“Shall We Gather at the River?” was written in the summer of 1864 by Baptist clergyman, gospel song writer, and hymnal editor Robert Lowry (1826-1899), arising from Lowry’s thoughts on the metaphor of the river in Christian scripture.
According to an account on hymnary.org, Lowry “wrote this hymn after meditating on a picture of heaven in Revelation 22:1-2a: ‘Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city….’ After contemplating the question ‘Shall we gather at the river?’ the answer came to him in faith, ‘Yes, we’ll gather at the river.'”
The first stanza and refrain ask and answer:
Shall we gather at the river, / Where bright angel feet have trod;
With its crystal tide forever / Flowing by the throne of God?
(Refrain) Yes, we’ll gather at the river, / The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river / That flows by the throne of God.
Lowry’s tune for the text is known as HANSON PLACE, after Hanson Place Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York, where he served as pastor at the time of the hymn’s composition. Again, from hymnary.org: “The stanza and refrain have two phrases each, and share common rhythmic motifs. At a fast tempo, this tune sounds like marching band music, but at a moderately slow tempo, it sounds thoughtful.”
This arrangement for brass quintet attempts to evoke that more thoughtful, contemplative style. It includes a short, original introduction that also serves as an interlude between verses and as a coda at the end. Each verse is harmonized uniquely, with a key change at the final verse. In addition, the dotted-eight/sixteenth-note figures, typical of a march-like interpretation, have been replaced by straight eighth notes for a flowing, lyrical feel.
This arrangement would make an effective piece for prelude, offertory, or communion, for All Saints or All Souls Day remembrances, for a memorial service, or simply for special music in a service of worship.
Score, parts (Bb tpt. 1, Bb tpt. 2, F horn, tbn, tuba) — $12.99