What we offer at BDMA

by Becky

We want to take this opportunity to let you know what we offer alongside your practical music lessons, because actually, it’s quite a lot!

So, what else does BDMA offer?

Scholarship Audition Prep

We know a lot of our students want to use music to achieve scholarships when starting at new schools. We are happy to help with this preparation with extra lessons to cover the requirements for the audition and to go through good audition technique.

Aural and Musical Knowledge

When preparing for an exam, there are so many different aspects that make up the whole thing. It’s not just about knowing the pieces but the aural and musical knowledge that needs learning too. We offer extra lessons to cover these areas in more detail.

Theory

Similarly, understanding theory is really important, not just to progress to higher exams (you need to pass Grade 5 theory to move to a Grade 6 practical exam) but to have a broader musical knowledge. We have many tutors that are happy to teach your child theory alongside their practical lessons. Especially when moving into higher grades, we offer tuition to prepare for the Grade 5 theory exam.

GCSE/A Level Support Lessons

Sometimes moving up to GCSE or A Level music can feel like quite a big step. Suddenly students have to start studying music in more detail, begin composing and performing more difficult pieces. We can provide extra lessons that can support the work done in schools so students feel more confident with their progression.

——

These lessons are at the standard rates for London and Manchester. All of the above lessons can be bought as one off lessons or in blocks of 5 lessons, invoiced separately to your regular standing order. We are also happy to teach in small groups, so you can team up with a friend!

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Band Coaching 

This is now offered in both London AND Manchester. All the details for this are on the band coaching section of our website. Click here for more details.

Songwriting Courses (Manchester only)

We have just launched a brand new Songwriting course in Manchester – write a song in just four lessons with one of our rock star tutors! We are running this as an offer of 4 lessons for £79. Contact Jess for more info: 07840 243 478

Helping your child with their practice

by Becky

Practice can be daunting for all of us…

…even us professionals! 

We are very aware that some children just don’t know where to start with their practice. It can be difficult even just making a move to set up your instrument never mind starting the practice session.

So we want to suggest helping your child by setting up for them.

My mum used to set up my cello for me; she would unpack the cello, get the chair in place, tighten the bow, set up the music stand, open the music books and get the cello stop positioned, and it really helped spur me on to start practising.

I know at first glance this might seem a bit indulgent, but I was only six at the time and what would take my mum 2 minutes to do would have taken me 5 – 10 mins of faffing and made practice time more of a drag. Once you’re more grown up, you learn how to do these things fast but we can help our little ones by expediting this process for them.

It might mean opening the piano lid for your child and turning to the music they’re working on. Or getting them a glass of water and clearing space in the room they play in.

Giving your child a friendly nudge in the right direction can really help eliminate some of the daunting feelings they might have when starting to practise.

It’s also helpful to remind your child how to structure their practice. It might seem really obvious to us but your child might need reminding.

  • Start with scales/exercises/warm-ups
  • Work on small sections within pieces, maybe just a bar or two
  • Work on linking sections
  • Move on to play the whole piece 

If you’re not sure your child is making the most of their practice sessions then have a chat with their tutor and see if they have any suggestions on what they should focus on.

Happy practising! 

Becky

100 Years of Jazz: The Prohibition

The Prohibition

 by Louise Balkwill

As what we have come to know as “Traditional Jazz” grew in popularity and spread from New Orleans across the whole of America, new inventions and political changes also began to shape the music.

The Prohibition in the United States of America (a constitutional ban on all alcohol in America between 1920 and 1933) kick-started the “Jazz Age” and made way for a new secret night life culture, where people would find any way they could to smuggle, brew or distil their own alcoholic drinks.

Hoagy Carmichael, one of the great 20th century composers, said that the prohibition..

“came with a bang of bad booze, flappers with bare legs, jangled morals and wild weekends.”

According to novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, during prohibition…

“The parties were bigger…the pace was faster…and the morals were looser.”

Jazz music became the popular music of the day among the young and ‘hip’ crowds, many of whom were at the forefront of the rebellion.

They would meet in secret clubs, “speakeasies”, to eat, drink and dance all night long to the ever-growing variety of live jazz music that had become an important part of the youth culture of the day.

Because jazz music became associated with seedy illicit bars, alcohol culture and crime, and because racism was still so rife, the white middle class saw jazz as a dark, rebellious and uncouth genre.

This didn’t stop the musicians of the 1920’s!

They continued to compose and play music that has since become timeless, shaping all popular music to follow it.

