William Billings (1746-1800): David’s Lamentation (Sacred Harp #268)

William Billings (1746-1800): David’s Lamentation (Sacred Harp #268)

Some readers of this blog will have also followed the drama of young Adam Smelser’s disappearance, death, and the search for his body, now recovered.  The stalwart faith of Adam’s parents and other family members have been inspirational to many.  No doubt many have had the text of David’s lament regarding his son Absalom in 2 Samuel 18:33 in mind.  Jared Saltz did a favor by providing a Facebook link to Eric Whitacre’s choral piece, “When David Heard” – see a performance at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2ZKKXCuaYc – which is a work of musical genius, though the dissonances are probably too difficult for those not trained in choral performances.

My own musical tastes run more to older American hymnody, and of course the well-known piece (“David’s Lamentation,” 1778) by William Billings (considered by many the first truly American composer and lyricist) springs to mind, and has been in my head for several days.  Billings’ composition is often performed, almost in “counterpoint,” to Whitacre’s in some choral performances.

Googling the Billings piece reveals quickly how international is its appeal – performed not only in its raw, “native” settings by Sacred Harp groups from the hotbed of fasola singing in the American South (Alabama, Georgia) to Cork, Ireland, and elsewhere, but in more formal contexts as well.  For example, the musical score and text from the Sacred Harp (#268) can be seen on a German fasola website (Bremen, Georgia to Bremen, Germany?) – http://www.sacredharpbremen.org/lieder/200-bis-299/268-david-s-lamentation –  and here is a link to a stirring rendition in the cathedral at Pontevedra, Spain, in 2007:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFXYA7nmYts

While you are listening, please say a prayer for Adam’s family, and thank the Almighty that we can live in the blessed hope of eternal life!


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