Mr. Carey and his ensemble, Courtney’s Stars of Tomorrow, performed several selections on the From Song Came Symphony: Charting the Influence of Harry T. Burleigh concert, including Still’s And They Lynched on Him on a Tree.
On Still’s engagement with the spiritual genre
Still’s And They Lynched Him on a Tree is a piece that I heard about while a student at Morehouse College, but I never studied it until preparing for this concert as chorus master. One of the most striking aspects of the work is Still's style choice. This piece is basically a traditional spiritual! Yes, there are elements of what was then considered "contemporary" compositional technique, but it cannot be disputed that William Grant Still was influenced heavily by the spiritual and used those compositional devices in this piece. I don't think it would have been possible to set this text to music without having included elements of the spiritual. I think it helps keep people anchored in the drama because there is always something "familiar" about the music. The piece veers into very interesting tonalities, but one is always "hooked into the drama" because of the primary compositional device being used: the spiritual.