Check out this 1927 recording of “Potato Head Blues” by the great Louis Armstrong’s “Hot Fives and Sevens”

Inspired?

Why not try your hand at jazz music with one of our creative and inspirational tutors with our 4 lessons for £99 (London) or 4 lessons for £79 (Manchester) offer?

Send an email to louise@beckydellmusicacademy.co.uk to enquire

For Musicians From Musicians: Tutors, Mentors and why you need both

Tutors, Mentors and Why You Need Both

by the BDMA Tutors

TUTOR
noun
1. a person employed to instruct another in some branch or branches of learning, especially a private instructor.

MENTOR
noun
1. a wise and trusted counselor or teacher.

What is the difference between tutor and mentor, and why do we need both as musicians?

From the dictionary definitions, we see that tutors focus on the learning aspect whilst mentors go more towards the side of guidance.

Obviously, when learning an instrument it is a must that a tutor teaches you the ins and outs of what you are playing. They need to cover the technique and the theory, the repertoire and the rules.

Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to play.

But if you talk to the majority of professional musicians and get them to reminisce on their past tutors, yes some might say

“My second teacher really sorted out my technique”

…but what is more likely to stick with them is how a tutor supported them or inspired them.

This is the mentor aspect of music teaching. Mentors are there to guide through difficult decisions, push you to the next level and inspire your creativity.

The combination of tutor and mentor is what pushes students to be the best they can be. With this in mind, we’ve had our tutors share some of their experiences.

 

Jess Tomlinson:

We know that music is so much more than learning the notes. So your teaching experience should represent this – learning the theory is important, but understanding the depth of music, being innovative and creative and finding constant inspiration is when music lessons move to the next level. My favourite teachers have been the ones that have thoroughly taught me the technique of the instrument but spent an equal about of time guiding me as a musician. This might have been telling me anecdotes, giving me life advice or asking how the rest of my studies were going, generally taking an interest in my whole musical life, not just when I had a clarinet in my hands. I want to replicate this with my teaching – music should be an experience that goes past just simply playing and I strive for my students to understand the whole picture, and love it.

 

Bryony Purdue:

I have never been someone to express myself through anger or particularly through silent treatment/sadness. It has always been through music and my first singing teacher, Lesley, made the link between personal and musical inextricable. To be able to do what we do and sing or play in front of people, we have to be so sure of ourselves as people as well as performers, otherwise it is all too easy for nerves and fear to get the better of us. We are all human and having encouragement and FUN when learning and performing is so important (whether it be to family in your living room or in front of lots of people.) Mentors bring out the human in us and give us enough confidence and self-assurance and tutors teach us the skill of our instrument. You need both to be able to fully enjoy the process and reap the limitless benefits of music.

 

Louise Balkwill:

I’ve found throughout my musical journey that it has been invaluable to have both tutors and mentors. For me, my tutors have helped me to develop the foundations; good technique, a comprehensive repertoire, harmonic knowledge and so on. As you develop, you select your tutors based on a problem-and-solution basis. But a mentor is someone who really inspires you and takes you under their wing – a kind of Harry Potter and his wand type, special relationship!

My first mentor was an incredible musician called Liane Carroll; the woman who inspired me to start singing. I found myself at her gig by chance, and was in awe from the moment she opened her mouth – so I followed her EVERYWHERE for a good year before approaching her. I went on one of her summer schools and she took a personal interest in my singing and my musical journey. She has since let me join her on stage at gigs and we make an effort to hang out whenever she is in town and we are both free. The inspiration, advice and support that she has bestowed upon me has become an important part of who I am, and I am very lucky indeed to have her as a mentor and friend.

There is nothing to say that a tutor cannot become a mentor. For example, I developed a great learning relationship with my History of Jazz tutor, Malcolm Earle-Smith, whilst at Trinity Laban. When I reached my final year, I really struggled, both emotionally and creatively. Malcolm went out of his way to support me and gave me all the help that I needed to stay inspired, finding innovative and new ways to teach me things that I was struggling with and encouraging me along the way. He has become an invaluable mentor and dear friend.

Introducing Our New Tutors!

Over the past few months as our academy has grown, we’ve been delighted to welcome seven wonderful new tutors to our happy team, six in London and one in Manchester. 

We can’t wait for you to meet them, so here’s a little online introduction… If this has whetted your appetite, do get in touch with us! 

Why not try a new instrument with our 4 lessons for £99 offer (in London)!

Contact louise@beckydellmusicacademy.co.uk to enquire.

