Battle Hymn For Gettysburg

adapted/arr. Teresa Jennings

It seemed like a natural union - combining the text of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address with "Battle Hymn Of The Republic" into a piece children could perform. The challenge was allowing the text to be read, heard, and understood over the music, all the while building in intensity. The solution was to have vocalists use the syllable "loo" for the verses, starting at mezzo piano and increasing in volume as they go. The choruses do use the actual words ("Glory, glory hallelujah!" etc.), but since they are so familiar and repetitious, they do not get in the way of the spoken lines. When the lines are finished, then the chorus is sung full out at forte, complete with big orchestral accompaniment. It's a steady build from beginning to end, and very dramatic.

The obvious use of this piece is in a concert setting for any patriotic occasion. However, it is particularly appropriate for the celebration of Abraham Lincoln and/or his birthday. (The year 2009 marks the 200th anniversary of that occasion, which was February 12, 1809.) Additionally, you could use it for Presidents' Day, or a program that focuses on The Civil War or the Battle of Gettysburg, in particular. In the revue Americans We, which culminates in this issue, there is a section where this song would work very nicely. (See page 64.)

The possibilities for taking this across the curriculum are clear, whether students are learning about The Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg, slavery, the history of the United States, secession, politics, presidents, government, etc. As always, we advise you to share your resources with the classroom teachers so they know how your music program can be a helpful reinforcement of what they are teaching.

If you have ever wanted to use the song "Battle Hymn Of The Republic," but were concerned about the sacred content of the lyrics in the verse, this version may work better for you. Again, this is because of the use of the syllable "loo" instead of the actual lyrics. Because the song is historic in nature, you may not have this concern. Also, the chorus implies a sacred content, but it's more subtle than the verse. If you want your students to know or use the original lyrics, you may certainly go that route. Just take care not to overpower the speakers. You may want to drop the dynamic even more to accommodate this. You could also eliminate the spoken lines entirely and just use the arrangement as the song with lyrics.

You will note that there is a part 2 that enters during the chorus each time (measure 25). This is optional, but it's quite effective if you can use it. Consider having older students or even adults help you out with this if needed.

The real impact of the piece is the text of the Gettysburg Address. This is one of the most famous speeches in American history and something every student should be aware of. It is the speech Abraham Lincoln delivered in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on November 19, 1863, at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery. Just a few months before then, the Battle of Gettysburg had been fought and won by the Union army in what turned out to be a decisive battle in the war. While very short, his speech eloquently reiterated the basic tenets of The Declaration of Independence, but with the greater understanding that equality truly belonged to all citizens.

Because of the importance of the words, you might want to select speakers who are very good at enunciation, reading, and maybe even dramatic delivery. Use as few or many as you wish, dividing the lines accordingly. Our recording offers a very good example of how to do this. We have indicated where the lines should generally match the music. This will help you pace your speakers. Cue them as needed if they are rushing or going too slowly. There is a bit of room built into the phrasing, in case some go a little long, as you will hear on the recording.

Remember to start in a more subdued manner and let it rise naturally throughout. By the time it reaches the end of the speech, let your speakers' delivery peak with the words, "of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." Have them pause slightly between each part of the phrase for ultimate impact. We chose to have all of our speakers deliver these lines together, which you may also do. With the heightened fervor at this point, the choir should come in for the final chorus with dynamic power and emotion.

For help in teaching/learning part 2, we have isolated it and put it on our web site. Since it isn't continuous through the song, it is in two separate pieces. (See below.)

Online extras - The free, downloadable tracks mentioned can be found under the "Graphics and Extras" for Volume 19, No. 3 at

Text is taken from Music K-8 magazine.