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The Piano Lesson Play Analysis

1145 words - 5 pages

In the play, The Piano Lesson, music played an important role. The piano in the play represented the African American history and culture. The ghost of Sutter represented the pain and trauma that had been endured throughout the generations in the Charles family. Berniece did not play the piano because she associated it with pain and the bad things that happened to her family members. She did not want to accept the things that had happened in her family’s past. She thought that she could deny everything and act like it never happened. She believed if she continued to run from everything and everybody that the pain would go away. Berniece was burdened and haunted by the ghost of Sutter until she gave in and played the piano after all of those years. After playing the piano, Berniece was no longer burdened or haunted by the past. She was free from all of the denial. She escaped the pain through the music and reflecting on the carvings on the piano, which represented her heritage. Berniece’s brother, Boy Willie, told her “Berniece, if you and Maretha don’t keep playing on that piano… ain’t no telling… me and Sutter both liable to be back” (Wilson 108). By saying that, he meant that if she did not allow her daughter to continue playing the piano and learning about her culture that she would end up going through the same things that Berniece had gone through. Music has a huge impact on the African American culture in several ways and many things about the past can be learned through it.
There were different types of music mentioned in the play. Work songs were one of the types of music mentioned. In the play, The Charles family men sat around the table and sang a work song reminiscing on the days of the past. Work songs, which are closely related to field hollers, were songs that people sang while they were working in the fields, railroads, or in prison. In these songs, they were singing about their troubles and the things that were bothering them during that time. “They have also been seen as a means of withstanding hardship and expressing anger and frustration through creativity or covert verbal opposition” (Volo 278).
Field hollers and work songs are similar to the earliest form of music in the African American culture. Spirituals were the earliest form of music sang by slaves. The spirituals usually had a religious theme. They conveyed Christian values while also defining the difficulties of slavery. The spirituals were divided into two types: sorrow songs, which were the sad and dismal songs, sang by slaves. “Plaintive melodies, sorrow songs, songs that speak of pain and loss, with little hint of hope; permeate the lives of people living in bondage and dreaming of freedom” (Smith 18). Jubilee songs were the other type of spirituals. They were the spirituals that followed the Emancipation Proclamation that consisted of more joyful tunes that were still wary in nature. The spirituals have now transformed into what we now identify as gospel...

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