Wade in the Water

February 2012

Program Notes

Great Day!

arr. Marques Garrett

Deep River

arr. Harry T. Burleigh / Cantus

I'm Gonna Sing

arr. Lela Anderson

I Want Jesus To Walk With Me

arr. Colin Lett

Go Down 'n the Valley and Pray!

arr. André Thomas

Fix Me, Jesus

arr. Colin Lett

Save Me, Lord!

Robert L. Morris

Wayfarin' Stranger

arr. K. Lee Scott

Walk Togedder, Childron

arr. Nathaniel Dett

Blin' Man

arr. Paul Carey
Wade in the Water

arr. Moses Hogan


Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen

arr. Joseph Jennings
World premiere, commissioned by Chicago a cappella

Way Over in Beulah-lan'

arr. Joseph Jennings

Scandalize My Name

arr. Darmon Dandridge

Poor Man Lazrus

arr. Jester Hairston
Old Testament Spirituals: arr. Jonathan Miller

i. Little David, Play On Your Harp

ii. Daniel, Moses, Joshua

World Premiere, commissioned by Chicago a cappella

I'm Tired, Lord

Robert L. Morris

Soon 'Ah Will Be Done

arr. William Dawson


Welcome to Wade in the Water, our newest celebration of the African-American spiritual.  How blessed we are to get to share these concerts with you! 

Spirituals are one of those remarkable art forms that intersect the present moment with a larger reality and connect us to the wider human condition. Their great heart and powerful melodies cannot fail to leave us moved. In fact, I would suggest that this is precisely why we seek them out:  to help us weep, and to help us to hope for a better day for ourselves as individuals and for our world.

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Spirituals spring from the American national tragedy of the institution of slavery. We cannot forget that fact. They were originally sung solely within the community of slaves, never intended for white singers, let alone for “concert” use. The spiritual was created out of a need to express feelings of suffering—sorrow, grief, loss, loneliness—as well as hope for a better life hereafter.

The great collector of folk music, Alan Lomax, wrote in the 1940s that anyone who has heard spirituals sung in church “cannot fail to have been touched by the fire, the solemn dignity, the grand simplicity of the Negro spirituals. . . . All Americans are moved by these inspired and beautiful songs as by almost no other American music.” However, the songs did not start out being sung in the venues where they now appear.

While they began on the plantation and were forged, as it were, in the fire of oppression, spirituals have made, over several generations, a steady and remarkable journey. These songs have moved into the national and international musical language of choirs due to a number of events and trends.  Starting in 1871, the Fisk Jubilee Singers sang spirituals in concert on their national fundraising tours, earning unexpected accolades from white northern liberal religious denominations such as the Congregationalists and Quakers. Word of mouth spread like wildfire, and the spiritual became both well known and beloved. The 1913 publication of Harry T. Burleigh’s a cappella setting of Deep River was a smash hit among white American choirs. With Burleigh’s publication in 1916 of the version for solo voice and piano, the spiritual became part of the repertoire for voice recitals, first in the masterful hands of Burleigh himself and later Roland Hayes, Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, and others. With these songs in new forms and formats, the American musical landscape was permanently changed. Prominent arrangers such as Hall Johnson, Jester Hairston, and William Dawson gave the spiritual international exposure through recordings, concert tours, and broadcasts.

In the 1960s, another dimension of the spiritual developed: the spiritual as protest song. A white folksinger named Guy Carawan was doing research on the spiritual while he was involved in the struggle for civil rights and working with African-American community groups in the South. He encouraged subtle adaptations of the lyrics, so that the thrust of the songs turned from a sacred sentiment to a more overtly political one. For example, “Woke up this morning with my mind stayed on Jesus” became “Woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom.” With this one alteration, the song became a protest vehicle. In this way, spirituals have become somewhat jumbled in the popular imagination:  they are not only the authentic voice of the brutal slave experience, but in their reimagined forms they are also part the voice of the struggle for civil rights.

