“Bright Morning Stars” is one of my favorite American folksongs. In addition to its beautiful words and gracefully arching phrases, I appreciate the song’s irregularity of meter on the final phrase of each verse. There’s something “alive” about song material that unfolds beyond the careful borders of symmetry.
I learned “Bright Morning Stars” from my college roommate during a road trip as we shared songs in turn — the old-fashioned way of passing time. I had never heard it before, and I made everyone in the car sing it again and again in harmony. I especially liked the way the song linked the “external” imagery of dawn and morning stars to the corresponding “internal” movements of renewal that we all experience — “day a-breaking in my soul.” Years later, in the tender time following my mother’s untimely death, I wrote the original SATB setting for chorus, soloist, and piano.
I made one addition to the original lyrics which ask, in turn, “O where are our dear fathers? O where are our dear mothers?” (The response: “They are down in the valley praying. They have gone to heaven shouting.”) I added a final verse, in which the long-departed father and mothers have a chance to ask: “O where are our dear children?” The response: “They’re upon the earth a-dancing.” I like the image of those who have passed on and those who are yet present upon the earth calling to each other “across eternity.”