By Catherine Wethington, Dir. of Children’s & Youth Choirs
February is Black History Month and what better way to celebrate than with African American Spirituals. In January the Youth Choir sang Go Tell It on the Mountain and this month the Children’s Choir will sing Michael, Row the Boat Ashore. What makes a song a spiritual? They are Christian songs that were created by slaves in United States. The songs were passed by oral tradition and often carried messages of faith, hope and even the occasional secret message. Later these songs were written down and have become what we know today. Michael, Row the Boat Ashore has many verses that have changed over time. The theme that has stood the test of time is crossing and going in the river Jordan, the river in which Jesus was baptized. The most moving line is, “The river Jordan is chilly, but warms the soul” much like God’s grace and love warms our soul. Go Tell it on the Mountain has been performed by many secular and non-secular groups. It is considered a Christmas song because of the line “that Jesus Christ was born” but it was reworked with the line “let my people go” during the Civil Rights movement. Spirituals tend to be crowd pleasers, tuneful and emotional, but what makes them most intriguing is the history that surrounds their creation.
Celebrating Black History Month in Music
By Jerry Rich, Director of Music
February is also known as Black History Month, and Trinity’s musicians will present music to recognize the contributions of American composers of color to the world of sacred music.
The organ preludes and postludes for February will include music by Undine Smith Moore (1904-1989, Professor of Music at Virginia State University); Mark Fax (1911-1974, Professor of Music at Howard University); George Theophilus Walker (b. 1922, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer); and Nkeiru Okoye (b. 1975, composer of the opera Harriet Tubman).
The Trinity Ringers will play Diane McAninch’s arrangement of the spiritual There Is a Balm in Gilead. Although its lyrics describe the New Testament’s concept of salvation through Jesus Christ, its title comes from the Hebrew Bible, where the prophet Jeremiah seeks a spiritual medicine that would heal Israel: “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wounds of my [God’s] people?” (Jeremiah 8:22). The refrain can be found in one of John Newton’s 1779 Olney hymns: “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole; there’s power enough in heaven to cure a sin-sick soul.”
The Chancel Choir will sing Jack Schrader’s arrangement of Thomas A. Dorsey’s gospel hymn Precious Lord, which he composed in 1932 under the saddest of circumstances; he was on a business trip when he heard that his wife and infant son had died, and he later said that composing this song helped him to come to terms with his grief. Now included in most hymnals, it is also known to have been the favorite hymn of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.