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If the spiritual were merely beautiful, it would not have the impact on us that it so clearly does. There is more to the phenomenon. The deep compassion in the words of the spiritual give the songs a dimension unique in folk music.  How does this happen?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s executive assistant, the Rev. Wyatt Walker, wrote in 1963:

One of the most outstanding characteristics of all the songs is that, free as the music is from cacophony and discord, just as remarkably free is its poetry from any word of bitterness, anger, or reproach.... Whatever the condition or circumstance, the ...spiritual plumbs the depth of human experience.

There is a two-way bargain here. While the spiritual allows for emotional release and the expression of deep pathos, it also requires us to meet it halfway in our own hearts. It takes an emotional commitment just to listen to spirituals.  There is no passive washing-over us of spirituals, unless we ourselves are spiritually dead.  This is why spirituals are agents of healing in a way that Muzak will never be.

The spiritual also requires—in its conception and in its performance—a quality called by some the moan, as was once explained to me by Professor William Dargan from North Carolina and echoed by African-American storytellers here in Chicago.  The moan is a quality without which a spiritual cannot be fully alive.  We know it instinctively, but I name it to bring it forward in our awareness. 

The moan is not just for singers;  it is for all of us, a necessary ingredient of compassion. If we are to carry this tradition of spirituals forward, whatever our backgrounds might be, we can’t skip the moan. We don’t get to skip the vegetables and just eat the dessert; we can’t simply enjoy the beautiful harmonies and profound texts. There is a qualitative, inner experience of humanity to be shared here, without which the essence of the genre will be lost in future generations. The moan is part of what we have to bear together, and it can be a heavy load, but it must be this way. 

* * * * * * *

If the spiritual teaches us anything, it is that we are not alone, even in our darkest moments and our times of deepest sorrow. Our connection to one another, tenuous as it may sometimes be, is ultimately the agent of our collective transformation. The fate of our planet depends on our ability to act in accordance with our gradual awakening to our beautiful, fragile, miraculous interdependence.  Thank goodness for music that helps us remember that our individual and collective sorrows are meant to be shared.

* * * * * * *

On a more personal note, also about being connected:
I love it when things come full circle, and these concerts provide several such connections. Way back in 1993, at Chicago a cappella’s debut concerts, there was a spiritual on the program, “Steal Away,” arranged by Joseph Jennings. That song was a staple of our first several years of concerts. Here we are, nineteen years later, and today we have the wondrous privilege of premiering a new commission—again, a spiritual—by Mr. Jennings. We will sing for you his new setting of Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen, a haunting and heartfelt work. It is an occasion of great joy to get to present to you not only a new piece by this supremely musical man, but also one written expressly for Chicago a cappella’s voices.  It just doesn’t get much better than that.

That is an almost twenty-year cycle. Another one, twice that long, comes full circle now. I myself have been singing spirituals since I joined the Chicago Children’s Choir at the age of nine, and finally at the age of forty-nine I have had the opportunity, for the first time, to arrange spirituals. Chicago a cappella commissioned me to write new music for this concert as well, for which I am deeply grateful; the result is the set of Old Testament Spirituals on the second half.

Yet another cycle comes ‘round.  This set of concerts also marks the first time in 11 years where executive director (and baritone) Matt Greenberg will be in the audience instead of on stage. Matt is the original “Iron Man” on our roster, having sung a remarkable run of 326 performances starting with our debut concert in 1993, all the way through the Holidays a cappella concerts we sang two months ago. Matt decided to take a well-deserved break for this set of concerts, and I hope that you will join me in thanking him in person for his tremendous loyalty. His ongoing dedication to Chicago a cappella, both as a singer and as our tireless Executive Director, is unmatched in the history of our organization.  I dedicate these concerts, in turn, to Matt in honor of his unique contribution to Chicago a cappella. Bravo, my dear friend, and thank you, far beyond what can be expressed in words.

--Jonathan Miller
Founder and Artistic Director


arr. Marques Garrett: Great Day!

