Down In The River – Sheet Music (Jake Alexander)

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Down in the River to Pray - SAA - SECURE

I came to this African-American spiritual by way of O Brother, Where Art Thou? and it has since become one of my favourite arrangements to do with my choirs. The song emerged in the mid-19th century, and has associations with the Underground Railroad; indeed, it is thought that the lyrics contain coded messages to enslaved people who were trying to escape the South. For example, “Down in the river…” instead of the more obvious “Down to the river…” may have been a deliberate alteration, as it is theorised to have been an instruction to potential escapees that they should walk along the river bed because the water would help to mask their scent from the bounty-hunters’ dogs.

Please note that I’ve designated this arrangement as SAA, but the lowest note of the middle part is only a B below middle C, so it will suit almost anyone who considers themselves a soprano.

Rehearsal tracks performed by Eleanor Rastall (

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