Organ Arrangements and Congregational Acts of Worship for the Church Year Based on African American Spirituals. By William Farley Smith. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996. Spiral, 112 pp. $17.95
At first glance, there doesn't seem to be much here—just sixteen short and (mostly) very simple arrangements of spirituals, organized according to the church year. But there is more. First of all, commentary introduces each spiritual, with both historical background and liturgical/ musical suggestions. That's followed by a Scripture reading with a responsorial refrain drawn from the spiritual for the congregation to sing. And after all of that comes the organ piece. In other words, this book provides worship planners with a way to integrate congregational singing, Scripture reading, and organ music, all based on African-American spirituals.
William Farley Smith had a great idea here. He is an authority on the African-American spiritual and has adapted or arranged all 40+ spirituals in the United Methodist Hymnal. In the Introduction, Frederick Swann says that Smith has "broken the mold" in this unusual liturgical resource. He has indeed. Churches should consider singing/playing/ learning about one of these spirituals during every season of the Christian Year, rather then relegating them to an occasional special service.