compositions have been rendered in the genre. The author has written that Ragtime started as a form of fast dance music that was originally set to an organ and later adapted as sheet music for the piano.

Analysis of Sheet Music of “Love Will Find a Way”

The sheet music provides a score of the composition ‘Love will find a way. The song was a part of the musical Broadway called ‘Shuffle Along’. Jansen (2003, pp. 185) has given a detailed analysis of the musical and the particular song and he suggests that the sheet music and the performance reveal a combination of different types of ragtime music.

What purpose did sheet music illustrations serve? What are some of the most striking aspects of the illustrations that accompanied the sheet music?

The music sheet illustrations served as a good advertising medium, both for the musician as well as the publisher and anyone who was willing to buy space and the advertisements served as a source of revenue. For this particular music sheet, the back cover, the back cover featured advertisements for M. Witmark & Sons stock The front cover art is a marquee featuring just the lower limbs of several people who could be considered as dancers. There are a total of seven pairs of legs shown in the cover art, three of who are men and four of whom are women. Three of the women have black-colored legs while the remaining women have white legs. This depiction points to the strong racial statement as it can be argued that the cover is trying to show that Black women are coming out into the open and are dancers as well. It is not clear if the black color is due to the stockings or if the black color has been shown on purpose. The legs of the two men are shod in white dress shoes with neat trousers and other assortments. The last pair of legs seem to be shod in working man’s shoes and the arrangement can be interpreted as the white men going out to dance while the black working shoes are moving to entertain them.

Cover art
Figure 1. Cover art (Eubie Blake, 1921)

What are some of the recurrent themes in the lyrics and imagery of sheet music?

The sheet music provided on the Levy website features four scores of lyrics and these are given as below (Eubie Blake, 1921).

“Come dear and don’t let our faith weaken
Two babbling brooks with sources in the wind,
Let’s keep our love fires burning bright
Will meet before they reach the sea
Your love for me is a heavenly beacon,
Two mountain trails with courses grinding,
Guiding me through loves darkest night
Will cross before they reach the lea,
Don’t start minding or faith finding
Two hearts yearning,
or faith finding No matter how dark one path may grow,
Love lights burning,
just like babbling brooks and mountain trails,
Fate won’t hurry, well don’t worry, Well just keep our hearts aglow,
meet together on life’s heather,
It is a rule that never fails
Refrain: Love will find a way,
though skies are now gray, Love like ours can never be ruled
Cupids not schooled that way
Dry each tear-dimmed eye,’ clouds will
soon roll by,’ though fate may lead us astray,
My dearie, mark what I say, love will find a way, way.”

The lyrics and the score provide a deep insight into the pangs of yearning and love that lovers feel. The singer and his beloved seem to be undergoing a deep trauma and pains that are rending them apart. The lyrics appeal to any couple, irrespective of their skin color, and are based on the common love ballads that had become popular in those times. There are many trails and hurdles that the lyricist speaks of and these can be again interpreted as a symbolism of the Black struggle. An indomitable spirit and the spirit to live and thrive is the common undercurrent in the lyrics and though there are many troubles, the singer exhorts his lover not to lose heart or courage. As with the Black community in those days who were deeply religious, the lyrics suggest that the couple repose their future in fate and destiny and that both these factors would not hurt their love as cupid is not ruled by such factors. The lyrics also speak of the need to comfort each other and wipe their tears as the singer says that love will triumph and that they would survive. The following table gives images of the sheet music.

Table 1. Sheet Music (Eubie Blake, 1921).

Sheet Music Sheet Music two
Sheet Music three

What was the relationship between the images on sheet music and the music itself?

Jensen (p. 185-197) has written that the Shuffle Along was a remarkable breakthrough for the African American musicians and performers and it served as a launching point for this community of African Americans. Before this musical, the community members were not regarded with respect by the whites. The musical and the scores showed that even whites, which made up a major part of the audience, we’re ready to pay money and see an African American musical. The launch on Broadway, which has long been regarded as the hallmark of success ensured that the scores became very popular. The musical served as a cornerstone for African Americans and showed to the world at large that African American themes and musicals could stand on their own. The public accepted the musical with gusto and Jensen has reported that there were more than 541 stagings of the play. Following the success of the musical, nine more musicals with African American themes and compositions were launched. The musical also helped to serve the careers of many Black dancing and singing stars such as Bill “Bojanles” Robinson, Wallace Thurman, and Rapp who launched the slow drag musical that was a different type of social dance that was practiced by African Americans. The story and plot are not extensive or deep and just gave a reason for the performers to sing. The plot was about a contest for the post of Mayor in Jim Town. There were several contenders for the post and each was trying to dupe the other. Several lead African Women were also featured and the plot also spoke of the desire that the actors had for the women. During those times, in a race to gain acceptance among the whites, a Black woman was considered more attractive and desirable if she had lighter skin and the tone and ethos of the musical would offend some people now.

