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“Shall We Gather at the River” has never sounded this good

VOCES8 sings with Ringmasters

VOCES8 | Fair Use via YouTube

J-P Mauro - published on 09/30/23

VOCES8's own Blake Morgan turned a well-known hymn into a genuine art song that mingles the styles of barbershop and sacred music.

VOCES8 is back with yet another phenomenal release, this time answering the age-old question: What do you get when you cross the world’s premier sacred choir with a hit Swedish barbershop quartet? The answer is an absolutely breathtaking rendition of “Shall We Gather at the River” that completely transforms the 19th-century hymn.

This time VOCES8 was joined by the award winning barbershop quartet Ringmasters, a group that has been traveling around the world to compete in and often dominate singing competitions since 2008. The two vocal ensembles came together to record this brand new arrangement of Robert Lowry’s famous Baptist hymn “Shall We Gather at the River,” originally written in 1864. This rendition was arranged by VOCES8’s own Blake Morgan, who sings tenor in the video.

Morgan’s treatment offers a rich soundscape that brings to mind imagery of a relaxed boat trip down an ever-flowing river that broadens and brightens as the song progresses. The first half of the tune so transforms the well known Christian hymn that we weren’t even sure it was the same song. VOCE8 takes up a supportive role in the beginning that gives the impression of early morning light flickering on gently moving water, with the male voices acting as a drone while the female voices gently ring like ethereal bells. 

The song takes on monastic tones as the crisp male voices of Ringmasters take up the melody at a slow, almost chanted pace. From there, the piece moves to a more traditional choral hymn, but with a barbershop twist, including some of the interesting and complex jazz chords for which the genre is known. The finale is a grand affair sung at full voice, which brings a bombastic conclusion to this imaginative arrangement.

After merging with the talented choir, Ringmasters stuck around to sing a real work of sacred music, in the traditional medieval tones that VOCES8 excels in. The barbershop group didn’t miss a beat, transitioning from their fanciful genre to the tones of the Church with no issues to be heard. In fact the addition of even more male voices to VOCES8’s normal 5-to-3 split only made the foundation of the piece more expansive, while further highlighting the feminine high notes.

Learn more about Ringmasters on the group’s official website, and then check out their YouTube channel to hear more of their talented, energetic, and often humorous barbershop recordings. 

Click here to learn more about VOCES8, a sacred choir group that performs and educates in the timeless tradition of a cappella singing and the storied music of the Church. 

Tags:
Catholic MusicChristian MusicHymnSacred Music
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