What should we care about some old songs by slaves?

The song of the week for November 9 was “Sinner, Please Don’t Let this Harvest Pass” – an African American spiritual arranged by Harry T. Burleigh

Some questions to ponder…

  • What do African-American spirituals mean today?
  • What should white people consider when performing this music?
  • What do you think harvest season was like for people enslaved for the purpose of working the land?

We wrestle with these questions because we have started to learn just how much we so don’t understand about what it means to be black, and what it means to be white, and how to respectfully learn about it and honor history without belittle anyone’s experience.  This week’s writing doesn’t have answers; just some thoughts to notice and mull over….

Some interesting notes…

  • Harry T. Burleigh, the arranger of this week’s song, was a black singer and pianist.
  • Burleigh’s grandfather was a slave who bought his own freedom in 1832.
  • Burleigh’s father was a veteran of the Union Navy during the Civil War.
  • Burleigh formed a bridge between black music and classical music through his arrangements of the folk songs in the styles of classical art song.
  • To pay his way through school at the National Conservatory of Music, Burleigh cleaned – and sang while doing it, getting the attention of Antonin Dvorak, the school’s director at the time.
  • Many spirituals employed some coded messages, conveying important information about the activities of the Underground Railroad. (I had a hard time finding much data on this specific song, but I suspect there are some interesting layers of meanings throughout the text.)
  • Iconic African American opera singers like Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman (who passed away just last month) have made powerful recordings of this song.

This is song #2 from November’s collection of SongNotes from the Birds.  For the summary and patron list, click here.  For song #1 – “A Time for Everything” – click here.

1. An unusually busy mid-week Sanctuary.  Below, organ technician Steve Lethart is getting inside the console of our church’s organ to fix some stops that weren’t coupling right. Maureen Pranghofer, the guest performer for the upcoming Covenant Women Christmas banquet, stopped by to check out the wheelchair ramp and piano ahead of the December 3 production. (click here for more info)


2. We’re sick this week. Dropping like flies. So far Nathan and the 5 year old have been spared.  So grateful for an accompanist who can sub for me and a sweet 8 yearold who takes really good care of her feverish little brother (and me! – as I’m typing this she just came by and offered to rinse out the puke bucket. Too much info? Sorry 🙂

3. Daily countdown to the Three Tenors: 14  Eek!

4. Remember, we have a Wish List for sending a surprise mailing of the printed SongNotes and CD to people who aren’t in the online space.. This is made possible by our patrons and we’d love to add some names to the list. Click here to sign someone up!

Here again is the song of the week:

Featured image credit: Joshua Fuller on Unsplash.com