NOTEworthy September 6

Over my Head – African American Spiritual arranged by P.D. Quigley

Over my head I hear music in the air,’
There must be a God somewhere.

Someone’s praying, Lord,
“Come my way”
Someone’s singing, Lord,
“Come my way”

This lovely arrangement is actually a combination of two gospel spiritual tunes, both of which have been altered lyrically from their original editions.

The first tune, now known as “Over my Head,” was originally “Up Above My Head.” The tune and words have 19th Century origins, sung in call and response as a song of hope by slaves in the first half of the Century. In the famous Sister Rosetta Tharpe recording in 1947, there is an additional verse where she sings “I hear Trouble in the air.” Later, during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s, Bernice Johnson Reagon changed the words to “Over my head I see freedom in the air.” In earlier editions of the text, the final line sang “I really do believe There’s a Heaven up there,” or “…a Heaven somewhere.”

In this edition of the piece, the words are even slightly more different. Perhaps more different than the words are the music. Most all editions of the piece since the advent of recording are upbeat, and sung in call and response. In this edition, the solo countertenor (a man who sings in falsetto in the range of an alto) sings this melody either alone or even unaccompanied. The music feels…..lonely. The voice cries out, and there doesn’t seem to be a response.

Instead of transporting us to the historic roots of the piece, out in the fields laboring all day, finding hope in a shared belief for salvation, we are taken to a place of introspection. Alone, looking at the stars, knowing and hearing that there is more…but not quite knowing what it looks like. All we know is that it’s music to our ears.

I think that “knowing” can sometimes be a form of pride. Of course, there are matters in which “knowing” is a requirement – you want to know that your house is safe to live in, that foods are safe to eat, etc. But how does knowing belong to our faith?

I think the lyrics here give a good example. “There must be a God somewhere.”

And that “somewhere” is the bigger part. As hard as it can sometimes be to swallow, there is an element of mystery in our faith. If you fully understand your God, then is He really bigger than you are?

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8-9

This verse, rather than justify calamities and injustices like I often see it used for, is evidence that we cannot comprehend God on this Earth. Inherently. It’s built into the system. So why do we hold on so tightly to our pet theologies? Control? Fear? Habit?

I can’t tell you.

But the next text from this piece gives a good reminder of how to move from control to courage – “Someone’s praying Lord, ‘Come my way’ ”.

This second melody is a version of Kumbaya, the Gullah dialect transliteration of “Come by here.”

Metal can only be refined once melted down and malleable. I wonder what new glories we could find, if, more than just asking God to come by here, we asked him to show us where we’re wrong?

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 1:6-7