He That Will Learn to Pray, Let Him Go to Sea
A single-movement work for mixed chorus and organ.

Duration: 8'
Difficulty: 4/5

Click here to view score.

Mixed Chorus (divisi, no solos)


“Dr. Harvey K. Smith, a Governor’s Arts Award winner who led the Phoenix Boys Choir for 40 years, conducted the choir on a Grammy-winning recording, and left a legacy of great musical influence across Arizona, died in 2012 after battling Parkinson’s disease. His wife Dorothy Lincoln Smith commissioned a work from J.A.C. Redford in Smith’s memory for Charles Bruffy and the Phoenix Chorale, describing her husband’s special affection for conductor and ensemble: ‘Charles and Harvey were good friends; Harvey would never miss a Chorale concert.’ She adds, ‘Charles came to visit Harvey when he was homebound, and sent members of the Chorale to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Harvey…Charles came to Harvey’s bedside and we all planned his memorial service together.’

Lincoln Smith was a professional singer herself, touring with the Roger Wagner Chorale and working closely with her husband and the Boys Choir. She suggested personally significant poetry from George Herbert and verse from the Bible for the new work, explaining, ‘The joyful text was chosen to exemplify Harvey’s total radiance and happiness with his work with the Phoenix Boys Choir and with his family.’

‘The text ‘He that will learn to pray, let him go to sea’ shows his love of the ocean and of scuba diving. The psalms are about the ocean but also songs of praise to God, and the joy of living…and the Habakkuk passages, ‘For thou makest men like the fish of the sea’ and ‘For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea’ we used under a photo of the two of us (diving) on Christmas cards.’

Redford — who orchestrated, conducted and later arranged Adele’s Skyfall in a setting premiered by the Phoenix Chorale in 2013 — was influenced by the music of Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Claude Debussy when he wrote He That Will Learn to Pray, Let Him Go to Sea. He says, ‘How could I possibly avoid the influence of the Sea Symphony and La Mer?’

Although Redford has composed extensively for film, television, theater, orchestra and chamber ensemble, he says, ‘I have always had a particular affection for vocal music. The human voice is a powerful, vulnerable, perilous, sensitive, maddening, and heartbreaking instrument, a heaven-bound exhalation of the first breath with which God inspired man.’

Redford continues, ‘When I set out to compose a vocal work, the choice of a text is critical to me. My goal is always to illuminate the words — as the monks of the Middle Ages illuminated their manuscripts — so that the audience better understands the poem after hearing it sung. To achieve this, I try to let the natural accents and rhythms of the spoken words dictate the rhythms of the music.’ In He That Will Learn to Pray, listen for emphasis on the words ‘follow’ and ‘declare’ — his setting of the latter, says Redford, ‘seeks to make the word itself sound like a declaration.’ He also points out references to ‘traditional maritime musical forms, such as the naval hymn, the sailor’s prayer and the sea shanty.’

‘I am deeply grateful to Dorothy for her suggestions of the texts as well as her encouragement during the process of the composition,’ says Redford. ‘As I wrote, I felt a strong sense of responsibility to honor Harvey’s life and legacy with my composition.’ He adds, ‘I am also grateful to Charles for years of friendship and for trusting me with this commission. The work is rooted in these relationships.’” (Katrina Becker, from the program notes for the premiere performance)
He That Will Learn to Pray, Let Him Go to Sea
(Texts suggested by Dorothy Lincoln-Smith and adapted by J.A.C. Redford)

He that will learn to pray, let him go to sea.
(George Herbert)

They that go down to the sea in ships,
and occupy their business in great waters;
these see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep.

For at his word the stormy wind arises,
which lifts up the waves thereof. And he makes the storm to cease, so that the waves thereof are still.
Then are they glad, because they are at rest; and so he brings them unto the haven where they would be.

O that men would therefore praise the LORD for his goodness;
and declare the wonders that he does for the children of men!
(Psalm 107:23-25, 29-31 BOCP-1928)

For thou makest men like the fish of the sea
(Habakkuk 1:14 RSV)

Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.
(Matt 4:19 KJV)

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD,
as the waters cover the sea.
(Habakkuk 2:14 RSV)

He that will learn to pray, let him go to sea.
Commission & Performance History
He That Will Learn to Pray, Let Him Go to Sea was commissioned for Charles Bruffy and the Phoenix Chorale by Dorothy Lincoln-Smith in loving memory of Harvey K. Smith (1936-2012). The first performances took place on 1 & 2 November 2014 in Phoenix, AZ. The Phoenix Chorale was led by Charles Bruffy and the organist was Jan Kraybill.