Were You There is an example of African-American spiritual songs from the 19th century. The melody possesses a wide range of an octave and a fourth, and is pentatonic except for one note in the final phrase. The text of the song, through several verses, asks the listener to witness the events surrounding the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This setting was comissioned by John Whitwell for his brother, Larry Doyle Whitwell. By way of dedication, the family surname is captured rhythmically throughout the piece, often resulting in syncopation. The piece is contemplative in nature, reflecting the questioning text. Generally, a broad legato style is appropriate. The saxophone solo which begins the first verse at measure 10, should be very vocal in nature, and must have some slight rubato in places where there is no accompaniment (except timpani). The second verse, measures 32-50, should be very intense, yet soft. This entire section of thepiece should never exceed mp in volume. The development which begins in measure 51 should be slightly faster, and should convey a sense of anticipation. A sense of renewal is felt beginning in measure 87. The syncopation here should be rhythmic, yet legato, as the third verse builds to the climax at measure 97. The saxophone soloist can use some rubato in measures 115-117. The conductor may want to add fermati in measure 117, on beats two and four. Above all, each conductor is encouraged to find a personal interpretation of this music through study of the text and this score.
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