Rock-A My Soul

adapted/arr. Paul Jennings

My earliest memories of this old spiritual are of singing it around the campfire in Boy Scouts, and singing it in our early Sunday School classes. Since my youth, I've heard it performed in many styles, from folk to gospel, from rock to jazz. For this version, my background takes over... and finds us with a jazzy big band arrangement. Add our great rhythm section featuring Sandy Williams' bluesy guitar work, and you have a wonderfully unique backdrop for your singers. Be sure that you give your students a chance to listen to the track by itself.

A great opportunity for movement and activity - Our setting features three times through the song, each using the same lyrics. The fun begins when you add activities to the tune. This occurs each time through at bar 17. During the word "so," the students start a movement. For "high" they raise their hands over their heads. For "low" they bend down with hands near their knees. For "wide" they open their arms to their sides, palms out.

For the second verse, they clap hands while hands are up on the same beat as the word "high," though they don't sing the word. They also patsch when bending for "low," and snap when stretching for "wide," not singing those single words either.

As you see on the music, the third time they combine the movement, the singing, and the clap/patsch/snap action on the appropriate beat. It takes thought and coordination, and can be lots of fun. Do any or all of these as you please.

About the lyrics - The lyrics are simple and repetitive, but they may not be entirely clear to your students. "Rock-a my soul in the bosom of Abraham" has been interpreted to mean many things, especially as it appears in both the New and Old Testaments of the Bible, and in other texts as well. In general, it should be seen as being in a place of safety and refuge whether looked at in a religious sense or not. Since we are talking about a spiritual, passed down since the time of slavery, it is also possible to see this as being a reference in song to the singers' desire to be moved to a place of safety and freedom, a common theme in spirituals. This was often stated in such a way that outsiders wouldn't know exactly what was being spoken of.

You may or may not decide to open up this discussion with your students. But if you do, this will hopefully give you some help with such a topic. - PJ

Text is taken from Music K-8 magazine.