Oh, Watch the Stars (SATB)
SATB Choir and Piano
Arr. Mack Wilberg
This is a beautiful, sensitive arrangement of the African-American spiritual and folk hymn Oh, watch the stars. The text reflects on the beauty of creation, and alternative verses by David Warner celebrating Christ's birth have been included for performance during the Christmas season. Wilberg artfully retains the understated feel and simplicity of the original spiritual while demonstrating hallmarks of his unique style, such as rich harmonies, contrasting keys and textures, and effective obbligato instrumental fills.
Oh, Watch the Stars was first published in 1925 by G. Schirmer in a collection of spirituals recorded and transcribed by Nicholas George Julius Ballanta(-Taylor) of Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa. The title page of Saint Helena Island Spirituals notes that the collection was prepared at the Penn Normal, Industrial, and Agricultural School on St. Helena Island, Beaufort County, in South Carolina.
But these obligatory acknowledgements reveal nothing of the remarkable movement behind the work of Ballanta and others. The world was continuing to waken to the rich and powerful vocal music traditions of Americans who had been cruelly taken from their African homelands in the slave trade. There was also a growing conviction that people of African descent, especially those who had suffered slaveryeither themselves or in their familieswere in the best position to translate the songs into written notes and rhythms. Only they could feel, understand, and express the hearts of those who first sang this music and passed it down from generation to generation.
This arrangement of Oh, Watch the Stars was created for a program of American Christmas music. Because there was only one useable verse in the original transcription, two additional verses were added with the same syntactical structure and rhyme scheme. Two sets of text have been provided here, allowing for performance at Christmas and throughout the year. The musical setting reflects melodic gestures and harmonic impulses conveyed by Ballanta and others of the period.
It is suggested that Oh, Watch the Stars be performed simply, naturally, and expressively. This will underscore that the performance is not intended to appropriate the culture of the original transcription, but to honour it. In this way, the piece serves as a remembrance and tribute to those whose music this is.
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