Higher Ground

“Higher Ground” (“I’m pressing on the upward way”) is a 19th-century American gospel song with lyrics by Johnson Oatman, Jr. (1856-1922) and music by Charles Hutchinson Gabriel (1856-1932).

Both Oatman and Gabriel were prolific writers. Oatman, an ordained Methodist Episcopal minister employed primarily in retail and insurance work, is said to have written over 5,000 hymns and songs in the latter 30-some years of his life. Although not a talented singer nor recognized as an outstanding preacher, he was acknowledged to have ministered to countless souls through the words of his hymns and songs.

Gabriel, a Methodist Episcopal church music director and editor of gospel song books, anthem collections, music instruction manuals, and more, is said to have written between seven and eight thousand texts and/or tunes under his own name and several pseudonyms. In addition to the music for “Higher Ground,” he composed the music for such well-known gospel songs as “His Eye is on the Sparrow” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”

The opening line of Oatman’s text (link opens in new tab) draws especially from Philippians 3:13-14: “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Other sources include passages from the prophets Isaiah and Micah and the Psalms of Ascent (120-134). Gabriel’s music cleverly evokes the upward vision of the text with an ascending arpeggio spanning an octave on the first words of the refrain (“Lord, lift me up”) and the matching of the highest notes of the tune to the words “a higher plane.”

This arrangement for brass quintet expands the meter of the tune from 3/4 to 4/4 to allow for some countermelodic call-and-response by various voices in the ensemble. Every member will enjoy a lyrical part to play in this arrangement, which is fitting as a prelude, offertory, or special musical selection in worship, and ideal as a lyrical selection on recitals.

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