Woh, just finished it, here is the first paragraph…. Based it around the old Negro Spiritual, “Where you there?”
For the last 7 or 8 weeks or so our worship team and community choir have been led by a choir master, a young and very talented man Matthew.
One of the things Matthew said to us as we started to learn that song, “Were you there”,
he said something very interesting. He said to us, as a choir what I want you to do is think about what the original writer of the song was thinking about when he wrote that song. The reason he wanted us to do that was because he wanted us to have emotion in our voices, to really sing the song from the heart if you like.
And I thought that was really profound. What was the writer of that song thinking about when he wrote it?
Well as far as I can tell, the original writer is unknown, it comes from a deep vein of folk writing known as negro spirituals. These were written by the negro slaves in the deep south of America during the time when Slavery in that part of the world was rife. Though the slaves were not allowed to read the Scriptures, they learned Bible stories at the church on the plantation along with the white folks. The Sunday morning routine included Sunday school, singing hymns, Bible reading, and the sermon — where the preacher told them to obey the Misses and the Master.
On Monday of course they were forced back out onto the fields to pick cotton, fruit, to perform manual labour. All this to keep their lazy and rich masters in comfort. The slaves developed coping mechanisms, and many of them wrote songs, haunting melodies, rich with emotion, and deeply moving. They were songs of hope and anticipation. Some people called them the sorrow songs – eventually, they would come to be known as spirituals. They were the soul-cry of the black slave, longing for freedom. They were born in the fields, among the hoed rows of cotton and tobacco.
Most of the time they had their start in the fervent heat of a backwoods religious meeting. Slaves gathered secretly to encourage one another and to cry out to God for freedom. This activity was against the law, and they knew that a severe beating or even death could face them if they were caught. But the joy and peace that they received from heaven in these meetings made it worth the risk they faced here on earth. The atmosphere in midst of the woods was always charged with emotion. As they mourned their wretched existence, songs would develop spontaneously — psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. In time, these melodies were memorized and passed along from plantation to plantation. The slaves were told by many of the white preachers that they were less than human, but…….