I’ve Known Rivers – Sheet Music

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The words of I’ve Known Rivers come from the poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes (1902-1967).  He was the first black American to earn his living from writing. He was an innovator of jazz poetry, becoming part of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and 1930s. He wrote plays, short stories, novels, and his poetry was widely read. He was also a journalist, columnist and lecturer. This poem was perhaps his earliest published work, written when only 17 and while travelling by train to Mexico to visit his father.  As the train crossed the Mississippi he suddenly began thinking about how rivers had impacted on the history of his ancestors, particularly in the fight against slavery.

The four rivers mentioned in the poem seemed to lend themselves to using musical influences from those particular regions. However, I have tried to keep these links fairly tenuous and they are meant to simply lend some local flavour to the writing. A few years ago I was fortunate enough to work with Congolese musicians. These sessions advised the basic rhythms used in The Congo.  The spirit of The Nile was gauged from many hours listening avidly to Egyptian music and the stark triangular figures of the Pyramids and the enormous human cost of their building looms large.  Finally The Mississippi mentions Lincoln visiting New Orleans, so a jazz fugue seemed the most appropriate compositional device to weave into the texture.

Further note on The Congo: this should really be accompanied by Djembe and shakers, but if not then the vocal “percussion “ suggested will suffice and is written out in full.  The division of vocal parts is merely a suggestion based on a typical 24 voice chamber choir. Directors should experiment with different numbers on each part to achieve the best balance within their particular group.  Ideally this song should be taught and/or learnt by ear so that the entire process can be uncluttered by the holding and reading of music and thus a more authentic “Congolese” experience will be had by all!

I'VE KNOWN RIVERS FINAL SECURE

 

EUPHRATES FINAL SECURE

 

THE CONGO FINAL SECURE

 

THE NILE FINAL SECURE

 

THE MISSISSIPPI FINAL SECURE
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