In early 2017, I responded to a call for scores for a new collection of social justice songs being curated by Abbie Betinis, Tesfa Wondemagegnhehu, and Ahmed Anzaldúa. The songs to be selected as part of a new movement called Justice Choir would be offered free of charge for anyone to sing for non-commercial use: at concerts, marches, protests, and in houses of worship.
The idea was to have accessible, easy-to-learn songs that speak into the moment that we are living in now, and to provide opportunities for all to create community by singing together.
When I saw a Facebook post from Abbie about the call for scores, I immediately responded by sitting down at the piano. I wrote and harmonized a simple tune in 3/4- not rangy, no big jumps, something that everyone could sing.
Next, I went to my living room couch with a large sketchbook on my lap. I started writing lists of nouns: “love, purpose, voice, compassion, truth, bridge, justice, kindness.” Then I pulled out the text to James Weldon Johnson’s hymn, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and started adding more nouns: “hope, faith.” I began a list of verbs: “dream, stand, fight, cry, walk, join, speak.”
My boyfriend sat with me when I got stuck on a phrase or two and contributed to the lyric. We sang the three verses to each other multiple times before I returned to the piano and recorded myself singing and playing the song, “We Walk in Love.” I wrote out a lead sheet and emailed it along with the recording to Abbie.
Soon I received a reply: “We love your harmony! Can you write a four-part SATB version?” I scored the song for four parts and sent it back, hoping that it would be selected.
“We Walk in Love” made the cut. It’s one of 43 free-to-download songs in the Justice Choir songbook. You can find it here.
The song was “released” online in early August of 2017. Several later, I started receiving emails from choir directors and song leaders letting me know how “We Walk in Love” had helped give voice to their communities in the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville. A couple of months later, I heard from the choir director at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas: he had taught the piece to his school choir, and they had sung it at an event marking the 60th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine. I heard from a volunteer who shared how the song was being sung at a local senior center. The song started popping up in church bulletins as the day’s choral anthem, or as a season’s social justice song.
One year later, “We Walk in Love” was sung by 900 students at the St. Olaf Choral Day at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. I flew from New York City to be present. At Dr. Anton Armstrong’s invitation, I spoke to the students about why I’d composed the song and how it was bringing people together.
If you are one of the many people who has sung “We Walk in Love,” or programmed it on a concert, I ask that you kindly write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know where you are singing it. This helps me in my own applying for grants and commissions– and it is also a huge blessing to know how the song is being shared.
I want to keep writing songs like this. Be in touch and let me know how I can create a new song for your community. And thank you for walking in love.
Next known performances of “We Walk in Love” are by Inspire: A Choir for Unity on February 13 at the Housing Works Bookstore and on February 14 at the Bowery Mission gala at the Plaza Hotel (with Deanna accompanying), both in NYC. View Deanna’s calendar for specific info.
Lyrics to “We Walk in Love” by Deanna Witkowski and Lemuel Colon:
1. We walk in love united in purpose
We join our hands and lift up one voice
We speak the truth with strength and compassion
resounding with hope, with courage and joy.
2. We cry for peace and rights for all people
We welcome friends from far and near
We fight for those whose voices are silenced
Resisting in faith until all are free.
3. We dream a world of justice and kindness
We build a bridge creating new paths
We march with joy as all walk together
Embracing each one, we boldly stand.