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Use of Stridea Or Ragtime Piano

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The rhythm played on the piano closely resembles the similar ragtime characteristics heard in Joplin’s “Maple Leaf” this is due to the extensive use of stride piano as low bass notes are played on beats 1 and 3, and strong block chords are played on beats 2 and 4 in the upper register of the piano. The use of stride piano rhythmically drives the syncopated ragtime feel to the song, while maintaining the theatrical aspect of the overall performance. Furthermore, the drums play a rhythmic syncopation on the 1st and 3rd beats of the bar while the snare places emphasis on the 2nd and 4th beats. Even though syncopation is not unique to musical theatre, the use of stride piano and the typical fast tempo identical to that heard in ragtime, suggest similarities between musical theatre and Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam.” 

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Use of Stride Piano The impact that ragtime had on Simone’s performance was that the use of stride piano within the piece heightens the erratic atmosphere of her performance as her left-hand leaps great distances between each chord, which accentuates the breaths taken throughout the performance of the piece. Furthermore, the right hand plays the same pattern as the bass alternating between tonic, sub-dominant and dominant chords within the piece. Furthermore, the mechanical effect produced by ragtime gives the piano an accompanying role and therefore makes the melody line more memorable to the listener. 

By implementing the complicated rhythmic patterns on the piano, varying between both hands, Simone places emphasizes the melody line whilst allowing the lyrics to stand out without the piano part impeding on the melody. Furthermore, the sheet music for the piece was widely accessible to all audiences. Even though the genre of this piece is classed as a show tune, the ragtime element imposed by the piano throughout the piece would have placed some familiarities to the African-American community. Also, by performing this tune in front of a classical audience could be a provocative gesture on Simone’s part towards the white members of the audience.

 Use of Extended Chords Simone creates an atmosphere of tension within the first few bars of the piece, as the continuous vamp is leaning towards a resolution, she holds back this resolution until the very end of the refrain (bar 9). This places emphasis on the brewing of anger and bottled up emotions Simone was ready to bring to light within the piece. This can be seen within the main melody and harmony lines of bars (54-62) as Simone incorporates the use of extended chords (see fig 2.3) in order to create a sense of space within the animated sound which in turn creates a sense of insecurity which corresponds with the lyrics. 

The use of this technique can be traced back to Simone’s classical background as the use of extended chords beyond the 9th and 11th appear more frequently in classical music. Upper extension chords could also be directly related to Jazz music as well which was an incredibly embraced genre during the Civil Rights period. The use of altered chord tones that are lowered and raised by a semitone sanctions the lead in of Simone’s vocals in a new key whilst initiating the sustain and release of tension. It was not uncommon for Simone to modulate to various keys within her compositions. Fig. 2.3 Upper Chord Extension Chords, “Mississippi Goddanm” (bars 55 – 58). 

Lyrics Throughout the progression of several verses, Simone animatedly rejects the notions that race relations could ever change between African-Americans and whites, and continuously begins to justify her stance as an activist within the movement. This is made evident throughout the piece especially when she states, ‘I bet you thought I was kidding didn’t you” (bars 67-68) before commencing into the third verse of the piece. By making this abrupt statement Simone who has always favored achieving a free state by any means possible indicates that her people are finished waiting patiently for justice on behalf of their basic human rights and doesn’t hold back in telling the white race exactly what she thinks of them. ‘You’re just plain rotten, You’re too damn lazy and your thinking’s crazy’. 

‘Mississippi Goddam’ explicitly addresses several political and ideological issues that occurred both on and offset the movement’s activities. Simone outlines the utter displeasure felt by African-Americans living under the Jim Crowe laws, alongside the ruthless imprisonment, and police brutality that accompanies them. Throughout “Mississippi Goddam” Simone manages to capture her audience’s emotions using the astonishing compositional techniques mentioned above. Within “Mississippi Goddam” Simone shies away from the usual call-and-response, acapella gospel presentations that personified other freedom songs at the time. 

These songs derived from religious and spiritual influences and incorporated blues and gospel elements this can be seen in Fannie Lou Hammers “Tell it on the Mountain and Betty Fikes rendition of “This Little Light of Mine”. Although Simone came from a widely religious background, she did not place emphasis on the use of gospel music within her compositions. Instead Simone keeps things simple in the notation of the piece, however she incorporates complex rhythmic jazz patterns on the left hand when crotchet arpeggios moving in an angular motion to begin with. However, the pattern changes to more abrupt crotchet quaver movements when the left hand reaches the last three bars of the refrain the melody line becomes more enclosed and urgent.   

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