Bryony Purdue – BMus Hons – Singing and Piano, London.

Bryony has recently joined us as a singing and piano tutor. She has just graduated from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance with a first class degree in classical singing, but is wonderfully diverse and sings all styles of music, capturing the hearts of audiences everywhere! She is also particularly gifted when it comes to tutoring younger students, with her bubbly personality and love for teaching. She is a big believer in keeping the fun alive when learning music!

“I have never been someone to express myself through anger or particularly through silent treatment/sadness. It has always been through music and my first singing teacher, Lesley, made the link between personal and musical inextricable. To be able to do what we do and sing or play in front of people, we have to be so sure of ourselves as people as well as performers, otherwise it is all too easy for nerves and fear to get the better of us. We are all human and having encouragement and FUN when learning and performing is so important (whether it be to family in your living room or in front of lots of people.)”

Check out her beautiful rendition of this Billie Holiday classic…

Fraser Bowles – BMus Hons, MMus – Cello and Piano, London.

Fraser has recently joined our London team as a cello and piano tutor. He has played with an impressive list of bands and ensembles…

“Although I love to play classical music, I’ve played with some pretty cool bands, too; Matt Emery, VLMV, Ben Laver, Taz Modi, Heather McClelland, and as a member of Parallax Orchesta; Eminem, Alter Bridge, Sweet Billy Pilgrim, Bring Me The Horizon, Jennifer Ann, The Irrepressibles, dodie and Ardyn to name a few! I am also a founding member of the contemporary music group, Ret Frem. We are committed to the performance and promotion of music of exquisite craft by living composers – established, emerging or underrepresented.”

But hey, who needs a band when you can clone yourself and play four cellos at once!

Ian Sankey – BMus Hons – All Brass (Trumpet, Flugel, Trombone, Euphonium, French Horn, Tuba), London.

Ian is our newest member of the team, and has joined us with a rather incredible inventory of brass instruments, including a renaissance trombone called the sackbut!

“While at Guildhall I began playing the sackbut, which is the renaissance trombone, something I still enjoy to this day. Playing sackbut has taken me as far Toronto in Canada when a group of us joined forces with Girton College choir from Cambridge to record a CD of the music of Lassus out there.”

They’re very rare (and expensive!), but Ian has said that he’d be more than happy to let any of his new students have a go!

Have a listen to Ian playing Randy Newman’s “When She Loved Me” from Toy Story with Aeris Brass!

Joel Waters – Drums, London.

Meet Joel, our fabulous new drum tutor. He has already racked up an impressive teaching portfolio (he’s been teaching since the age of 15!) and has joined us recently to bring his drum expertise to your living rooms.

“Hi there! I’m Joel and I teach Drums. I have been teaching since I was fifteen and have been playing drums since I was five years old. Currently I am currently studying Jazz, at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. I love all styles of music from heavy metal to classical and have worked with various different bands and artists across the UK. In my spare time I love to play table tennis and go running. My favourite cake has to be a good old Victoria sponge (especially with fondant roll up icing – I could eat that by itself!).”

Joel is incredibly diverse and can play all styles of music (check him out in the last video in this newsletter playing with one of Louise’s students, Tilda Hardy) and is a ninja with brushes!

Megan Thompson – Violin, piano, theory and beginner singing, Manchester

Megan has recently joined our team up in Manchester, teaching violin, piano, theory and beginner singing…

“I have enjoyed many orchestral and chamber music opportunities, playing in projects with the Hallé orchestra and Manchester Camerata. I also enjoy playing chamber music and doing session work, performing with touring groups in venues across the country including, Manchester Palace Theatre, Birmingham’s New Alexandra Theatre and Kings Theatre in Glasgow.”

Rob Griffin – BMus Hons – Woodwind and Piano, London

Rob has just joined us as a woodwind and piano teacher after achieving the highest mark in his year at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance – He was awarded the Trinity Laban Jazz Achievement Award in 2016!

Despite being rather brilliant, Rob is a fun and friendly chap who loves to teach students of all ages and stages.

Twm Dylan – BMus Hons, MMus – Guitar, Electric Bass, Double Bass, Piano, Singing, London.

Twm has recently finished his Master’s Degree at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and is now an official double bass master. But that’s not all – he is a multifaceted multi instrumentalist too!

Although he has only begun teaching for the Becky Dell Music Academy recently, he’s been a friend of the family for a long time and plays with our other tutors, Louise Balkwill, Llinos Emanuel, Joel Waters and Rob Griffin regularly. He’s also making quite a splash on the UK jazz scene with widely renowned band Maisha.

