Deep River

arr. Karl Hitzemann

The first known publication of the spiritual "Deep River" dates back to 1876. In 1917, African American composer and singer Harry T. Burleigh, a student and friend of Antonin Dvorak, created a very popular version of the song, and it has since become one of the best-known and best-loved spirituals of our time. We thought it would be ideal for historical discussions, especially during African American history month.

There is a wonderful wealth of history to be found on the subject of spirituals. Both your library and the Internet are great places to do a bit of research. You will find lots of interesting facts about this particular song. It's been recorded by many famous artists including Mahalia Jackson, Paul Robeson, Kathleen Battle, Johnny Mathis, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and others.

Our setting of "Deep River" is a traditional 3-part mixed arrangement, with two treble parts and a part in the bass clef that works well with boys' voices that have changed or are in the process of changing, and girls with a lower range. Of course, you could also choose to do this piece in unison, singing just part 1. You have the option of using a soloist for four bars beginning at measure 26. This could also be a small group of singers, if you prefer, or you can simply continue with the full group.

The recorded accompaniment includes piano and strings with a trio (two violins and a cello) playing the three vocal parts. A performance with just the piano accompaniment would also be lovely. This would give you the opportunity to ebb and flow however you wish. On our web site, you will find a number of extras for this song including an alternate unison version with the full recorded accompaniment, a 3-part version with just piano accompaniment, isolated part 2 and part 3 rehearsal tracks, and an a cappella version. The a cappella version really lets you hear the vocal harmonies and just might inspire your singers to try it this way as well.

Text is taken from Music K-8 magazine.