A gifted singer, conductor, composer, and arranger, Marques Garrett began composing and arranging while a student at Hampton Institute, one of the leading institutions for the study and performance of the spiritual. He received advanced degrees at UNC-Greensboro and is Director of Choral Activities at Cheyney University in Pennsylvania.

Great Day! is a majestic combination of tune and text. After a straightforward presentation of the refrain and first verse, Garrett splits the choir into men’s and women’s quartets, nicely setting off the differences between them in tone and range. After getting the men going in this way, he creates a gospel-style “vamp” where the voice parts are added one by one, starting with the split basses, then in turn adding tenors, and finally soprano and alto, for a vigorous and powerful eight-part texture to close.

arr. Harry T. Burleigh / Cantus: Deep River

Harry T. Burleigh was one of the great early classically-trained arrangers of the spiritual, publishing solo settings with piano by the dozens in the 1910s and 1920s. Burleigh was a soloist, quartet singer, composer, and arranger, trained at the New York Conservatory. Following his schooling in New York City, he remained there for decades and served as a mentor to younger musicians.

Burleigh was the one who introduced Antonin Dvořak to spirituals in the 1890s. There is a lively scholarly discussion about the Burleigh-Dvořak connection. Wayne Shirley argues convincingly that Burleigh’s setting of Deep River owes a great deal to—and would be inconceivable without—the Largo (very slow) movement of Dvořak’s New World Symphony. Before the orchestral work, the primary method of singing Deep River was at an upbeat tempo, as was the original tradition of the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

The setting on today’s concert is an adaptation for men’s voices, by the vocal group Cantus, of the solo and choral versions that Burleigh published in the 1910s.

arr. Lela Anderson: I’m Gonna Sing

Lela Anderson is a composer, conductor, pianist, and church musician in the Houston area. She has superbly arranged dozens of spirituals. She first came to Chicago a cappella’s attention with her arrangement of Give me Jesus.

Anderson’s recent setting of I’m Gonna Sing is for women’s voices. It features a soloist alternating with a choral group in a call-and-response setting.  The three choral parts are voiced in classic close spacings, with a few nice touches of blues notes here and there. The back-and-forth nature of the song gets more and more compressed at the end as the soloist gets louder and higher.

* * * * * * *

arr. Colin Lett: I Want Jesus To Walk With Me

A remarkable young musician and minister, Colin Lett had four arrangements of spirituals published by the Chicago-based GIA Publications when he was an undergraduate student at Morgan State University. He has created the Colin Lett Chorale in Baltimore, which he conducts while attending graduate studies in theology and serving as an active preacher.

Mr. Lett’s setting of I Want Jesus To Walk With Me begins slowly and mournfully, with a heartfelt solo line. The song then creates a double-speed accompaniment in the choir, which is maintained throughout.  The men’s voices are split into four parts early on, making a low sort of walking rumble under the women’s treatment of the tune;  later on the roles are switched, with four women’s parts laid over the slower tune in the unison men’s voices. The ending brings back a simpler texture for a powerful close.

arr. André Thomas: Go Down ‘n the Valley and Pray!

Dr. André Thomas is the longtime director of choral activities at Florida State University and an internationally acclaimed composer, arranger, conductor, clinician, performer, and scholar. His books and articles are considered definitive resources for the history and performance practice of the spiritual.

It has been suggested that this song springs from the slaves’ communal experience in the “brush arbor,” or a secluded spot on the plantation away from the eyes of an overseer.  It was here that some of the essential rituals of the slave experience took place, such as the ring shout. Also part of this group gathering was a confessional, where one would ask another, his “brother,” if the latter was ready to confess his shortcomings:  “Brother, didn’t conscience come and tell you to go down in the valley and pray?”  The proper response is that “No, I ain’t ashamed to honor my Lord.” In the variant of the text used by Thomas, the image of Noah and the flood also appears;  the implication is that Noah too is unashamed, and that one should follow Noah’s example of being openly willing to be cleansed from sin and be saved.

