Survival Lyrics

Music of this genre represents humankind’s reach for strength and inspiration needed to endure and survive abuse, soul murder and impending death at the hands of oppressors or extreme hardships due to harsh living conditions or natural disasters. Here are some examples:

Soul of Constant Sorrow
by Emory Goody Jr.

I am a soul of constant sorrow
I’ve seen trouble all my days
I bid farewell to east Kentucky
The place where I was born and raised
For many a year I have struggled
No pleasures here on Earth I have found
All through the earth I’m bound to wander
There is no one to help me now …

But there is one promise that is given
I’ll meet you in God’s golden land.

(Liner notes from Patty Loveless, Mountain Soul compact disc, Epic EK 85651)

Black spiritual sung on the occasion of Abraham Lincoln’s election

We’ll fight for liberty,
We’ll fight for liberty,
We’ll fight for liberty,
Till the Lord shall call us home;
We’ll soon be free
Till the Lord shall call us home.

First stanza of a hymn by Isaac Watts

When I can read my title clear
To mansions in the skies,
I’ll bid farewell to ev’ry fear
And wipe my weeping eyes.

“Typically, the melodies of slave songs represent original compositions rather than a borrowing of old tunes.” Since slaves learned the songs by ear, often the original songs evolved into completely new versions. “In essence, the plantation songs were reshaped by the process of ‘communal recreation’ into characteristic African American folksongs, no matter what the original sources of text and melodic materials.”

Eileen Southern
The Music of Black Americans (Third Edition), 1997

During the Holocaust, the Jewish people, both before and after the death camps,  relied on concert music for comfort and inspiration. Here is one example from the closing chorus of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony.

Before, my heart, you have nothing
Everything you longed for is yours, yes, yours
Everything you loved and struggled for is yours
Believe, you were not born in vain
You have not lived and suffered in vain
What has gone will come again
Stop trembling.
Prepare to live.
O Pain, all penetrating one, I have escaped you
O Death, all conquering one, now you are conquered

With wings I have won for myself I shall soar in fervent love to the Light unseen
I shall die to live
You will rise again my heart, in a moment,
And be borne up, through struggle, to God!

Martin Goldsmith
The Inextinguishable Symphony, 2000


Native Americans

1. Nakai: Shaman’s Song                                                                                           2:49
          R. Carlos Nakai, Native American Flute
     Spirit Horses                                Canyon CR-7014

2. DeMars: Part 1: Flag Song                                                                                    8:30
     (from Native Drumming – Concerto for Pow-Wow Drum & Orchestra)
          Black Lodge Singers – Pow-Wow Drum – Canyon Symphony Orchestra
     Two World Concerto                 Canyon CR-7016

3. DeMars: Seasons                                                                                                     2:12
          Black Lodge Singers – Pow-Wow Drum
     Two World Concerto                 Canyon CR-7016

4. Traditional: Zuni Corn Grinding Song                                                              2:32
          R. Carlos Nakai, Native American Flute
     Two Worlds Concerto               Canyon CR-7016

Please allow a few moments for each of the songs to begin playing. This time may vary depending on your internet connection.


A Survival Story of World War II

Six hundred Australian, British and Dutch women and children were interned in a Japanese prison camp on the island of Sumatra during World War II. During their imprisonment from April 1942 until the end of the war in August 1945, they suffered terribly. They were forced to live under the most oppressive and life-threatening conditions imaginable without medical treatment. Their afflictions included starvation, insect infestation, and diseases like malaria, dysentery and beriberi.  

Initially, small groups of women began singing popular English and Dutch songs to maintain their sanity. Finally, two British women musicians began arranging piano and orchestral concert music for choir. Thirty or so women participated in numerous choir concerts throughout their imprisonment. This music preserved as much as possible the dignity of the captives amidst the hunger, disease, rats, cockroaches, bedbugs and putrid smells they were forced to endure. Eventually, even this ray of hope could not stop the occurrence of many deaths before the war ended.

In 1996, the bravery of these women and children was honored in the film, Paradise Road starring Glenn Close. One of the choral pieces featured in the film, using the original arrangement sung in the prison camp during the war, is available for listening below:

Composer: Dvorak (1841-1904)
Largo (from Symphony No. 9, ‘New World’) (5:24)
Women’s Choir of Haarlem, Holland
Leny van Schaik, conductor
Sony Classical SK 63026

Please allow a few moments for each of the songs to begin playing. This time may vary depending on your internet connection.