What is the significance of music in The Amen Corner?

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Baldwin uses gospel and secular music, jazz, to emphasize key points in the play. Jazz is positioned as evil or bad in comparison to good gospel music. However, over the course of the play, it becomes clear that nothing is as simple as that. The so-called "good" gospel also veils the hypocrisy of the protagonist, Sister Margaret, who—in her pursuit of good or a spiritual life (represented by gospel)—abandoned her husband, who is represented (in her mind) by jazz.

The BBC says that jazz developed, in part, as the music played in brothels:

Early jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton, whose own name was a euphemism for sex, first developed his own style playing piano in these "sporting houses" and to get extra tips he’d peek at a prostitute and her client through a peephole and time his playing with the pace of their revels.

Not surprisingly, on the surface, Baldwin positions jazz in diametrical opposition to the more (seemingly) spiritual gospel music. Sister Margaret, who is the pastor in her church, embodies the negative views of jazz, which represents the secular world. However, Baldwin wants to tear away Sister Margaret's hypocrisy to show that both forms of music can be joyous and uplifting.

Although she is loved by her congregation, Margaret is also somewhat priggish throughout most of the play. She has rejected her estranged husband Luke. In part, she blames the failure of their marriage and tearing apart of their family on his commitment to jazz. She says accusingly to Luke:

You was always on the road with them no-good jazz players.

However, Luke disputes Margaret's comment that jazz destroyed their family. Moreover, it was the loss of his family that ruined him.

Music also sets the tone of the unfolding story in the play. For instance, at the end of the play, after Sister Margaret’s secret has been revealed and she has reconciled with Luke, the final song in the play is one “of jubilation.”

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The Amen Corner is a three-act play written by James Baldwin. The key theme of the play is the divide between the religious and the secular, which is reinforced by two different music genres: Church music and jazz.

In the mid-1900s in Harlem, both of these genres played a major role in the African-American experience. While Church music was used to highlight and advance the ideas and teachings of Jesus, jazz was instead a melancholy way to verbalize and understand the inequality and racism felt by African Americans.

Jazz was played in bars and nightclubs, where patrons would take illegal drugs, drink, and attempt to have sex, while Church music was reserved for the holy setting of the Church. This divide gave jazz an inherently bad characteristic, while Church music had an inherently good quality.

After it’s revealed that Pastor Margaret left her husband to pursue a life as a pastor, her image as a respected member of the community is obfuscated. This revelation convinces her son David to give up his Church music and instead pursue a life as a jazz musician, which has now been de-stigmatized. The point Baldwin gets across is that the true character of a person is revealed in their actions, not their outward appearance.

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Music is one way that Baldwin shows the divide between religious and secular callings. At the beginning of "The Amen Corner," David is playing hymns in the church. He's given up his true passionsecular jazzto stay true to his mother's religious devotions. This is all turned on its head once it's revealed that his mother, the pastor, lied to everyone. She left her husband to be a pastor, but lied and said that he left her.

David is shocked by this information. He spends time with his father and music is a bridge between the men. They both love it. They bond over it. His father even encourages him to follow his passion for it, but reminds him that he needs love in his life too.

Ultimately, Luke dies and David gives up his devotion to religion to pursue life as a jazz artist. He was estranged from his father for a long time and made to live in a way that wasn't right for him. Even his mother comes to understand the lessonthat things are really about love.

In the same way that Margaret left her husband to join the church, David leaves home to pursue a career in jazz.

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Music plays a major role in expressing the themes of The Amen Corner   The two types of music: jazz music and church music, reflect the struggle between two sets of values within the play.  The Church music represents Margaret's religious fervor and conviction while the Jazz represents Luke's desire to approach life through the human emotion of Love.  The actual music in the play expresses the struggle between these two values as they are heard at key moments in the action.  Enotes has an excellent essay on this issue by Liz Brent in the Criticism and Essay section of the Enotes of the play.  I suggest that you consult the essay for a more in depth discussion. 

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