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arr. Colin Lett: Fix Me, Jesus

It took Colin Lett some gumption to arrange this famous tune, when so many prominent arrangers have put their hand to it. Lett gives a few unusual touches that make this arrangement special: he subtly speeds up the accompanying voices in the second verse; he does the same with the men in the final chorus, with a beautiful harmonic twist that accentuates the sense of pleading.

For the record: An arrangement of the spiritual “Fix Me, Jesus” by Hall Johnson appears on our CD Go Down, Moses.

Robert L. Morris: Save Me, Lord!

Robert Leigh Morris is an arranger with a deft, singular, accomplished voice. He spent much of his early career in Chicago and was exposed to a wide variety of influences; he arranged for Duke Ellington and brings his technical control of musical texture and harmony to his settings of spirituals. Morris is a master of the gospel-quartet style and of creating angular rhythms that propel the piece forward.

“Save Me, Lord!” is an original composition. Morris notes that, while his piece draws on both the genres of spirituals and gospel music, it is technically neither. Like Moses Hogan, Morris draws the rhythmic life that is in the melody into the other voice parts as well. The florid, virtuoso soprano solo makes this work unusually vivid and plaintive, while the men sing in open harmonies to ground the mood in the earth.

For the record: Two spiritual arrangements by Robert L. Morris appear on our CD Holidays a cappella Live.

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arr. K. Lee Scott:  Wayfarin’ Stranger

This spiritual appears in both African-American and white (Appalachian) folk spiritual traditions. Its first appearance in print was in 1816, when Bishop Richard Allen of the AME Church in Philadelphia published it in a hymnal. However, there are variants of the tune all over the American South, and it seriously has been conjectured that the tune originated in an obscure mixed-race gypsy group known as the Melungeons. Regardless of its actual origin, the tune has been popular throughout the 20th century. Singers who have recorded it range from Burl Ives (1944) to Pete Seeger and Joan Baez, from Johnny Cash to Eva Cassidy;  even the early-music group Anonymous 4 did a version recently.

K. Lee Scott’s a cappella setting of Wayfarin’ Stranger is unusually fine. The song goes into as many as seven parts, with carefully controlled “extra” notes merely providing beautiful harmonic color, never getting in the way of the song’s basic intent. A wailing baritone solo appears toward the middle, and from there it gradually moves to a compelling close.

arr. Nathaniel Dett:  Walk Togedder, Childron

Nathaniel Dett’s classic text, Religious Folk-Songs of the Negro (1922), was based on transcriptions of performances by the Hampton Institute choirs.  Dett masterfully documented what up to that point was an oral tradition at Hampton. The Hampton charts are fuller in texture and more robust in rhythm than the Fisk arrangements published fifty years earlier; perhaps Dett was a more skillful transcriber of rhythm and harmony. In any case, Walk Togedder, Childron has an infectious energy, made all the more wonderful by the tenor solo, which provides a kick-start to the verses and a soaring melody in the refrain.

For the record: Nathaniel Dett’s “Walk Togeder, Childron” appears on our CD Go Down, Moses.

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arr. Paul Carey:  Blin’ Man

Paul Carey is a versatile musician with international credits as a composer, arranger, and conductor. If you have ever heard Chicago a cappella sing his haunting setting of Hear de lambs a-cryin’, you know that you’re in for a treat when it comes to this gifted arranger’s work with spirituals.

Carey’s exquisite musical setting of Blin’ Man is soulful and mournful. The narrator sings of the suffering of one who is acutely aware of his or her shortcomings. First we hear that the “blin’ man stood on de road an’ cried,” from the story of Bartimaeus, who called out to Jesus for mercy. In the Bible story, Jesus simply says to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” However, in Carey’s simple setting, the absolution is absent; the narrator simply says, “When I was a sinner, I stood on de road an’ cried, cryin’, O Lawd, show me de way…. ” We are left to make for ourselves the inference that the narrator’s healing depends on strength of faith—clearly a challenge, given the seriousness of the song.

arr. Moses Hogan: Wade in the Water

The late Moses Hogan was one of the leading forces of his generation in promoting the spiritual around the world. From his home base in New Orleans, he was a prolific arranger, conductor, pianist, and recording artist; he also toured around the globe with his group, the Moses Hogan Chorale. His settings are among the best-selling arrangements of spirituals ever published.

