Here I offer one of my favourite ‘Negro Spirituals’ to which I have given back the forbidden drums in my arrangement.
I have also added what I think of as 'africanizing’ sounds - sounds that have no exact meaning, but convey a range of emotions.
Drums were considered to be incendiary - capable of inciting revolt and slaughter. This did happen in Haiti.
Personal memories of my mother flood into my being with this song. Though she didn’t sing often as I recall, she sang with deep feeling. These pieces lived within her as they did most blacks born before the first half of the 20th century. While my father sat at our piano playing Bach, Beethoven and Chopin for about four hours every evening, my mother would sit and play songs from other cultural roots whenever she could get time at the keyboard. My father lived there, except when he was teaching or reading.
Because of her musical influence, I have a wealth of songs from the African American Diaspora. Her and the radio.
Tears well up when I hear this song.
It is a call to freedom. The Jordan River here is a metaphor for any river across which a slave could cross and be free. All of the so called 'Negro Spirituals’ were actually coded messages for how to escape slavery - messages that fell upon the culturally deaf ears of the slave owners as they sat in and monitored the few hours of Sunday church services allowed slaves. Services at which these songs were sung.
Interestingly, a large majority of slaves were originally Muslims.
I, born in freedom, am a Buddhist.
No matter. The desire to have true dominion over oneself is still largely unfulfilled in our world no matter what one practices or doesn’t, believes or doesn’t.
One day…all forms of slavery may be completely abolished. And then we shall have truly crossed over the deep river.
I hope. I pray.
Deep River - from the CD 'Crossin’ Over’
copyright: Granny Mabel Leaf’s Music 2003 PRO
Arranged and performed by B. Glenn Copeland
Deep River - Media art by Glenn