African-American Spirituals - Swing Low, Sweet Chariot - arranged for SATB & String Quartet by Gerald Manning
AFRICAN-AMERICAN SPIRITUALS Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Spirituals are religious folksongs, which evolved and are associated with a complex history of revivalism in America, between 1740 and the 19th century. The very first Negro spirituals were inspired by African music even if the tunes were not far from those of hymns. Some of them, which were called �shouts� were accompanied with typical dancing including hand clapping and foot tapping.
The Negro spirituals �The Gospel Train� and �Swing low, sweet chariot� which directly refer to the Underground Railroad, an informal organization who helped many slaves to flee. The words of �The Gospel train� are �She is coming� Get onboard� There�s room for many more�. This is a direct call to go way, by riding a �train� which stops at �stations�. Then, �Swing low, sweet chariot� refers to Ripley, a �station� of the Underground Railroad, where fugitive slaves were welcome. This town is atop a hill, by Ohio River, which is not easy to cross. So, to reach this place, fugitives had to wait for help coming from the hill. The words of this spiritual say,� I looked over Jordan and what did I see/ Coming for to carry me home/ A band of angels coming after me� Sir Michael Tippett in his oratorio A Child of our Time uses spirituals instead of chorales to convey the message and drama of his work. Spirituals have become very popular as concert music due mainly to the fund-raising tours of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, who introduced them to North America and Europe.
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