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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Handclapping In African American Churches, Part I

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a two part post on handclapping in African American services and/or religious concerts. This post provides general comments about the reasons for handclapping in many African American churches & African American Gospel concerts.

Part II presents seven videos which showcase types of handclapping in African American churches & Gospel concerts. Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2012/08/handclapping-in-african-american_26.html for Part II of this series.

The content of this post is presented for religious and folkloric purposes.

EDITORIAL COMMENTS
I'm writing this post because I haven't found any online articles that provide details of what is usually referred to as "soulful handclapping" in African American churches. Because I'm neither a musician or musicologist or apparently someone who understands music definitions found on sites like Wikipedia, I've been looking for (and still haven't found) easy to understand explanations of how handclapping is done in African American churches.

I know that there's more than one style of soulful handclapping & I know how to "clap soulfully" But I don't feel confident about my ability to explain the differences between "soulful handclapping" and "non-soulful handclapping"(a phrase btw that I've never seen before). I've read that the beats that are emphasized in soulful handclapping are 2 and 4 instead of 1 and 3. For instance, here's a comment posted on http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=262429 by Mister Rik:
"*heh* One of the little joke you hear in group singing situations (such as church) is that where you clap indicates how "black" you are. i.e. if you clap on 1 & 3, you must be really white; clapping on 2 & 4 indicates "black". This derives from the traditional image of an all-white congregation clapping on 1 & 3 as compared to a black Southern Baptist congregation all clapping on 2 & 4.

If you're clapping along with, say, a march or ragtime song, 1 & 3 would be appropriate. If you're clapping along with rock & roll, country, gospel, jazz, etc, 2 & 4 is appropriate. Basically, listen for the snare drum and clap where you hear it."
-snip-
And I've read that when the second and fourth beat are emphasized that is "offbeat" or "downbeat" and when the first and third beat are emphasized that is "on beat". I've also read that soulful handclapping can be done in "double time or "double off-beat". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beat_(music) "Beat (music)"

And I've read about Black people clapping "between the beats", and doing "polyrhythmic clapping". http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=53920#836017 "Jerry R's 'Black/White Gospel Workshop". I added several comments to that discussion thread but I choose not to muddy the water here with any attempt to explain any of those musical terms. However, I believe that persons interested in this subject may appreciate Part II of this post which presents videos that showcase one or more styles of soulful handclapping.

Instead of trying to explain how soulful handclapping is done, I've chosen to focus on another part of this topic that I've not found online - when and why soulful handclapping is done in Black churches & Black religious concerts. I feel much more confident to comment about this portion of that subject because of my experiences as a Black person who is a member of a Black church and who has attended a number of Black churches. I've listed the reasons for soulful clapping in church & church related events with the important qualifier that I think that the acceptance of handclapping in African American (and other Black churches) has changed overtime and also differs then and now depending on what denomination of church a Black person attends, and also probably what pastor is in charge of that church.

As a general statement, it seems to me that COGIC (Church of God In Christ) churches and some other Pentacostal Christian churches have a much higher degree of acceptance and practice of handclapping during church services than some Baptist (particularly Northern Baptist) or Methodist or Presbyterian or other Protestant denominations. And while there Catholic churches that are afro-centric such as Saint Benedict The Moor in my adopted hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in which soulful handclapping is encouraged, I think it's safe to say that most Black Catholic congregations don't do much soulful handclapping.

Without further introductory comments, here's my list of when handclapping is done in African American churches/religious events:
(The reasons listed aren't presented in any quantitative order.)

HANDCLAPPING MAY OCCUR IN AFRICAN AMERICAN CHURCHES
1. as accompaniment for singing and/or instrumental music

2. as a way of praising God

Ministers and choir leaders often direct the congregation to "Give God some praise". The congregation then claps their hands.


3. as an expression of approval and/or agreement about what is being heard or seen, including the way portions of a song are sung or played, or the way a mime group performs a dance

In contrast to Anglo-American customs, it's traditional, acceptable, and expected in many African American (and other Black) churches and other Black venues for people to show their approval of what is being sung or said or the music that is being performed by applauding during the performance.

4. as a voluntary or involuntary expression of jubilation, excitement, and/or exhilaration, including an expression of feeling the Holy Spirit

5. as applause at the conclusion of musical performances*

*It seems to me that there has been some change in the position on the suitability of clapping in church after a choir sings. In the Baptist church I was a member of in Atlantic City, New Jersey in the 1950s to 1970s until I moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the congregation was discouraged from clapping after the choir sang or anyone else in the program sang. I think this was because the pastors wanted to make a clear distinction that was made between a church worship service and an entertainment program. Instead of clapping at the end of the choir's rendition (or a song sung by any other vocalist or vocalists), it was acceptable for members of that congregation to say "Amen!" or "Praise God!" or similar exclamations. However, since at least the 2000s, it appears to now be acceptable for members of that congregation to applaud after musical numbers. Yet it's still unacceptable for people to applaud the minister at the conclusion of his or her sermon, or applaud a person at the end of his or her prayer.

HANDCLAPPING MAY OCCUR IN AFRICAN AMERICAN RELIGIOUS CONCERTS

1. as applause made to recognize distinguished guests who are pointed out by the master or mistess of ceremony

2. as applause made to acknowledge, show respect for, and/or show appreciation for speakers & singers prior to them speaking or singing (This includes applause during the introduction of speakers, vocalists, or musicians).

3. as a way of praising God

4. as applause at the conclusion of the spoken, sung, or instrumental musical performances (This does not include sermons or prayers or music sung for church offerings)

Choirs may also clap after their rendition of a song. If so, that clapping probably can be best interpreted as "clapping for the words that were sung and not how they sung those words." Another way to put this is that the handclaps that the choir makes, and also at least in part, the applause that the congregation makes at the conclusion of a song are directed to the glory of God.

5. as accompaniment for singing and/or instrumental music

6. as an expression of approval and/or agreement about what is being heard and/or seen, including the way portions of a song are sung or played or the way a mime group performs a dance

7. as a voluntary or involuntary expression of jubilation, excitement, and/or exhilaration, including an expression of feeling the Holy Spirit


RELATED LINKS
http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2012/05/old-time-handclapping-foot-stomping-in.html
"Old Time Handclapping & Foot Stomping In African American Religious Singing"
**
http://www.afgen.com/christian_church2.html
"Afrocentricity - The Christian Church Part II"

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Thanks to all those whose comments I linked to in this post.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Viewer's comments are welcome.

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