Check out this video of Twm playing the Billie Holiday heart melter “It’s Like Reaching For The Moon” with one of Louise’s students, Tilda Hardy, alongside two of our other new tutors, Rob (sax) and Joel (drums)!

Give them all a big, warm BDMA welcome!

Fancy learning with one of our amazing new tutors?

Why not try a new instrument with our 4 lessons for £99 offer (in London)!

Contact louise@beckydellmusicacademy.co.uk to enquire.

From Becky and the Team x

100 Years of Jazz: Traditional Jazz

Traditional Jazz

Blog by Louise Balkwill

If you have been following this blog series, you have read about ragtime music – a genre of piano-based music played from sheet music for high society. You will have also heard some blues – heavily improvised music, used primarily as a form of expression among black slaves and musicians and frowned upon by the upper class white folk.

Now picture this – a story of the origins of jazz that I was told a couple of weeks ago in the birthplace of jazz by a pianist at the New Orleans Jazz Museum;

“You’re a black musician. It’s 1900, or thereabouts. There’s a gig this evening at one of the hottest clubs in the quarter, but the trumpet player is ill, or has taken another gig, or, for some other reason can’t make it, and has asked you to step in and do the gig instead…

At the time, “rags” were popular and had become more complex, with various written parts for various instruments that the musicians were expected to play. However, if you were offered a gig but your part was missing, you couldn’t afford to turn down the gig – you’d just have to make up the part!

And thus began improvisation in a band setting, using preconceived chord patterns and melodies.”

As time went on, new compositions were written in a way that supported this new improvisational style. To begin with, songs still felt very “arranged” and could have all manner of forms that sounded “rag”-esque. There were written melodies, chord patterns and some harmony parts, but the nature of being a busy musician in this era had changed; You had to understand the role of your instrument and be able to improvise in a band setting.

Roles of Instruments in a Traditional Jazz Band

If you wanted to play in a band in early 1900’s America, you had to understand how your instrument worked in a collective sense. You also had to develop technique and a good understanding of musical harmony.

Voice: Most instrumentalists would double as singers. The vocal chorus would appear in the middle of a performance instead of being the main feature of a song.

Trumpet/Cornet: `Frontline (plays the melody and solos)

Clarinet: Frontline (plays an agile countermelody/obbligato that weaves in and out of the melody. Also plays improvised solos)

Trombone: Frontline (harmonises with higher brass and fills in with scoops and slides)

Piano: Frontline & Rhythm section (plays “stride” but can also solo and play countermelodies)

Banjo/Guitar: Rhythm section (plays on the beat every beat – “chg-chg-chg-chg”)

Bass/Sousaphone/Tuba: Rhythm section (plays generally roots and fifths on the 1st and 3rd beats of each bar

“Dixieland”

The first jazz recording dates back to 1917, and was recorded by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band:

“Dixieland” is, however, a controversial term. It was used by white musicians to describe their generally sped-up, “cleaned-up” version of the slower, more blues influenced traditional jazz music that was being played by black musicians. This term is not well received to this day amidst New Orleans’ traditional musicians.

The “Invention of Jazz”

Jelly Roll Morton was said to be the self-proclaimed “inventor of jazz”, although his actual words were quite different. He wrote;

“All my fellow musicians were much faster in manipulations, I thought than I, and I did not feel as though I was in their class.”

So he would write songs to be played at a slower tempo, leaving more room for flexibility when it came to improvising.

When Jelly Roll Morton started recording his own compositions with his band, he could play to the strengths of his fine comrades. The music became faster (this was popular at the time as it was more fun to dance to) and more virtuosic.

This new style that he had suggested paved the way for a new generation of jazz musicians.

Check out this 1923 recording of “High Society” by King Oliver and his band – just listen to that clarinet go!

The reality is that the invention of jazz music cannot be accredited to any one musician. It is a genre that celebrates collective playing and improvisation and welcomes influences from a wide variety of backgrounds and influences.

A blog about this era is not complete without a glimpse of one of the world’s greatest musical heroes in the formative years of his musical journey. Here’s a treat for you – Louis Armstrong playing “Potato Head Blues” in 1927 with his Hot Seven!

Next time, we’ll be looking at how traditional jazz swung its way into popularity with the swing era – big bands, crooners, endless dancing and pioneers of the 21st century!

 

Inspired?

Why not try your hand at jazz music with one of our creative and inspirational tutors with our 4 lessons for £99 offer?

