Shall We Gather at the River?
"Shall We Gather at the River?" or simply "At the River" are the popular names for the traditional Christian hymn titled "Hanson Place," written by American poet and gospel music composer Robert Lowry (1826–1899). It was written in 1864 and is now in the public domain. The title "Hanson Place" is a reference to the original Hanson Place Baptist Church in Brooklyn, where Lowry, as a Baptist minister, sometimes served. The original building now houses a different denomination.
The music is in the key of D and uses an 18.104.22.168 R meter. An arrangement was also composed by Charles Ives, and a later arrangement is included in Aaron Copland's Old American Songs (1952) in addition to being used by American wind band composer David Maslanka in his Symphony No. 9 (2011). The song was sung live at the 1980 funeral of American Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.
The song's lyrics refer to the Christian concept of the anticipation of restoration and reward, and reference the motifs found at Revelation 22:1-2 - a crystal clear river with water of life, issuing from the throne of heaven, all presented by an angel of God.
- Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
- The beautiful, the beautiful river;
- Gather with the saints at the river
- That flows by the throne of God.
In popular culture
In film Westerns
The song was often employed in Western soundtracks, particularly those of director John Ford (being one of his favorite hymns) and it features in many of Ford's most famous films. The melody is played paradoxically in Stagecoach (1939), in the early scene is which Claire Trevor's character Dallas is run out of town. It also appears in Ford's Tobacco Road (1941), My Darling Clementine (1946), Three Godfathers (1948), twice in The Searchers (1956), The Oregon Trail (1959), and in Elliot Silverstein's Cat Ballou (1965). It was used in the Sam Peckinpah films Major Dundee (1965) and also The Wild Bunch (1969) where it was employed as ironic counterpoint during an onscreen massacre. It was similarly put to use in such dark, late-period Westerns as Hang 'Em High. This song is sung during a funeral scene in Jeremiah Johnson. (1968).
In other films
It features prominently in David Lean's romantic comedy Hobson's Choice (1954) and in Richard Brooks's drama Elmer Gantry (1960). A caricatural vocal rendition of the song (with new revival-style lyrics) is used for both a car chase and the end credits of Howard Morris' caper comedy, Who's Minding the Mint? (1967).
Part of the hymn was sung in the Academy Award-winning period film, Trip to Bountiful (1985). The hymn is a primary musical theme for schlock film Tromeo and Juliet (1996), credited on the soundtrack as Yes, We'll Gather at the River. The title "Shall We Gather at the River" is used as the name of a second season episode of Falling Skies.
In Sweden, the 1876 hymn to the same melody O, hur saligt att få vandra ("O, how blessed it is to walk") became one of the most popular songs of the widespread Swedish revivalist movement. A drinking song to the same melody, Jag har aldrig vart på snusen, partly mocking the religious message of the Swedish original, is one of the most popular drinking songs at Swedish universities.
In 1937, the tune was adopted in Japan to a popular enka song Tobacco Ya no Musume (タバコやの娘). This enka song was soon parodied into juvenile song about the testicles of the tanuki (たんたんたぬき), which goes, "Tan-tan-tanuki's testicles: there isn't any wind, but [they still go] swing swing swing". The parodied version of the song remain popular among Japanese children and adults to this day.