In class we have been studying how missionaries and colonizers brought English music, specifically sacred music, to the “New World”. The colonizers installed missionary schools to teach Native Americans how to sing hymns and psalmody. Christian music was also taught to African slaves.
These topics and histories led me to question the role music played in colonization and slavery. What was the purpose of teaching Christian music to non-Christians?
The Gregorian Chant- Their Introduction Among the Negroes has helped me investigate this question and opened a door to a wealth of sources that depict the various ways Christian music has been weaponized as a tool of indoctrination.
Published in the Charleston Gospel Messenger and Protestant Episcopal Register on the 20th of May, 1844, The Gregorian Chant- Their Introduction Among the Negroes gives modern scholars an insight into the purpose behind this practice, and the reason why a magazine article would deem this article relevant to its readers.
This literature also stands as testament to the historical trend of American Christians weaponizing religious music to dominate, disenfranchise, and uproot the cultures of non-Christians of color.
The correspondence was written by a church musician who taught African slaves Gregorian chant on a plantation in the South, claiming that learning this music will be to their benefit.
“The benefits of all this to the negroes you will appreciate without my pointing them out. To learn so much, at once of Scripture and of the Church service; to learn it in a way to imprint it indelibly on their memories, and to have it ever at hand for their instruction, warning, comfort, and devotional use…”.
Gregorian Chant, which is taught orally and sung in unison, is said to give comfort and purpose to those who learn it, according to the people who were deeply involved in the business of slavery and proselytization.
There is very little literature confirming this that was not written for and by slavers and clergymen at the time; and it is likely that these ‘benefits’ were greatly exaggerated, as Gregorian chant also served to familiarize “new Christians” with scripture, which they learned and potentially memorized through active participation in worship service in the form of collective singing. What the article provides is, in fact, a ‘helpful guide’ to the Gregorian chant as a reliable method of forced assimilation: most writings about the subject focus on the practicality of teaching Gregorian chant to slaves as a gateway into re-culturing those who they deemed uncultured.
The author cites its singular ability to be taught to those who are “unacquainted with music”, blatantly contradicting his own assessment that “the religious songs which they [enslaved Africans] are now accustomed to” were, in fact, music.
In an eerily similar fashion to the missionary schools put in place to erase Native Americans through cultural as well as ethnic cleansing; the magazine writers seem more invested in diminishing these individuals’ cultural identities, as an entire new mechanism of exerting control, than in ‘gifting them salvation’.
THE GREGORIAN CHANTS–THEIR INTRODUCTION AMONG THE NEGROES. (1844, 05). Charleston Gospel Messenger and Protestant Episcopal Register (1842-1853), 21, 45. Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/magazines/gregorian-chants-their-introduction-among-negroes/docview/125266391/se-2?accountid=351