Four African-American Songs: Now Behold the Lamb; Give Me a Clean Heart; Through It All; I Want Jesus to Walk with Me

African-American religious music has a life that is unique to its culture. Spirituals and black gospel music embody the rhythmic elements of syncopation, improvisation, metric variety, fervor, and simplicity with lyrical melodic phrases. The four songs on these pages use all of these elements and more. These hymns, all of which will be included in the new supplement Sing! A New Creation, are excellent choices for the Lent and Easter season. They transcend race, culture, and musical tradition, and are enjoyed by those who sing them.

NOW BEHOLD THE LAMB

Kirk Franklin is the hottest and latest black gospel artist to cross cultural, religious, and secular barriers since Edwin Hawkins (“O Happy Day”). These artists’ music are not only heard on religious radio stations but on secular ones as well.

Only twenty-nine years old, Franklin has been popular on the gospel scene since his 1993 CD release, Kirk Franklin & The Family. His music is marked by his unusual life experiences. He survived abandonment, adoption, drugs, teenage rebellion, a fatal gun accident that killed his fifteen-year-old friend, and a near-fatal accident in 1996, when he plunged ten feet and hit his head on a concrete floor during a concert tour, lying unconscious for quite some time. He marks that incident as graduation day, a new awakening. He never graduated from high school, but that experience made him more aware of his spiritual calling, and he began to focus even more intently on his role as a minister of the Word through the gift of music.

Franklin composed the words and music of “Now Behold the Lamb” in 1995. It is a lovely, simple, heartfelt, slow, syncopated, common-meter, and contemporary gospel song. The refrain printed here is only part of a larger composition; the complete version includes a wonderful stanza that can be led by a soloist and used also for choirs; it includes additional music with an exuberant climatic section.

Sing in unison or four-part harmony. Basses can double the soprano line an octave below. Also included here is part of the authentic black gospel piano accompaniment from the complete edition. An electric keyboard, guitar, bass, and drums would also be appropriate for the piece (I do not recommend organ). It is printed in two keys with a transition that works well from B-flat to C Major.

“Now Behold the Lamb” is appropriate for the Lord’s Supper and also during both Lent and Christmas. Kirk Franklin and the Family recorded this piece as part of a Christmas CD. If possible, I recommend that you listen to this contemporary gospel work before you teach it to your congregation or choir. (Kirk Franklin and the Family Christmas, recorded on Gospo Centric cassette #606949023249, CD #606949023225). It can be purchased at most Christian bookstores along with The Kirk Franklin and Family Collection songbook, distributed by Word Music.

This is also a wonderful piece to use with liturgical dancers or a mime group. As you perform this work, try to feel the slurs as syncopation and keep them relaxed. By all means, don’t speed up the tempo and don’t be deceived by the eighth and sixteenth notes. The metronome marking is quarter note = 40. I’ve conducted this piece many times with the Calvin College gospel choir, and it is one of our favorites.

GIVE ME A CLEAN HEART

Margaret Pleasant Douroux (b. 1941) is a noted California-based minister of music, educator, music publisher, clinician, and lecturer steeped in the tradition of the black church. Douroux has written over one hundred songs, ranging from anthems to gospel. She travels extensively, teaching, lecturing, and conducting gospel music workshops. I had the pleasure of attending Douroux’s gospel music workshop in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1995. She is truly a gifted, articulate woman who exudes strength, humility, and the indefatigable will of a leader. More information and song listings can be found on the Internet at www.hmfgospel.org/dr.htm.

Douroux wrote “Give Me a Clean Heart,” a beautiful, lyrical song of confession, in 1970. The tempo of the song should be moderate to slow. I’ve heard it sung with the pick-up notes taken much too fast by people who are not familiar with the performance practice of this piece. It needs to be sung almost like a long-metered spiritual. A good metronome marking is eighth note = 60. The song can be played effectively on organ or piano. I prefer organ because of its sustaining ability and the solemn and secure quality it brings to this composition.

Typical of this style, the refrain is for the congregation, and an additional solo part develops the theme; that additional part will be included in the Leaders Edition of Sing! A New Creation. It can be sung with a soloist who is not afraid to improvise, a common practice with gospel music. The notes are written as a reference point. Two precautions—the soloist must improvise within the chordal and rhythmic structure. If you do not have a soloist with jazz or gospel singing experience, the notes that are written will be sufficient for congregational singing.

