Yesterday the Spirituals Choir gathered for our first rehearsal of the 2017 season. Stacks of music were on a table at the back of our usual space, the recreation room at Windemere. Our repertoire for this year includes some slave songs we’ve sung often in recent years and some we haven’t. (Some we might not have sung at all as a group, but since this is only my sixth year singing in the choir, I can’t swear to it.)
Among the songs from the 2016 or 2015 repertoire:
- “Wasn’t That a Wide River?”
- “You May Bury Me in the East”
- “In Bright Mansions Above”
- “Done Made My Vow to the Lord”
- “Fare You Well”
This last one, “Fare You Well,” is as close as we come to a staple, and with good reason: it’s almost unbearably poignant and powerful. A slave who’s been sold away from home bids farewell to family and friends. To sing it with one’s whole heart is to feel a little bit of what that felt like.
From the slightly more distant past come these songs, among others:
- “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder”
- “Soon-a Will Be Done”
- “I Want to Be Ready (to Walk in Jerusalem Just like John)”
- “Wayfaring Stranger”
The ones I don’t recall singing before, though the choir may be done “before my time”:
- “I’ve Got a Robe”
- “Sometimes I Feel like a Motherless Child”
- “Follow the Drinking Gourd”
- “Guide My Feet, Lord”
“I’ve Got a Robe” includes one of my favorite lines of all time: “Everybody talkin’ ’bout heaven ain’t going there.”
Needless to say, there’s more!
The only time we sing our whole repertoire is at our annual appearance at Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs. This year the date is Saturday, July 22, and the time is 7 p.m. Circle it on your calendars. Ticket sales from this event help sustain the work of the U.S. Slave Song Project, of which the choir is a part.
Our other presentations feature a selection of songs and the stories that go with them, depending on the occasion, the time available, and how the spirit moves.