Just like in this past Sunday’s Red and Rover comic strip, looking at music with a different perspective is one of the fun parts of arranging hymns into new sheet music. Seeing old music through new eyes can mean changing the meter from duple to triple or it can mean adding a syncopated rhythm as the underlying beat or it can mean taking a hymn outside of its usual context – which is exactly what I did with this arrangement of Kumbaya, My Lord (Come By Here).
A meditative folk-song, Kum Ba Yah‘s origin has been debated over the years but it’s now widely accepted that it developed as an African-American spiritual in the American South. Although there isn’t one consistently accepted version of the text, the hymn is known internationally and sports the tune name Desmond in some hymnals, after the South African archbishop, Desmond Tutu. Unfortunately, Kum Ba Yah has waned in popularity since the 1980s and, outside of children’s singing, it’s gained a reputation for being treacly, superficial, and not a “serious” hymn.
But I would argue for a different perspective.
It takes real courage to repetitively ask (almost demand!) God to “come by here” as we do in this hymn – whether we’re “crying”, “singing”, or “praying”. And we can celebrate the fact that we have the right to courageously ask for the Creator of the Universe’s presence no matter our situation. So, viewing Kum Ba Yah from this angle, I created a zany, syncopated, high-energy arrangement (with a mellower middle section for those who are “crying.”) One that sounds like we’re boldly jumping up and down, wildly waving our arms, and loudly clamoring at the Almighty, “Hey, God! Over here! We need you over here!”
There’s nothing treacly or superficial about that. 🙂
Someone’s crying, Lord, kum ba yah!
Someone’s singing, Lord, kum ba yah!
Someone’s praying, Lord, kum ba yah!
O Lord, kum ba yah!