Connecting Beyond the Walls


Today’s word of hope comes from our own Jake Hill, Music Associate / Organist.

It is hard to believe that this is week SEVEN of our Daily Dose practice! So many of you have emailed me with your kind reflections to this particular offering that has come to you on Wednesdays, and I am so glad that these humble musings have been enjoyably educational and have provided some momentary relief from this crazy season we’re in!

For those of you who’ve been with us from week one of these writings, you’ll recall our journey through music started with a great spiritual and some great singers- we’re revisiting spirituals today, but, rather than with soloists, we’re bringing in the choir! Choral settings of spirituals are likely the most widely offered setting in which we experience these great songs and texts today.

Choirs LOVE spirituals. Typically, spiritual settings are very rhythmic, very textured/layered and have a solid message. What’s not to love? If it’s slower and more somber, you can bet you’re going to have some incredible melody accompanied by other richly harmonized parts. If it’s livelier, like the song I mention to you now, it’s likely full of goose-bump, hair-standing, foot-stomping energy! Couple those elements with a group of singers who love to sing, and you have a crowd pleaser- not only for the audience but for the choir, too!

Historically, the melodies of spiritual texts are very memorable and very repetitious. That simple, sing-song sort of melody and repetitive nature give composers an almost limitless opportunity to create variations on the melody. The melody is typically rhythmic by itself, but with the texts that accompany them, they have even more percussive-like rhythmic drive outside of the melody. Extrapolate those components over multiple choral sections (Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass), and you have major forces sometimes working together to strengthen a moment while other times those forces create great battles against each other- it allows the text to unfold in a dramatic way. More often than not, spirituals have so much rhythmic integrity and thick chordal structures that they can stand on their own, unaccompanied by piano or other instruments- then other times, instrumental accompaniment is utilized to add yet another layer to what is happening. Sometimes the chaos of a choral arrangement of a spiritual can be almost overwhelming because of how much is occurring all at once- but when it is done crisply and well-rehearsed, it can be one of the most riveting experiences you’re likely to have in a concert or service.

This arrangement of ‘Ain’t No Grave’ by Paul Caldwell and Sean Ivory is utterly thrilling in every sense of the word and incorporates ALL of the elements I mention above with a few additions!

Besides text and melodies and rhythms, this arrangement has foot stomps, clapping and ASL (American Sign Language), all on top of a growling piano accompaniment!

A 2017 recording by the Wartburg College Choir resurfaced recently among many music colleagues and has seemingly reignited a wave of excitement around the performance. The performance really is top notch and will keep you on the edge of your seat for the duration! Let their powerful rendition bring life to the text they sing, bringing about an excitement in your spirit this day. For indeed, in Christ, ‘ain’t no grave can hold our bodies down! 

Ain’t No Grave
Arr. Paul Caldwell and Sean Ivory

Ain’t no grave can hold my body down.
They ain’t no grave can keep a sinner underground.
I will listen for the trumpet sound.
Ain’t no grave can hold my body down. 

They rolled a stone on Jesus.
And then they tried to bury me.
But the Holy Ghost, it freed us,
so we could live eternally! 

Sister you’d better get your ticket,
if you want a ride.
In the mornin’ when Jesus call my number,
I’ll be on the other side. 

Ain’t no grave is gonna hold me.
Ain’t no man is gonna bury me.
Aint no serpent gonna trick me.
Ain’t no grave can hold my body down. 

I will fly to Jesus,
in the morning, when I die.
I know He will take me,
home to live with Him on high!

 I will fly with Jesus in the mornin’.
Don’t look here, I’ll be way up in the sky!
Soon one day He’s gonna call me up to Heaven
for a chariot ride.

 Ain’t no grave dug deep enough to hold me.
Ain’t no devil been slick enough to trick me.
Ain’t no grave digger man enough to bury me.
You can’t hold me down! 

Ain’t no grave can hold me down.
You can’t keep me underground!
When the silver trumpet sounds,
ain’t no grave can hold my body down. 

Ain’t no grave dug so low,
no grave digger been born so strong.
Ain’t no man that can, ain’t no devil can,
ain’t no grave can hold me down. 

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