I was working on “Angel Band” when Haiti was devastated by a terrible earthquake, in January 2010. It was impossible to set words about a soul on the verge of “crossing over” and not to think of the many who were facing that same, last passage in tremendously dire circumstances. One can only hope that many final moments were softened with a sense of the presence of loved ones present or departed, and the comfort of angels.
I wrote a new tune to serve as an introduction and an interlude throughout the piece. It appears in various forms, and is harmonized freshly before the climactic final verse. The third verse also contains a special moment for any singer, when the text anticipates the great arrival: “I’ve almost gained my heavenly home, my spirit loudly sings. The Holy Ones, behold, they come; I hear the noise of wings.” Multiple descants rise at once on the phrase “my spirit loudly sings,” and the harmonies intensify as the phrase continues, as if the angel throng has suddenly come, and one is in the midst of all of them.
The latest sun is sinking fast, my race is almost run.
My strongest trials now are past, my triumph is begun.
O come, angel band, come and around me stand,
O bear me away on your snow-white wings to my eternal home.
I know I’m near the holy ranks of friends and kindred dear;
I’ve brushed the dew on Jordan’s banks, the crossing must be near.
I’ve almost gained my heavenly home — my spirit loudly sings.
The Holy Ones, behold, they come — I hear the noise of wings.