The words of early Negro spirituals praise God and speak of the rewards to come after death. They also spread the message of hope and the value of endurance. Their melodies are beautiful. Their primary message is a religious one, but many covertly express the desire for social freedom.
Go down Moses,
‘Way down in Egypt land;
Tell old Pharaoh,
Let my people go.
Obviously African American slaves could read much more into these words than just freeing the people of Israel in Egypt from bondage. Certainly the words of “Go Down Moses”, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”, “Get On Board Little Children”, and “Steal Away to Jesus” were at times signals of a future escape or just the wistful longing for one.
Besides reading the lyrics of these songs, one can easily integrate them into the music curriculum. Listening to recordings might encourage pupil renditions. Pupils who attend church might seek permission to tape their choir’s performance of a spiritual which contains these messages. Appropriate discussion would follow. In every case, an attempt should be made to appreciate all elements of the piece: lyrics, melody, and message — overt and possibly covert.