Down in the River to Pray
Elena Sharkova Choral Series
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.
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.
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.