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Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow

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Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow. SATB, piano, 4′. Premiered December 2020 by the Choral Arts Society of Washington, D.C., Scott Tucker, artistic director.

Chorus America auctioned a composition from me at their 2019 annual conference, in Philadelphia that year. The Crossing would be performing my work The Arc in the Sky as the last evening’s concert, and at the closing banquet just after the concert, as in previous years, an auctioned newly composed work would be part of the fundraising festivities. So, just after the parfait and coffee were served, the Choral Arts Society of Washington came through with a winning bid of $5,000 for a new work, to be composed by me for them in the next year or so. The money—the highest amount that particular auction feature had ever brought in, I was told—would go to support the work of Chorus America.

In the weeks following, the choir’s artistic director Scott Tucker and I discussed a Christmas piece for December 2020. The African American spiritual “Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow” interested him, and the idea of working with it delighted me, as spirituals have inspired a number of my choral and chamber works. We discussed including other instruments for the premiere, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit (and I was soon to begin composing) we thought it best to keep it to piano for what would now probably be a video, “virtual” premiere.

The original text of “Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow”—that is, the first printed version of it—saw the light of day in the January 1891 issue of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, in the story “Christmas-Gifts,” by Ruth McEnery Stuart (1849–1917). It appeared then in her 1893 collection of short stories, A Golden Wedding: And Other Tales, as the unhyphenated “Christmas Gifts,” from where I took the text. This “Rise Up” differs from every hymnal version I’ve found, by the length of the verse, and by a second verse I never saw before, which substitutes the word “sinner” for “shepherd,” and which connects the stable with the cross. Stuart had actually changed that second verse for the 1893 publication; her original had references to “Gabriel’s horn” and “streets of gold.”

It is thought that she probably had collected the song—not inventing it for the story—since it was also included in a 1900 article, “Folk songs of America,” by Clara Eames, suggesting that it was, in fact, an actual spiritual. Giving even more weight to this theory is the publication of text, with the tune we know, in 1902 in The Southern Workman, the journal of Hampton University, the private historically Black university in Virginia. The source is unknown, but Hampton published it again in 1909, and in 1927 the composer R. Nathaniel Dett, a professor at Hampton, included it in his edition of spirituals. He also indicated that “a verse has fallen into disuse.”

This arrangement starts quietly, simply, and gracefully, and should be taken at a fairly lively tempo. The voices trade off phrases and combine in different ways, until it builds to a loud and joyous finale.

Even though there is no star in the Luke 2 shepherd and angel story (that would be the wise men who see the star, in the Luke and Matthew accounts), this spiritual has been popular in arrangements and, since the 1980s, in hymnals. With updated spellings, here’s the text I’ve used:

There’s a star in the east on Christmas morn.
Rise up, shepherd, and follow!
It will lead to the place where the Savior’s born.
Rise up, shepherd and follow!
If you take good heed to the angels’ words,
Rise up, shepherd, and follow!
You’ll forget your flocks, you’ll forget your herds.
Rise up, shepherd, and follow!
Leave your sheep and
Leave your lamb and
Leave your ewe and
Leave your ram and
Rise up, shepherd, and follow!
Follow, follow,
Rise up, shepherd, and follow!
Follow the star to Bethlehem!
Rise up, shepherd, and follow!

 

Oh, that star’s still shining this Christmas Day.
Rise, O sinner, and follow!
With an eye of faith you can see its ray.
Rise, O sinner, and follow!
It will light your way through the fields of frost,
Rise, O sinner, and follow!
While it leads through the stable to the shining cross.
Rise, O sinner, and follow!
Leave your father,
Leave your mother,
Leave your sister,
Leave your brother,
Rise, O sinner, and follow!
Follow, follow,
Rise, O sinner, and follow!
Follow the star to Bethlehem.
Rise, O sinner, and follow!
Rise up, shepherd, and follow!

Skills

Posted on

21 August, 2020

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