First of all, I would like to point out that the
word gospel, as it is used here, is in a purely
etymological sense-"something regarded as true and
implicitly believed." The common phrase "gospel
truth" comes to mind. I think of gospel as the
spreading of truth, the preaching of truth, not
necessarily within a strictly religious connotation.
The album begins with Iíll Drown in My Tears. This
melody has an interesting aspect in that it is in
3/4 meter and most people tend to think of 3/4 in
terms of waltz time. However, anyone who has ever
attended services of gospel church music knows that
3/4 is very much a religious beat. In the lyrics of
the original spiritual a person is praying sadly and
he says, with great respect, that if his prayers are
not answered, he will drown in his own tears.
Climb Ev'ry Mountain is a
magnificent paean to optimism, a song of great
affirmation. The introduction here is in a religioso
manner and the second section bears the coloring of
a plainsong or Gregorian chant. As the melody and
arrangement build toward the final crescendo, there
is the instrumental portrayal of actually climbing
majestically--until a final amen.
Trilogy, really a series of lamentations, we hear
a single note in the beginning portraying the human
voice singing "Glory, glory, hallelujah--when I lays
my burden down." I recall the first time I ever
heard this was as a very small boy.
There was a woman singing it, without accompaniment,
attempting to sing all of her own chord structures.
This theme was struck here as a stretto really, not
meaning to be a complete song form at all. But it
grew and grew to several measures. But this is a
Protestant hymn, "Where He Leads Me I Will Follow."
It was used as a bridge between "Glory, Glory,
Hallelujah" and the next spiritual, "No More Auction
Block for Me. " The undulations in the right hand on
the piano are an attempt to suggest the emphasis of
just how deeply felt the joy is of never having to
undergo the concept of being sold, or of one's own
daughters or sons or mothers or fathers being sold.
So in the right hand where the trill comes up, this
again is stressing a No! Then there is a kind of a
mockery of a Gregorian chant, suggesting some of the
problems that have come . under' the hands of
Christianity and Catholicism. This is. the angry
aspect, and the trills I spoke of are here. "No more
auction block for me . . . many thousands gone."
Next the bass in the piano strikes out for the hope
we have : the dreamer says, "If I had a hammer . . .
if I had a bell . .. if I had a song .. . it's a
hammer of justice ... it's a bell of freedom . ..
it's a song of love for all my
brothers and sisters all over this world."
Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross there is a rather
odd and interesting treatment that came to me, and I
really don't know why, other than that I have a very
dear friend who loves this particular hymn. It's a
study in suspensions in the inner voices with the
bass violin acting more like the extension of the
piano in the sense of the pedals of an organ.
This hymn is, I suppose, one of the stabilizing
factors for a lot of people; and, if this be the
truth, then I think it belongs in the album.
Glory Burdens Down Lord is a rollicking jubilee. It
says, 'Burdens down, burdens down, when I set my
burdens down . .. I will feel better, so much
better, when I lay my burdens down." Actually, this
is an inversion, melodically, of the very first
Glory Burdens Down Lord that we heard in the
Trilogy. This is a most rejoicing aspect of "Glory,
Glory" whereas in Trilogy it was not having quite made
it and hoping to get there.
When the Saints' Go Marching In has a curious
history. Somewhere along the line the middle section of
this got lost and the majority of the people have
only heard the portion that is being performed now,
the one made very popular by Louis Armstrong and I
donít know how many other millions of people.
As a matter of fact, in the old Dixieland days this
was considered a march. But through some of my
efforts of research I came up with a concept of a
chorale plus the missing second section which is
known as " In Green Mansions Above." When I heard
it, I heard it that way, and of course it did make
sense--when the saints go marching in to attempt to
get into the "green mansions above." And in an
attempt to hold the two together rather than just
have two spirituals played, I wrote a small stretto,
something to join the two things. And here it says,
"In green mansions above, in green mansions above,
Lord I want to be up yonder, in green mansions
above." Of course this goes back again the second
time--"In Green Mansions Above" and so forth leading
into When the Saints Go Marching In.
It's rather interesting to note here also that
"In Green Mansions Above," as in most spirituals,
the misconception of the influence of Christianity
is something I would like to see if I couldn't clear
up because we have often been told or have thought of heaven as having milk and
honey and streets of gold and what have you. And as
they clearly try to point out "In Green Mansions
Above," what it here often suggests melodically,
going home was not really going to heaven in terms
of someplace up in the sky, but rather back to
Africa. This is the point then. "Green mansions,
green mansions of Africa above" and so forth. I
think that makes some sense. In fact that makes a
lot of sense to me.
Mark Fisher did a book on Negro slave songs based on
his research at the University of Chicago in which
this is very pointedly brought out.
I've Been 'Buked is a negro spiritual with content
very obvious in meaning. "I've been Ďbuked and I've
been scorned ..... trying to make heaven my home."
In the second verse we see a note of optimism: "You
can talk about me sure as you please . .. I am going
to talk about you on-a my knees. " In this rendition, however bitter the facts are, there seems to be an
attempt to keep from being engulfed by the
bitterness itself, to try and survive it, to move
forward optimistically--to what avail I do not know.
Marian Anderson made
He's Got the Whole World in His
Hands internationally famous. This particular
setting was written by Margaret Bonds and was
recently recorded by Leontyne Price. In this
recording we use the cello in place of the soprano.
The lyrics suggest just why and what this album is
about: "He's got the young and old ... He's got the
rich and poor ... He's got everyone . .. He's got
the whole wide world in His hands."
The wonderful Billy Taylor composition
I Wish I Knew
How It Would Feel to Be Free is usually done with a
more contemporary treatment. I decided it would work
beautifully arranged as a gospel song. A few of the
lyrics by Billy Taylor and Dick Dallas should tell
you why: "Wish I knew how it would feel to be free
... I wish I could break all these chains holding me
. . ."
Blowin' in the Wind, the Bob Dylan classic, may seem
a strange choice for a gospel album but I believe it
works beautifully in an instrumental version--and we
all know that Dylan is preaching the gospel truth of
The concluding song,
Dream of a Time, was written by
Dr. Valarian Smith, and I collaborated by writing
the second song form and developing it in a sort of
symphonic or perhaps rhapsodic manner. The essence
of the meaning of this song is that which a parent
does unto a son or daughter and the hopes all
parents have for the ultimate happiness and success
of their offspring.
A NOTE ON THE COVER ART . . .
Neville Budhia is the well-known Indian painter who
happens to be Don Shirley's first cousin. He resides
in Montego Bay, Jamaica, where he has a studio and
gallery. The painting, now in Mr. Shirley's private
collection, was one of the inspirations for this
album. He says it evoked in him a sense of optimism
and emergence, which is, in essence, the theme of