TROUGH IT ALL

Andraé Crouch (b. 1950) is currently the pastor of Christ Memorial Church in Pomona, California. He is recognized as a trailblazer and groundbreaking pioneer in gospel music. I recall the first time I heard Andraé Crouch’s music as a teenager on the album Andraé Crouch and the Disciples. Soon his combining of traditional gospel sounds with popular song-writing techniques made him one of my favorite gospel artists, a writer whose music was accepted by both black and white audiences. Two of his best-known songs are “My Tribute” and “Soon and Very Soon.” Thom Granger, All Music Guide writer, notes that many of Crouch’s early songs are now considered “Jesus Music” standards.

Crouch was also among the first contemporary recording artists who published written gospel music along with his record albums. He has written music for film and TV and often collaborates with his twin sister, Sandra Crouch, who is also a songwriter and musician. Hall of Fame is the title of his latest CD, released this year.

“Through It All,” written in 1971, is a signature piece of faith and trust. A moderate tempo, quarter note = 60, is recommended. Again, only the chorus is given here, but the stanza is very powerful:

I’ve had many tears and sorrows.
I’ve had questions for tomorrow.
There have been times when
I didn’t know right from wrong.
But in every situation,
God gave me blessed consolation
to let me know my trials
come to make me strong.

This stanza will not be included in Sing! A New Creation but can be found in The Andraé Crouch Songbook (Lexicon Press). Consider having a soloist sing this unmetered, or freely, and then have the congregation respond with the chorus.

This song is found in Lead Me, Guide Me 228 (G.I.A.), but I’ve edited this chorus version slightly with rhythmic changes to include syncopated rhythms and word shifts, in keeping with the gospel flavor. It can be played with piano, organ, and drums. Hand clapping is also a nice addition, but make sure to clap on beats 2 and 4 to be authentic, not on beats 1 and 3.

I WANT JESUS TO WALK WITH ME

“I Want Jesus to Walk with Me” is a traditional African-American spiritual. It should be sung simply and with conviction. Spirituals are the roots of gospel music. They came out of the mixture of European and African acculturation. Traditionally, spirituals developed in an oral tradition without any one known composer. They were unaccompanied folk songs with synthesized African melodic and rhythmic practices, not disturbed by instrumentation. Spirituals became artistic forms during the era of Reconstruction and were made famous by the pioneer performances of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. At first, the Fisk Jubilee Singers were unable to appreciate the worth or value of these songs and were reluctant to sing them because they questioned the validity of slave songs. They asked such questions as: How can we or should we be singing songs to the God of our oppressors? Have we not been freed by God? Fortunately for all of us, the spirituals were not abandoned. They are part of a rich heritage.

This spiritual can be accompanied by organ and piano or sung a cappella with simple ad-lib drumming on congas or bass drum.

 

Excerpt

HYMNAL SUPLEMENT UPDATE

A Wonderful Gift for Sing! A New Creation

The past several issues of Reformed Worship have included songs selected for the forthcoming supplement Sing! A New Creation, a joint publication project of CRC Publications, the Reformed Church in America, and the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Soon after the committee began working, it became convinced that a leader’s edition would be very helpful, since some of the newer styles are unfamiliar to traditionally trained musicians. Following the pattern of the very successful leader’s edition of Songs for LiFE, we wanted to include background notes and performance suggestions for every song. We also wanted to include additional instrumental parts and especially expanded keyboard settings for pianists who are not used to improvising. However, budget projections for a leader’s edition were very discouraging, since a given church might buy several hundred copies of the pew edition but only a few copies of the leader’s edition.

We’re delighted to report that the supplement project has received an anonymous gift that will make the leader’s edition possible, along with funding to help in recordings and an introduction program for the churches! The committee is very grateful and excited about this gift from “two fellow Christians.” The contents of the collection (more than 250 songs) have been selected, and we are now proceeding with the additional material, some of which you see in this issue. For example, “Now Behold the Lamb” on pages 28 and 29 is presented first in the pew edition format and then in the leader’s edition format. We would like to release both editions at the same time, along with recordings. The scheduled release date is 2001.

—Emily R. Brink, for the
Supplement Committee

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For additional material from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, click here.

Charsie Sawyer is a professor of music at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she teaches voice and directs the gospel choir. She was also a member of the committee preparing the hymnal supplement Sing! A New Creation.