Wade in the Water contrasts a quicker-pulsed, almost liquid choral accompaniment with a smoother, slower melody, taken here by a mezzo-soprano. Hogan also makes a specific instruction about dialect, namely that the choir should articulate the “t” in the word “water,” evidently for purposes of rhythmic propulsion, while the soloist should sing the word more fluidly, with a “d” instead of the “t”. As with most of Hogan’s charts, the setting mostly repeats the same material for each verse chorus, then takes off with a flourish at the end.

For the record: Moses Hogan’s arrangement of the spiritual “Elijah Rock” appears on our CD Go Down, Moses.

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arr. Joseph Jennings: Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen
World premiere, commissioned by Chicago a cappella

Joseph Jennings is widely regarded as one of the choral world's top conductors and music directors, clinicians and arrangers. He joined the renowned a cappella group, Chanticleer, in 1983 as a countertenor, and shortly thereafter assumed the position as Music Director, a position he held until 2008. Under his direction, Chanticleer achieved international renown, releasing 23 critically-acclaimed recordings of works ranging from Gregorian chant to Renaissance masterworks to jazz. Many of the recordings became Billboard best sellers, including the Grammy Award-winners Colors of Love, Magnificat and, most recently, the world premiere of Sir John Tavener's Lamentations and Praises, which won two Grammy Awards. Mr. Jennings has performed at the most prestigious festivals and concert halls throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He has also been a frequent visitor to prominent local and national radio programs including WGBH (Boston), WNYC (New York), Minnesota Public Radio, and National Public Radio.

As a prolific composer and arranger, Mr. Jennings has provided Chanticleer with some of its most popular repertoire, most notably spirituals, gospel music and jazz standards. He has also composed for such ensembles as The Palo Alto High School Chorus, The San Francisco Girls Chorus, VocalEssence, The GALA V Festival Chorus, The New York City Gay Men's Chorus, The Dale Warland Singers, The Phoenix Bach Choir, Los Angeles Vocal and Instrumental Ensemble and Chanticleer. Jennings recently completed a multi-year composition project, When Nights Were Dark (70 minutes total length) for the Japanese dance duo Eiko and Koma. His compositions and arrangements are published by Oxford, Hinshaw, and Yelton Rhodes.

Mr. Jennings is currently Artist-In-Residence at the University of South Carolina at Aiken. He has served as adjunct Professor of Music directing the University Chorus at the University of California at Berkeley, guest conductor for the San Francisco Girls Chorus, and Minister of Music of Third Baptist Church, San Francisco. Recently he served as guest conductor for performances of the Estonia Philharmonic Chamber Choir.

Jennings chose to set “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” for his commission from Chicago a cappella. With his unusually adept mastery of very slow tempi, Jennings has created here a superb work that captures the spirit of a troubled soul. The tempo speeds up and slows down in keeping with the nature of the words; the men and women alternate telling the story, with the other half of the choir responding, “Oh yes, Lord.” The powerful ending chorus features a baritone soloist, grounded harmonically by the alto/tenor/bass, while a three-part women’s chorus cascades down with a repeated recalling of “Nobody,” leading to the final majestic—yet still poignant—“Glory Hallelujah.”

arr. Joseph Jennings: Way Over in Beulah-lan’

The word “Beulah” in Hebrew translates to “married.” The basic idea for this lyric comes from Isaiah 62:4, as follows in an older English translation from around the year 1900:  Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah; for Jehovah delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married. Therefore “Beulah-land” is a land that has been symbolically wedded to God.

While the age-old metaphor is a little on the heady side, the spiritual, and especially Joseph Jennings’s setting of it, are much more fun!  This high-energy arrangement was created for his residency in Estonia. The leader sings that “we gonna break of the Hembly [heavenly] bread” and “we gonna drink of the Holy wine.” Jennings pours an intensity of focus and drive into the work, making subtle alterations and blues notes here and there as the piece progresses.