What was the relationship between the images on sheet music and the music itself?

According to the Maryland Society (Sheet Music, 2003)), the original score for the musical and song had 42 pages that were handwritten for different musical instruments. Out of the 42 pages, the first two pages were designed for the piano. The music sheet also includes several pages for other instruments and pages 3 to 6 were meant for the conductor who would direct the score. The Trumpet also featured prominently in the score and the music sheet provides the scores for three accompanying trumpets. The score for the 1st trumpet is given on pages 15 to 18, for the second trumpet on pages 11 to 14 and for the 3rd trumpet on pages 7 to 10. Also featured in the music sheet is the tenor saxophone and the score is given on pages 19 to 23. Pages 24 to 28 feature the score for the 3rd alto saxophone and the 1st alto saxophone is stored on pages 29-33. Ragtime made good use of bass, especially while building the changes in the temp and the bass is featured on pages 34 to 37. The trombone also features in the score and the score is given on pages 38 to 42.

The score is based on the e minor scale and there is a scale change for the refrain when the D major scale is played and we have a rapid movement between different chords in the scale. Berlin (p, 25) has written that to a certain extent, the music showed the struggle that African Americans went through in the early 1900s. The author has argued that the dancers were predominantly whites while the musicians were inevitably Blacks. The form of music echoes the wistfulness and longing of the community and reveals the depression and angst they went through. The high soprano notes seem rather like the plaintive wail of the suffering body as it cries out against injustice. The refrain that comes out strongly seems like a united chorus that seeks to reassure the couple. The author has also argued that the musicians derived satisfaction at making the white people dance and enjoy themselves and he speaks of this feeling as a form of the assertion made by the musicians. The music started as an adaptation of the popular March numbers and was written with a time of 2/4 and even a 4/4 meter. The music features bass notes that are predominant in the left-hand pattern with odd-numbered notes. The chords however are placed on even-numbered beats and have a melody that follows the right hand. The music is sometimes also called ragtime waltz and is written on a 3/4 meter. The author has also written that music can be adapted to any kind of meter and does not follow a strict 2/4 meter of March time of the 3/4 meter of the Waltz time. The distinguishing character of this genre is that the melodic accents are placed in between metrical beats. Gioia has argued that in many compositions, the melody seems to move away from the metrical beats that are created by the accompanying instruments. The overall feeling when the song starts is that it calls the feet to start tapping on their own and the body to sway with the music. In the 1920s, this kind of music was usually played in bordellos and ‘houses of ill repute’ where despite the prohibition, people enjoyed alcohol and danced to the music. As in those times, music at the revue was live and expert musicians had a knack of playing a slower tempo and that would make the people sway to the beat and then increase the beat and tempo to make them swing. It must be emphasized that ragtime featured predominantly a rolling piano and was accompanied by other instruments also.

What marketing techniques were incorporated into sheet music?

Jasen (p. 29) suggests that various publishers had seen the potential of selling sheet music and took up mass publishing and marketing of sheet music. The publishers even hired musicians to transcribe and write the score for various popular musical scores and songs of those days. The sheet music was sold in stores and other commercial ventures and people who wanted to know the lyrics and those who wanted to play the score bought the sheet music.

What were some of the limits of sheet music to disseminate and popularize various music styles?

An analysis of sheet music shows that to understand and interpret it requires a basic knowledge of music, music notations, and a good understanding of how music is organized and played. Common people would have limited idea of such technical music terms and to most of them, the music sheet would be a mass of meaningless symbols.

References

Berlin Edward A. (30 November 1995). King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era. Oxford University Press, USA.

Eubie Blake. (1921). Love Will Find a Way: Sheet Music from the Levy Collection. 2007.Web.

Gioia Ted. (1998). The History of Jazz. Oxford University Press: London.

Jasen David A. (25 June 2003). Tin Pan Alley: An Encyclopedia of the Golden Age of American Song. Routledge, USA.

Sheet Music. (2003). The Eubile Blake Collection: Maryland Historical Society. 2007. Web.

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