Go Down Moses

arr. Paul Jennings

One of the best-known spirituals, this familiar tale of the Israelites and their struggle to escape Egypt was used as a metaphor for slaves in the American south wanting to escape to states where they could live free. While it is associated with the Underground Railroad movement of the Civil War era, it wasn't as explicit an instruction as were tunes like "Follow The Drinking Gourd." (To learn about and perform that song, see Music K-8, Volume 13, Number 3.)

While some of its early history is a bit hazy, this song arrived in a publication from the groundbreaking Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1872. This powerful ensemble traveled the world singing concert versions of spirituals, spreading knowledge of these important works. An earlier version of the song was published as "The Song Of The Contrabands (Oh, Let My People Go)" in 1862, as the Civil War was going strong.

Lots of options - This spiritual is often performed by gospel groups and in concert arrangements, so we have crafted a unique arrangement that combines a concert approach to the tune as well as a gospel swing setting. It starts dramatically with full orchestra and winds down into a fairly traditional setting of the song. After one chorus of this style, a short transition sets up the gospel swing version.

3-Part and/or Unison - The vocal arrangement is set up so that it can be performed either as 3-part mixed or as a unison arrangement. (If you haven't used 3-part mixed settings, they involve two treble parts, and a third part, written in a "compromise range" so that it can be sung by changed, unchanged, or changing male voices, as well as low female voices.)

In both styles, each verse is presented as a question and answer. One option, as we recorded it, is to have the question sung by a soloist. We used a new soloist for each line, spreading the experience around. The answer phrase, "Let my people go," is sung by the choir. To help learning, the parts are identical in both styles.

The 3-part mixed is fairly easy, with logical step movement, but the arrangement and accompaniment tracks work just fine when you use just part 1 as a unison arrangement. As a matter of fact, you could have different classes singing each voicing combine for larger performances. We include recordings for both versions of the tune on the CD (or MP3s) that come with your subscription.

To help your part 2 and part 3 singers learn their respective parts, we have isolated them and put them on our web site where you or they can access them for free. You will note that each is broken into two segments for ease of zeroing in on rehearsal needs. There is also an a cappella version on the web site of both segments which allows your singers to hear how the parts fit together without the background tracks. Information for accessing these extras can be found on page 77.

Text is taken from Music K-8 magazine.