For the record: Joseph Jennings’ arrangement of the spiritual “Steal Away” appears on our CD Go Down, Moses.

arr. Damon Dandridge: Scandalize My Name

Damon Dandridge is the former Director of Choral Activities at Cheyney University, now pursuing doctoral studies at Michigan State University, where he conducts the Collegiate Chorale. He has been involved in the “105 Voices of History” project since its inception. His choral settings have been met with worldwide acclaim and have been featured at numerous All-State and international festivals.

Scandalize My Name is a little bit unusual among spirituals. Its purpose is to rebuke the gossip found in the slave community, according to Rosephanye and William Powell, editors of the new Oxford anthology of spirituals for upper voices from which this setting is taken. Dandridge’s setting captures the light-heartedness of the community’s gentle ribbing, as well as the seriousness of the topic at hand.

arr. Jester Hairston: Poor Man Lazrus

Born in 1901, the grandson of slaves, Jester Hairston tried to study landscape design but had to stop when his church scholarship money ran out; several years later, he went to Tufts University and received a music degree in 1928. He went to Hollywood as assistant conductor for the Hall Johnson Choir; the contacts he made in the L.A. area would support his career as a film-score conductor and arranger of spirituals and other folk songs. He wrote the song “Amen” for the film Lilies of the Field and overdubbed his own singing for that of Sidney Poitier. Hairston was among the leading arrangers of spirituals in the decades around World War II, publishing more than 300 settings.

Poor Man Lazrus is a longtime favorite of the glee-club circuit. The chorus “I’m tormented in the flame” refers to the rich man (sometimes called “Dives,” or, here, “Divies”), who scorns poor Lazarus, a man covered with sores. Though he has to scavenge table crumbs, Lazarus is devout and ends up going to heaven; by contrast, as the second verse notes, the rich man Divies goes to hell, where it is hot.  From his vantage point in hell, Divies sees Lazarus in the company of Abraham up in heaven and asks Abraham to give him some water to “cool my tongue.” However, Abraham rebukes Divies, saying that the rich man should have helped Lazarus while they were alive. Hairston’s speedy setting is a little bit reminiscent of the children’s game “hot potato,” where you’ve got to move quickly to avoid getting burned!

For the record: Two spiritual arrangements by Jester Hairston appear on our CD Go Down, Moses.

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arr. Jonathan Miller: Old Testament Spirituals
World premiere, commissioned by Chicago a cappella

Jonathan Miller writes as follows: 
For this commission, I chose spirituals about characters of the Old Testament: King David, Daniel, Moses, and Joshua. The cycle is in two movements. The first, short movement is “Little David, Play On Your Harp”; the much longer second movement is a layered combination of “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel”; “Go Down, Moses”; and “Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho.” 

Movement 1:  “Little David, Play On Your Harp”
I learned the tune for “Little David” from the classic collection of spirituals arranged for solo voice and piano by the distinguished composer Harry T. Burleigh. I had a clear sense of déjà vu when I first sang through the tune. Two things struck me immediately. First was the melody and structure of the refrain, especially the “Hallelu.” This is almost an exact duplicate of the refrain to the shape-note tune, “The Old Ship of Zion,” which I first learned from Anne Heider almost 30 years ago in a memorable concert by His Majestie’s Clerkes.

The “Old Ship of Zion” tune is believed to have originated in the great evangelical camp meetings of the Second Great Awakening. Because blacks and whites are known to have worshipped together in at least some of those camp meetings, it is not a far stretch of the imagination to think that “Little David” could have originated in a camp-meeting setting – or that slaves might have heard whites singing “Old Ship of Zion” and adapted the refrain for their own singing purposes. Another possibility is that “Little David” was a slave song first and then got transmitted orally into the camp meetings, from which it migrated into the white shape-note repertoire. In any event, the similarities were very strong between the shape-note tune I knew and the melody from Burleigh’s collection.

