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(A video of a performance by the Warwick Valley Chorale, Stanley Curtis, conductor)
Download an MP3 file of a performance of this work by the Warwick Valley Chorale, Stanley Curtis, conductor.
Download a PDF file of the choral score of this composition. For perusal only -- not printable.
Download a PDF file of the full score of this composition. For perusal only -- not printable.
(Photograph of Gwyneth Walker in rehearsal with Stanley Curtis, conductor of the Warwick Valley Chorale)
Commissioned by the Warwick Valley Chorale (Warwick, NY) in celebration of their 75th season: 1940-2015; Stanley Curtis, Director
Down to the River to Pray originates as an American gospel song with a simple message of faith and baptism, going "down to the river." However, it is thought that the song was composed by a slave, with reference to the river and the "starry crown" (North Star) as a route and guide to freedom.
Usually the song is performed a cappella, and slowly, prayerfully. However, the walking aspect of the lyrics might suggest a different approach - one of swing rhythm in duple meter. Here the focus is on the journey, the joy of the pilgrimage, and the hope for freedom.
The accompaniment (either piano, or brass and percussion) plays a featured role, especially as rhythmic force. The song now becomes one of triumphant progression, hastening on the "good old way!"
Notes by the composer