“Were You There” is a 19th-century spiritual that likely predates the American Civil War and may have roots in a folk hymn known in Tennessee as “Have You Heard How They Crucified My Lord?” First published in William Eleazar Barton’s 1899 Old Plantation Hymns, it was included in The Hymnal 1940 of the Episcopal Church with harmonization by C. Winfred Douglas, making it the first spiritual to be included in any major American hymnal.
This arrangement evokes the call-and-response tradition of the spiritual, featuring solo baritone voice echoed by SAB voices in verses 1-3, with light organ accompaniment. In verse 4, all voices take up the question, “Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?” The verse builds in intensity until the soloist returns; and following a chord progression leading to a deceptive cadence, he asks one final time, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”
Particularly fitting for Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday), Good Friday, and Holy Saturday services, this arrangement of a beloved African-American spiritual is quick to rehearse and accessible by small and novice choirs, yet emotionally evocative and an effective recalling of Christ’s sacrifice.
If desired, verses 1-3 may each be sung by a different soloist.
Baritone/SAB/organ score (8 pages, 8.5×11″) — $2.00 USD/copy
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