The second thing that I noticed was how simple the tune is—so simple, in fact, that it only uses five notes of the scale. (This is called, for obvious reasons, a pentatonic scale.) I wanted to somehow reflect the pentatonic melody in my arrangement. I ended up doing just that, perhaps obsessively: the entire piece, including all four voice parts and solos, is composed only using the five pitches of the melody’s own scale.  The tune is in F pentatonic, so the pitches are F, G, A, C, and D.  This posed a little bit of a challenge, because it meant I couldn’t use certain harmonies, such as a real “IV” or subdominant chord, which in this case would be a B-flat major chord.  Therefore, I had to hint at things that felt like that missing chord. In many ways the restriction of pitches made the job easier, and I put in a few “crunchy” harmonies that may remind some listeners of shape-note hymnody. However, this song remains a spiritual, so it became imperative to make sure that the element of the “moan” was preserved; this was done mostly through the intensity of emotion in the verses. The refrain remains on the simpler side, almost like a playground song or sweet lullaby.

Movement 2:  “Daniel, Moses, Joshua”
For this movement, based on three spirituals, I wanted to create a piece of choral music whose direction was not obvious at first, but emerged from a more atmospheric opening. The piece starts with humming and then works its way into vowels that suggest, but do not actually declare, the names involved in the three spirituals. Only gradually do actual words and names come into relief where they are more recognizable. Once the characters are introduced a little more fully, then the melodies start to take more recognizable shape too.  The “Daniel” tune starts to emerge, only to have “Go Down, Moses” take over with verse and chorus.  Once that is done, “Daniel” takes over in the women’s voices, accompanied by “Moses” in the tenor and bass.

This piece uses a layering technique that was possible for several reasons.  All three tunes—“Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel,” “Go “Down, Moses,” and “Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho”—are often sung in the key of D minor. (This is sort of funny to me, because D minor is also a key often found in Jewish folksong, and these are Jewish characters in the songs.) The spirituals are usually associated with definite harmonies; the more I looked at them, the more it seemed in particular that the refrains to “Daniel” and “Joshua,” although they tell different stories, are in truth almost the same melody! 

You may notice that the last line of the refrain to “Daniel” reads:  “An’-a why not every man?”  The last line of “Joshua,” similarly, reads:  “An’ de walls come tumbalin’ down.”  Not only are the texts similar, but the melodies at the corresponding places in the refrains are almost identical, with the figure of a falling-down scale.  This “an-‘a” phrase is the very point where “Daniel” transitions into “Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho,” which now gets a full hearing, along with all the verses and a majestic tenor solo, to conclude the movement. As a final observation: I got rather excited about the “tumblin’ down” image, and that idea appears all over the song.

For the record: Works by Jonathan Miller appear on our CDs Days of Awe and Rejoicing, Eclectric, and Holidays a cappella Live.

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Robert L. Morris: I’m Tired, Lord

This is a “Characteristic,” which is a hybrid genre that is newly composed but uses folk idioms. (A famous example of a characteristic is Dett’s Listen to the Lambs.) Morris notes that the essential line of the text is “I know I am a child of God although I move so slow.” The tempo is a slow one, the harmonies tinged with blues chromaticisms; the whole song poignantly reflects a person’s soul-weariness.

For the record: Two spiritual arrangements by Robert L. Morris appear on our CD Holidays a cappella Live.

arr. William Dawson: Soon ‘Ah Will Be Done

Within the genre of spirituals, this setting by Dawson is one of the true greats, a classic of the repertory since its original publication in 1934. Dawson was the leader of the choral program at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and a profoundly influential musical figure.

“Soon ‘Ah Will Be Done” brings us a remarkable combination of excitement and sadness. The tempo marking (Allegro) lets us know that the piece is supposed to move along, without getting bogged down in sentimentality. After a lifetime of “weepin’ and a-wailin’,” the excitement of going to see not only one’s mother in heaven but also Jesus is tremendous indeed, almost too much to bear.