Send an email to louise@beckydellmusicacademy.co.uk to enquire

 

The Double Bass: Big, Bold and Beautiful

By Louise Balkwill

In this blog post, I will be raving about one of the most important, versatile, best loved but least accredited instruments in western music’s modern (and not so modern) history – yes, that’s right, the Double Bass!

The Double Bass (also known as the contrabass, upright bass, standup bass, acoustic bass or just “the bass”) has been an important part of the foundations of the music that we know and love for centuries.

It its the largest, lowest-pitched bow-able string instrument around (apart from the super rare Octobasse – Click here to see what it sounds like!), and as the 19th and 20th centuries saw the rise of many new genres of music, the double bass stuck around and proved itself to be one of the most versatile, too!

When many people think of the double bass, they think of it as a big, cumbersome instrument that plods along at the bottom of an orchestra; This could not be further from the truth! It can give the violin a run for its money as a virtuosic sensation.

If you don’t believe me, just watch Dominic Seldis go!

…Amazing, right?

Another great thing about the Double Bass is that if you love singing, you can do both at the same time!

Watch the fabulous Esperanza Spalding play the timeless jazz standard “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” (Girls, take heed – although it’s big, the double bass isn’t a “man’s instrument” as many people seem to think; all of my double bass pupils are actually female!)

If you watched both of these videos, you probably noticed that Dominic and Esperanza play the double bass in very different ways; Dominic sits down, Esperanza stands up, Dominic plays with a bow (this is what string players call “Arco”) and Esperanza plucks the strings (known to us as “pizzicato”)…

The instrument has been an important and inspiring facilitator of change and expression over the past two or more centuries, enabling different cultures and communities of musicians to develop their own styles and techniques of playing while still remaining a cornerstone of the music.

 

Unfortunately, the Double Bass has become an endangered instrument, meaning that there are very few people learning it…

That does, however, mean more gigs for those of us who do!

Inspired?

Give the Double Bass a go with our 4 lessons for £99 offer!

You can try double bass lessons with me (Louise), or if you’d rather try out the sideways version (the bass guitar), why not give lessons with the wonderful Twm or Ronald a spin?

(Email louise@beckydellmusicacademy.co.uk to enquire)

Now, it wouldn’t be a blog about the Double Bass without sharing a tune from the revolutionary Charles Mingus…Enjoy!

100 Years of Jazz: Blues

Blues

Blog by Louise Balkwill

Alongside the evolution of the music from Congo Square in the 19th Century, before the abolition of the slave trade in America, another type of slave music grew in the Southern plantations; Blues.

Blues found its origins in the Mississippi Delta, when slaves would sing about their sorrows while picking cotton and working in the fields. It was initially considered a type of folk music and was popular only among African slaves and their descendants, frowned upon by the middle and upper class Americans of European decent.

Early types of blues music included spirituals (religious songs using vocal harmony) and work songs. Work songs were structured in a call and response fashion and lyrics were largely improvised before any transcribed or recorded compositions arose.

Here is a short documentary on “Slave Songs”, possibly the first published book of work songs and spirituals sung by African Americans in the 1800’s. These songs evolved into what we know as blues, and the book most probably contains the first ever compilation of transcriptions of the genre.

 

As blues and jazz have similar origins, the two genres married perfectly when the aural traditions of both were passed from state to state among musicians and travellers. Jazz musicians all over the world still play what we have come to know as “jazz blues” .

 

The “Blues Scale”

Today, the blues is easily recognisable by its form (usually 12 bars, explained later on in this blog) and “blues notes”, otherwise known as “worried notes” – these are flattened 3rds, 7th and sometimes 5ths that give the music its melancholic, implied minor feel. These can be found in what is known as the blues scale, a scale that can be used as a good starting place to practise improvisation on the blues;

 

12 Bar Blues

The basic blues structure is made up of 12 bars (3 groups of 4 bars), like so: A great example of this is W.C. Handy’s 1915 composition, “Joe Turner Blues” – have a listen!

 

Other Blues Forms

Although most blues that we know today is constructed as above, there is also eight bar blues, sixteen bar blues, minor blues and other variations.

Check out Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s rendition of “Trouble In Mind”, an eight bar blues:

 

Give it a go!

Why not have a go at writing your own? Here are some blues lyrics by one of the 20th century’s best loved jazz singers, Billie Holiday. See how the first two lines are the same, and the last line rhymes with them?

