'Fer sum good ol' a-finger-snappin' 'n a-foot-stompin' gospel music from the Civil War era--- 'come on down wit me nah ... brothers 'n sisters'  to hear what all those who someday will read about and perhaps even listen to in a planned CD to accompany 'Raisins and Almonds---A Civil War Story.'  You're not likely to hear this kind of music on Sunday mornings anymore, no matter where you might now go to Church --- but hey, some things were better in those days of yesteryear --- 'n 'dis hyar song shur gotta be un' o' dem!'
 
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What you're listening to here and now is Alison Krause and her rendition of "Down to the River to Pray" , complete with a special introduction and ending of my own doing by a musical group named, "Our Daily Bread" .  I am always on the lookout for music of the Civil War period to incorporate into my story, 'Raisins and Almonds---A Civil War Story' .  And as is usually the case, I come across such music as this in the most unusual of ways.  Quite by accident, just a few nights ago Nancy and I began watching a movie on the IFC channel called, 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' , and there was this scene where an entire congregation of white-robed 'brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers--- sinners all'  were walking down through the woods to the river, where one-by-one, each was baptized signifying their remission of sin.  It was an impressive scene, made so in large part by the hymn they were all singing.  As I watched this stirring scene, I kept wanting to know the name of this music, but I knew I had to stay right through to the movie's very end to discover its title.  My wait would eventually be rewarded, for this riverside music was later identified in the movie's credits as "Down to the River to Pray" .  And true to my nature, before I was go to bed that same night, I just had to get on the Internet to find out whether this hymn could possibly have been around at the time of the Civil War--- for so inspired was I, that I already knew I wanted to incorporate this very same piece of music into my own story, 'Raisins and Almonds---A Civil War Story'.  
 
And so this is what my research into this song's origin revealed.  First and foremost, as I suspected, this hymn is uniquely American.  Being labeled 'traditional'--- this music has simply come down to us through the ages from one generation to another.  And as might be expected, there is great confusion as to not only its origin, but even uncertainty as to it's name.  This music has no less than three different names by which it is equally known.  The most recent adaptations seem to be, "Down to the River to Pray" .  But there are other recent recordings labeled "Down in the River to Pray" .  Earlier adaptations referred to this same music as, "Down in the Valley to Pray" .  Still, by whatever name, the melody itself is unmistakably always the same tune.
 
As for its date of origin, by whatever name you may wish to call it, this music comes to us from the early to mid-nineteenth century.  It is most likely a Negro spiritual with its three-part harmony, although scholars who know of such things have noted significant Appalachian influence due to the tune's unmistakable use of the pentatonic scale.  Finally, there are some sporadic historical references to Shaker Elder, Joseph Brackett, as having been its composer. And if you recall, it is generally thought that Joseph Brackett in 1848 may have also written the better known music, 'Simple Gifts' --- with its four-part harmony that lends itself to being sung ... or even danced.  Still, the preponderance of historical evidence suggests that this music, 'Down to the River to Pray' , comes to us today as a Negro spiritual.
 
And it is in this context that the heroine of my story, 'Raisins and Almonds---A Civil War Story' --- Emily Ellen Clarke Whitehead --- first learns of the lyrics and the tune of this music,'Down to the River to Pray', from a former slave Negro family--- who are identified in my story as Ben, his wife, Mat, and their son, Raphael --- all  escaping to freedom after having been caught up in the Union's massive retreat to Chambersburg, PA following the overwhelming Confederate victory at the 2nd Battle of Winchester of June 13-15, 1863.  Emily, being an accomplished pianist, organist, and Director of Music of her husband's --- John Whitehead's --- Westminster Presbyterian Church in Middleton, Ohio, is so inspired by this music and its message that she is quick to introduce this Negro spiritual into the Church's repertoire.  And it soon becomes one of their congregation's favorite---  a hymn that John too will soon enough carry with him into Libby Prison.
 
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This arrangement of 'Down to the River to Pray'  by Alison Krause highlights the hymn's effectiveness through her simple and straightforward presentation. This piece should be sung with great energy, with an ever-strong pulse on the first beat of each measure.  And it's three-part harmony make this tune both easy to listen to and fun to sing.
 
...Bruce***********

ALISON KRAUSS LYRICS

"Down To The River To Pray"

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good ol' way
And who shall wear the starry crown?
Good Lord show me the way!

O sisters let's go down
Let's go down, come on down
O sisters let's go down
Down in the river to pray

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good ol' way
And who shall wear the robe & crown?
Good Lord show me the way

O brothers let's go down
Let's go down, come on down
Come on brothers, let's go down
Down in the river to pray

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good ol' way
And who shall wear the starry crown?
Good Lord show me the way

O fathers let's go down
Let's go down, come on down
O fathers let's go down
Down in the river to pray

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good ol' way
And who shall wear the robe and crown?
Good Lord show me the way

O mothers let's go down
Come on down, don't you wanna go down?
Come on mothers, let's go down
Down in the river to pray

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good ol' way
And who shall wear the starry crown?
Good Lord show me the way

O sinners, let's go down
Let's go down, come on down
O sinners, let's go down
Down in the river to pray

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good ol' way
And who shall wear the robe and crown?
Good Lord show me the way