Dr. Paul T. Kwami,
Professor & Musical Director at Fisk University


The Fisk Jubilee Singers will perform Harry T. Burleigh's arrangement of "My Lord, What a Mornin'" during Saturday's concert. Dr. Kwami tells us about his impression of the piece.

One of my favorite things to do is watch and admire the beauty of nature. Some of the things that I admire are beautiful colors and formations of clouds that line the skies at sunrise and at sunset. Harry T. Burleigh’s arrangement of “My Lord, What a Mornin’” reminds me of the amazing beauty of the sky from dawn to day break. While the melody of this spiritual is very simple and beautiful, Burleigh gives it a wonderful treatment by turning it into a great piece of artwork.

He uses vocal combinations, variations in dynamics, expressions, beautiful harmonies, and soothing chord progressions that paint a beautiful picture of night changing into day. This melody is set to the words, ‘My Lord, what a mornin’, a phrase that is repeated three times to start the spiritual. The arrangement allows the altos to sing and establish the melody at the beginning of this arrangement, while the tenors and basses provide a very rich harmonic support. These harmonies sound full because each of the male voice parts is divided into two parts. After the introduction of the melody by the altos, the sopranos join in, taking over the melody, which brightens the music. Then comes a soft interlude that is hummed by all the voices. This is a very gorgeous passage of music and reminds me of a gentle wind blowing and the “singing” of birds occurring as the day breaks.

The music moves into a very robust and slightly louder section where a different melody is introduced. The tenors have their chance to shine as they introduce this new melody that is set to the text, “Done quit all my worl’ly ways, jine dat hebbenly ban.” I love the movement of the soprano line that includes a downward leap of an octave, while the volume of the music reduces from loud to soft, slows down and returns gently to the first melody. The song grows in volume and intensity, reminding me of the appearance of the early morning golden sun. But this beautiful melody that is so wonderfully harmonized returns to quietness. The words of the final phrase read: “When de stars begin to fall.” The chord on the final word is the softest. The stars that light up the sky at night don’t fall literally, but rather disappears as the sun rises.

Oh, what a wonderful arrangement H. T. Burleigh left for us to enjoy! This is definitely one of my favorite spirituals and a very much liked arrangement.