Down to the River to Pray

“Down to the River to Pray” (also known as “Down in the River to Pray,” “Down in the Valley to Pray,” and “The Good Old Way”) is a 19th-century American folk hymn variously attributed as an African-American spiritual/slave song, Appalachian song, and gospel song. In recent years, it was popularized in the 2000 motion picture, “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” and by folk/bluegrass performer Alison Kraus.

In this arrangement, the first three presentations, or verses, of the pentatonic tune employ simple, traditional harmony and limited instrumentation, evoking the simplicity of folk-singing style. Verse 4 is characterized by a direct key change up a fourth (from concert Eb to Ab major) and more active harmonies. After a short, two-bar modulation up one more step, the final verse begins with rising parallel harmonies under the melody in trumpet 1, and continues with more contemporary harmonies. The piece concludes with a simple “Amen”-like ending.

View a performance by the Island City Brass Quintet, Wilmington, Illinois.

Score, parts (Bb tpt. 1, Bb tpt. 2, F horn, tbn, tuba) — $12.99