Craig Courtney's Arrangement of Lift Every Voice and Sing: Analysis for Performance
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The melody of Lift Every Voice and Sing can be frequently heard in TV shows, radio programs, civic organization meetings, sung by church choirs and school choirs across the United States. This song is known as the Black National Anthem and has long been a symbol of the African-American movement for social justice. Many musicians, composers, singers and listeners have been inspired by this song.
Before this semester began, I had to decide on the repertoire I would conduct for the Texas State Men’s Choir. Finding an appropriate piece was difficult as a Korean student as I have not been exposed to a men’s choir until now. I suggested some music that I was interested into my supervising professor, Dr. Jonathan Babcock. He recommended Lift Every Voice and Sing arranged by Craig Courtney. I was immediately interested in the piece and was eager to learn more about the African American spiritual style. In preparation for rehearsals and performance I needed to know the origin and meaning of the text and music. The more I discovered about the background of this style of music, the more I was interested in it.
In my exploration, I listened to several different arrangements of the song and began considering what makes the arrangement by Courtney unique. I concluded that I needed to analyze Craig Courtney’s Arrangement of Lift Every Voice and Sing as my project.
Craig Courtney arranged this Lift Every Voice and Sing for a chorus in 2010. One of the first discoveries I made is that Courtney does not use the third stanza of the original song. Courtney instead includes the refrain of the well-known spiritual, Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen, as the introduction. I was curious why the composer chose this particular spiritual at the beginning of his arrangement. In addition, I am curious whether the meaning of the third stanza is relevant to “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”. I would also like to explore the scoring used for each stanza. Why did the arranger choose the beginning passage to be in unison in the first stanza and tutti in the second? A performance of Lift Every Voice and Sing by the Texas State Men’s Choir will be included in my presentation. My presentation will show the theoretical and practical aspects of Craig Courtney’s arrangement that makes it unique from other arrangements. Craig Courtney will be visiting the Texas State Men’s Choir, providing a wonderful opportunity for the chorus and me to learn his interpretation of the piece. In addition, the Men’s Choir will perform Lift Every Voice and Sing in a Concert Broadcast on April 24, 2021, to which our university community is invited.