My man don’t love me, treats me awful mean
My man don’t love me, treats me awful mean
He’s the lowest man that I’ve ever seen

Let us know what you come up with! If you need more inspiration, check out this blues composition by one of our amazing pupils, Tilda!

100 Years of Jazz: Ragtime

Ragtime

Blog by Louise Balkwill

In our last blog, we looked at Congo Square and the origins of Jazz music. Now we visit the 1890’s, when Ragtime appeared in its earliest form.

Unlike the earlier music of Congo Square that was passed down aurally from generation to generation, Ragtime music gained popularity through being passed around as sheet music, and is thought to be the first written ‘pop’ music – Blues, in contrast, was thought by the higher classes to be a lower class rural music (although very important in the history of jazz – we will have a listen to some blues in the next blog.)

Named ‘Ragtime’ because of its ragged, syncopated rhythms, the music became very popular for dances and was written mainly by middle class African American musicians who had gained influence from minstrelsy and classical music, as well as the improvised and traditional music of Congo Square. The music was accompanied by a dance called the ‘Cakewalk’ – this made way for endless variations that the kids of the time loved to get their feet into. Ragtime music was also a very popular choice to accompany silent films in its later years. You might well have heard of “The Entertainer” (or even played it for one of your grade exams); this is a Ragtime piece written by Scott Joplin, the celebrated “King of Ragtime” in 1902, 115 years ago!

Ragtime started off as a music witten only for solo piano, but in the early 1900’s, orchestral and ensemble arrangements became popular. The violin then became the main leading instrument in these ragtime ensembles with this popular line-up:

  • Melody: First Violin (or Cornet with second Cornet harmonies)
  • Beats 2 and 4: Second Violin (prior to the banjo)
  • Beats 1 and 3: Bass Viol
  • *Obbligato: Piccolo or Clarinet
  • Bassline: Trombone
  • Percussion: Strict time drumming

*Obbligato, (Italian: “obligatory”), in music, essential but subordinate instrumental part. For example, in an 18th-century aria with trumpet obbligato, the trumpet part, although serving as accompaniment to the voice, may be as brilliant in its writing as that of the voice itself.

Fancy having a go at learning some Ragtime Piano?

Check out this video with on-screen sheet music of the first known rag, written by the first published African American composer, Tom Turpin!

(If you liked that, check out YouTube user RagtimeDorianHenry’s other ragtime videos!)

In the next blog, we’ll be looking at early blues and how it has played a massive part in the evolution of the jazz tradition!

100 Years of Jazz: Part 1 – Congo Square

Blog by Louise Balkwill

2017 is a very special year for music – it marks 100 years since the release of the first ever jazz recording, “Livery Stable Blues” by The Original Dixieland Jazz Band! Since then, popular music has foxtrotted, swung, bopped, rocked and rolled its way into the 21st century, but the rich culture of improvised music from New Orleans is still rife today all over the world.

 

Congo Square, the Birthplace of Jazz

Before we look at the journey that jazz music has taken over the past 100 years, we must ask how it came to be in the first place.

Rewind 100 years further to the year of 1817; 198 years after the first Africans were sold into slavery in America. The mayor of New Orleans city council established “Congo Square” (originally known as Beauregard Square and Congo Plains) as an official site for slave music and dance by restricting any kind of gathering of enslaved Africans anywhere else in the city.

Every Sunday, they would gather in Congo Square and sell goods to raise money to buy their freedom. In the glimpse of free time that this weekly ‘day off’ provided, they would also gather together to sing, dance and create music. Original instruments used included long, narrow African drums that had previously been banned in America, triangles, jawbones and early ancestors of the banjo.

Benjamin Henry Latrobe’s drawing of a bamboula, made at Congo Square on February 16, 1819. (© Maryland Historical Society)

Dances such as “Flat-Footed-Shuffle” and the ”Bamboula” were performed as these rhythms were played. As time went on, the dances and music evolved with new influences and ideas.

Visitors from all over New Orleans began to gather to spectate and dance along to what they then coined “Black music”, and this culture began to spread across America.

African slaves dancing the Bamboula; Illustration by Edward Windsor Kimble at The Historic New Orleans Collection

The square became a mixing pot for a rich diversity of traditional African rhythms passed down through many generations, as well as European music that English-speaking Africans were familiar with.

In 1865, after almost 250 years of slavery in America, the cruel trade was abolished, but the musical traditions that had evolved over the past few decades stuck.

 

In the next post, we’ll be looking at how African American music evolved into the new hip trend of the late 19th century – Ragtime!