Harriet & The Promised Land
Jacob Lawrece is one of the most celebrated Black visual artists of the twentieth century. In 1968, he published Harriet and the Promised Land, an illustrated book that powerfully tells the story of Harriet Tubman through rhythmic verse and striking visual images. When growing up, my mother frequently read this book to me. Each time, she would read it exactly the same way, with the same inflections. My mother was so enamoured with this book that she even dressed as Harriet, changed the text to first person narrative, and “performed” this piece at local churches during Black History month. Needless to say, this work is very much so a part of who I am as a person.
This piece, scored for rap (solo or ensemble), chorus, and body percussion, was composed as a means to meaningfully discuss enslavement in America and to acquaint singers with both Harriet Tubman and Jacob Lawrence, both prominent figures in Black History. Additionally, this piece is an accessible etude for teaching rhythm and the concept of using rhythm syllables. As an advocate of Music Learning Theory, I recommend teaching the piece using Gordon Rhythm syllables as the rap provides ample opportunities to explore syncopation and beat function.
This piece can be effectively performed a cappella, with a piano double parts, and even with a combo of piano, bass and drums. Most important to delivering a meaningful learning experience performance is the exploration of Jacob Lawrence book of the same title. I encourage all ensembles to read the book, take in the artwork, and discuss it within the classroom and choral rehearsal setting.