Adolphus Cornelius Hailstork III (b. 1941) is an African-American composer whose music often blends European and African-American traditions.  He studied composition with such luminaries as H. Owen Reed, David Diamond, and Nadia Boulanger.  His compositions in several genres have won him awards throughout his career.  He is currently Professor of Music, Composer-in-Residence, and Eminent Scholar at Old Dominion University in Virginia.  See more about him at Wikipedia, Theodore Presser, AfriClassical, and Old Dominion.

New Wade ‘N Water (2000) is a characteristic marriage of African-American and European elements.  From the score:

New Wade ‘N Water is a contemporary adaptation of the traditional African American Spiritual Wade in the Water As many trained composers throughout history, Dr. Hailstork also uses folk music as his source of inspiration for his compositions.  New Wade ‘N Water opens with an introduction that is constructed using a G blues scale and mixed meter.  Throughout the piece, the material from the introduction serves as an interlude between each variation of the Wade in the Water main melody.  This melody is frequently stated in a hocket style, with fragments of the melody being passed from one section of the band to another.  Motives from the introduction are also combined with the Wade in the Water melody.  New Wade ‘N Water concludes with the same motive that began the piece.

Spirituals are one of the earliest forms of traditional folk music that once functioned within African American communities in multiple ways.  While Spirituals expressed deeply held religious meaning, they also mirrored a desire for freedom, which was often communicated through hidden messages within the text.  Wade in the Water is known for such messages that served as directions to help enslaved Africans to escape cruelty in the pursuit of freedom.  Wade in the Water was an instruction to fleeing slaves to move through rivers and streams to erase their scent and confuse the bloodhounds tracking their path.  The text also includes a reference about Moses, which refers to Harriet Tubman, and African American woman called “The Moses of her People” because of the many enslaved people she led to freedom.

With this old spiritual as a foundation, Hailstork creates an exciting new composition.  He provides musical representation of rolling water and crashing waves giving one the ominous feeling that the phrase “God’s gonna trouble the water” has come to life in the music, while maintaining some of the folk song’s original melody and form.  Here is one of the earliest written versions of the folk song Wade in the Water as documented by African American composer H. T. Burleigh (1925)

WADE IN THE WATER (1925)
chorus:
Wade in the water,
Wade in the water, children,
Wade in the water,
God’s gonna trouble the water.

verse 1:
See that band all dress’d in white,
God’s a goin’ to trouble the water,
The leader looks like the Israelite,
God’s a goin’ to trouble the water.

verse 2:
See that band all dress’d in red,
God’s a goin’ to trouble the water,
It looks like the band that Moses led,
God’s a goin’ to trouble the water.

Here it is in performance (minus a few percussion details):

There are several great vocal versions of this spiritual.  We’ll start with Sweet Honey in the Rock:

Also check out Ella Jenkins:

And this choral version: