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Prelude for Organ
Ewe Chant-Our Thoughts Are All Free-Know This-Deep River
by Brent Hugh

Sacred organ prelude, duration approx. 4 minutes, 1995.

From the Composer's Notes for this prelude:

During the period of slavery, the African-American spiritual became a sort of coded and secretive way of expressing the slaves’ desire for escape and freedom. Lyrics such as "When Israel was in Egypt’s land/Oppressed so hard they could not stand/Let my people go" (from "Go Down Moses") took on a powerful and personal meaning for this oppressed people. And if Moses could part the "Deep River," allowing the ancient children of Israel to pass, the latter-day slaves could likewise hope for passage– miraculous or otherwise–over the deep waters separating them from their homeland.

So, like the parted waters it describes, "Deep River" has a powerful symbolic message that goes far beyond its apparently uncomplicated surface. It was this symbolic message which inspired the organ prelude, which combines the tune of the spiritual with a folk song ("Our Thoughts Are All Free") and a hymn ("Know This, That Every Soul Is Free") that express similar messages, albeit more directly. The rhythmic patterns in the prelude come from a traditional drumming pattern of the Ewe people of Ghana–the people, like the music, distant relatives of those who made the African-American spiritual.

Faith in God, though often used by evil men to justify enslavement of both the body and the soul, can also provide the greatest freedom, in the mind, the soul and the body, both now and in eternity. Surely this is the message of those anonymous and forgotten slaves who first sang "Deep River."

Performance considerations . . . The solo (m. 60ff) may be taken by soprano voice or by tenor voice (singing an octave lower than written, of course). It may also be performed by a solo instrument such as clarinet, violin, trumpet, french horn, or trombone (an octave lower). If the part is taken by a soloist, the soloist should remain unobtrusively seated until one or two measures before the solo begins, and could possibly remain seated throughout. The soloist may be seated among the listeners, or may be located behind the listeners or otherwise out of their line of sight, if either of these is practical in a given situation.

If a soloist performs the line, the organist may also play it to reinforce the soloist, or may omit it, as circumstances indicate.

If the organist does play the solo line (m. 60ff), some difficulties in performance arise. Here are some solutions:

In any case, the performer should not feel restricted by the indications in the music, but should consider him or herself to be a full partner with the composer in adapting and even modifying the notated music in order to realize the best possible performance on a particular instrument.

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