Down In The River To Pray
Elena Sharkova Choral Series
arranged by Jace Wittig
A simple and inspiring American classic, Down in the River to Pray offers hopeful melodies and harmonies that are sure to inspire and uplift listeners everywhere.
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An Inspiring American Classic
The simple Appalachian melody of Down in the River to Pray is one that is recognized by millions. It is a tune that lingers in your ear long after the music has faded away. The simplicity of the melody has made it an American favorite for years. In the haze of this song’s popularity, however, it might be easy to miss the importance of the message behind it. The lyrics themselves are an invitation to join hands in prayer and come together in unity for one noble cause. The words invite everyone – fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters – to come “down in the river to pray”. Alternate titles include “Down to the River” and “Come, Let Us All Go Down.”
The earliest form of this piece dates back to 1867 – a time when Americans hoped for a better life. Singing songs of hope together offered people the chance to come together in the midst of their turmoil. The melodies and harmonies in National Music Publishers‘ version of “Down in the River to Pray” are a reflection of that hope. Arranged for SSAA voicing, this arrangement includes body percussion that brings excitement to both choir and audience members.
In a world shrouded with chaos and unrest, the simple invitation in this piece is one that cannot and should not be overlooked. Uniting in prayer has been a practice that, for centuries, has brought families and communities together and offered peace in a time of distress. It is a practice that causes us to humble ourselves and look at the world from another’s perspective. The act of singing in a choir offers a similar kind of unity. Coming together to make music is an act that brings peace into people’s lives, and it is an act that knits souls together.
This simple, yet moving piece is suitable for nearly all choir levels, and the timelessness of the melody makes it relevant in all seasons. Down in the River to Pray is a sincerely emotional piece that is sure to bring both audience and choir members together in unity. It will offer peace and hope to hearts that are troubled.
Russian-American conductor Elena Sharkova is recognized worldwide as an inspirational and versatile musician. She frequently works with professional artists, and in 2014 she served as assistant music director on the Grammy Award-winning project, “Orchestra of Voices”. Ms. Sharkova is currently the Artistic Director of Symphony Silicon Valley Chorus and Cantabile Youth Singers.
Arranger: Jace Wittig
Jace Wittig is Assistant Conductor and Young Men’s Division director of the Cantabile Youth Singers of Silicon Valley. He frequently arranges for many ensembles, including his own, in the San Fransisco Bay Area.
National Music Publishers
National Music Publishers has been working for years to provide choir directors with some of the finest pieces of choral music on the market. Music from their highly-esteemed catalog has been performed around the world.
“Down to the River to Pray” is from a body of songs we call “wilderness spirituals” that came into being simultaneous to many other spirituals we know from the early American rural and Southern Appalachian experience. This tune and text, called “The Good Old Way”, was discovered by William Francis Allen and his collaborators and recorded in their publication Slave Songs of the United States, published in 1867. The beginning of this song as recorded by Allen used the words “As I went down in de (sic) valley to pray”, demonstrating a common characteristic of wilderness spirituals with the regular use of lyrics such as “valley, camp, river, and wilderness”, referring to the wilderness camp-meeting experience. This particular song was not a slave song but rather, a musical manifestation of the religious fervor following the second great awakening in mid-nineteenth century United States.
Jace Wittig captures the primitive nature of this American wilderness spiritual exquisitely for choirs while embracing a thoroughly choral setting. He and his conducting collaborator, Elena Sharkova, are thoroughly steeped in what makes a choral setting work with a choir and have shaped this piece into an expression choirs can proudly include as they program music from the American experience.
Dr. Tim Sharp. Executive Director, American Choral Directors Association.