Spirituals are the most energetic and fun pieces to sing for auditions. The text of this song is from the biblical text (Joshua 6:1-21) in which Joshua led the Israelites by marching around the city of Canaan for seven days. Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho, like most African-American spirituals, was believed to have been composed by slaves in the 19th century. In this post we will delve into the potential tricky areas and musical details you can add to help your singing stand out from the crowd.


Syncopation

This piece is a favorite among my students, but there are several places that are difficult to sing with rhythmic accuracy. If you come across a rhythm that you are not sure of, subdivide the rhythm into eighth notes so that you can ensure you are giving each note its full value.

For example: chant the words only (no notes!) in measure 32 while tapping eighth notes to ensure you are placing the words on the correct beat. There are also some tricky entrances, such as the difference between measures 48, 64, and 71. Start with subdividing 8th notes, then move to tapping the big beats (1-2-3-4) to ensure you come in accurately in each instance. Choose which method works best for you and stick with it.

Dynamics

Other than successfully executing all of the notes and rhythms, the next thing to master is the dynamics and musical markings. Contrasting dynamics between forte and piano should be obvious to your judge. For example, the beginning of the piece is marked forte, and we must hear a contrasting piano in measure 9. Color coding, highlighting, or circling dynamics in different ways are great methods to make your dynamics stand out on the page… and you are also more likely to do them!

Accents (>) are the most common musical marking in this piece. The clearest way to make an accent obvious to a judge is by emphasizing the accented note with weight on the consonant (or vowel if no consonant) and unstressing the notes around the accent. The sffz in the last measure means sforzato which means to be loud and accented with legato. Sometimes, it’s also appropriate to lift with an accent to make it even more obvious.

Diction

Being a spiritual, Joshua is not a piece where we want proper diction. However, the diction should still be crisp, especially in initial and final consonants, as written. There are many apostrophes and words like ‘the’ written as ‘de’ to convey a more speech like and colloquial delivery of the text. The one exception I’d like to make is for the word ‘down’ in every instance; to demonstrate that you know where the cut-off is supposed to be, add a shadow vowel to every “down” that ends the phrase by placing the letter ‘n’ on the rest with a vowel. For example: dow-nih with ‘nih’ being placed precisely on the rest.

Learning Process

  1. Write in all solfege in a minor (C=’DO’)
  2. Chant solfege in rhythm
  3. Sing solfege in rhythm
  4. Chant words in rhythm 2x (second time focusing on dynamics and articulations)
  5. Sing words one section at a time repeating for a second time if necessary

Each verse in Joshua should be delivered like you are telling a story. Dynamics are more than just louds and softs. Connect the meaning of the story you are telling to the dynamics and you are likely able to bring this piece of music to life.

-Austin