I. Lord, the Heavens Cannot Contain Thee 03:08
II. Oh, Come Let Us Sing 03:45
IIIa. Open the Gates 04:34
IIIb. Chorale 05:03
IVa. Except the Lord Build the House 02:05
IVb. Except the Lord Build the House (improvisation) 02:17
V. Lord, Lord 05:59
VI. Ye Shall be Holy 01:05
VII. Shout unto the Lord 08:23
VIII. When I Behold Thy Heavens 03:01
IX. How Glorious Is Thy Name 01:49
X. The Lord Is Good 03:44
XI. His Truth Is a Shield 04:14
XII. Oh, Come Let Us Sing a New Song 00:56

Liner Notes

Dave Brubeck has always maintained that he wrote his second large-scale sacred composition The Gates of Justice (1969) to bring together—and back together—the Jewish and African American communities. The natural bond forged between them during the civil rights movement in the early 1960s had weakened and was starting to break down by 1969, especially after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968. As leadership became increasingly fragmented following that tragic loss, there were emerging anti-Semitic suggestions among spokesmen for some marginal African American groups; mainstream Jewish commitment to the civil rights cause appeared to be cooling, especially as the focus of the struggle spread from the South to encompass northern cities; and the pursuit of common goals and mutual support were no longer so automatic. The continuing war in Vietnam was fueling political and generational divisions unparalleled in recent memory, and the growing and sometimes militant disruptions on university campuses appeared to symbolize a collective angst. It was a time of much anger, disaffection, fear, and distrust. Against the backdrop of that turbulent atmosphere, one of the largest and most influential American Jewish organizations invited Dave Brubeck to create a work underscoring and resurrecting the spiritual parallels between Jews and African Americans and their common causes.

The Gates of Justice is a cantata based on biblical and Hebrew liturgical texts—together with quotations from Martin Luther King’s speeches, as well as from African American spirituals and from the Jewish sage Hillel, and with lyrics by Brubeck’s wife, Iola, with whom he collaborated on this and other works. It was a joint commission by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC)—the lay umbrella association of Reform synagogues in the United States—and the College Conservatory of Music of the University of Cincinnati. During the exploratory discussions with the UAHC, Brubeck pointed to the explicit connection between the historical experience of the Jewish people and that of African Americans, and he expressed his conviction that both peoples possess traditional spiritual values with important meaning for contemporary society. The world premiere of The Gates of Justice was given at the fiftieth General Assembly of the UAHC on October 27, 1969, in Miami, Florida, preceded by a preview performance at the dedication of a new building at Rockdale Temple in Cincinnati on October 19th. Nearly thirty years later, Brubeck still described its message as humanistic and universal, an echo of the prophetic calls in the Bible for social justice. And his belief in the common ground between the two groups was undiminished: “They were both enslaved, uprooted from their homelands and wandered in the diaspora,” he said in connection with a 1997 performance. “When I began exploring the music, I was thrilled to hear the similarities among Hebraic chant and spirituals and blues.” He has therefore suggested that wherever possible, the tenor role should be sung by a bona fide cantor and the baritone role by an African American singer familiar with the sonorities and style of spirituals and blues.

—Neil W. Levin

The following is the composer's original program note on The Gates of Justice:

The essential message of The Gates of Justice is the brotherhood of man. Concentrating on the historic and spiritual parallels of Jews and American blacks, I hoped through the juxtaposition and amalgamation of a variety of musical styles to construct a bridge upon which the universal theme of brotherhood could be communicated. The soloists are composite characters. The cantor tenor, whose melodies are rooted in the Hebraic modes, represents the prophetic voice of Hebrew tradition. The black baritone, whose melodies stem from the blues and spirituals, is the symbol of contemporary man, and a reminder to men of all faiths that divine mandates are still waiting to be fulfilled.

The structure of the piece somewhat resembles a bridge; the interlacing of the improvisations, solos and choral responses are like the interweaving cables that span from anchoring piers. The piers are in the form of three related choral pieces (Parts II, VII, XII) based primarily upon texts from the Union Prayer Book and the Psalms. The first of these choruses, O Come Let Us Sing (II), written in rather traditional style with hints of the present in its harmonies and rhythms, is a call to worship. A complex of musical styles (jazz, rock, spirituals, traditional), just as a congregation is a mixture of individuals, Shout unto the Lord (VII) is a celebration. It expresses the ecstasy and release of communal joy. However, at its core is the sobering message from Martin Luther King, Jr., our contemporary prophet: “If we don’t live together as brothers, we will die together as fools.” In Part XII, Oh, Come Let Us Sing a New Song, the enumeration of the attributes of God in whose image we are created, is a reminder of man’s potential.

Quoting from King Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of his Temple, the cantor opens the cantata by presenting the work as an offering to God, and invokes His attention to the prayers of all people. Because of their long history of suffering, Jews and American blacks know better than any other people the consequences of hate and alienation. It is impossible to concern oneself with the history and tradition of either without feeling overwhelmed by the inequities and injustices that have pervaded all strata of society. The spiritual and emotional ties, born of suffering, which bind these people together, have much to teach all of us on this shrinking planet. It is the strength of such moral fiber that will be our ultimate salvation.

The black baritone sings: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Psalm 118). The cornerstone for our survival in America as an ethical society is the acceptance of all minorities as equal, sharing members, integral to our entire social structure. Just as Isaiah drew a blueprint of how to build a society that would allow man to fulfill his dream, so Martin Luther King dramatized to the white conscience that it must erase injustice to redeem its own soul: Let the oppressed go free. Feed the hungry. Open doors to the poor and the cast-out. Shelter the homeless. Clothe the naked. And when men have fulfilled their obligation to each other, they will no longer need to ask: “Where is justice? Where is God?” It will be self-evident: “HERE I AM!”

Using the chorus as the voice of the people who have been pawns of history, I’ve tried dramatically to depict the awesome force of the unheard millions battering at the manmade barriers which have separated men from each other, and consequently from knowing the nature of God. The heart of the cantata is in the plea, demand, and exhortation…“Open the gates of justice!”

Many of our beleaguered cities were riot-torn when I began to set the text “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it; except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” I wished there were some way to engrave this warning into the mind of every policymaker, on every level from national defense systems to police enforcement.

The deeper my involvement in the composition, the more apparent it became that I was no longer thinking in terms of social justice, as evidenced in the histories of Jews and American blacks. Rather, through their unquenchable will to survive and to be free, I had been led inevitably to the more basic problem of man (universal and individual), his relationship to other men, and ultimately to God.

A paradoxical truth became shockingly clear. We call upon God in our distress. Yet the divine instrument capable of transforming society is man himself. One of the basic tenets of Judaism is that man can become God-like by the pursuit of holiness; and the answer to alienation is to realize that man is not separate from—but part of—God’s total creation. If only our minds could grasp this fact as well as do our cells that turn to dust!

The symbol of the newly awakened conscience of modern man, the baritone, asks the same question as the ancient psalmist: What is man? Both his glory and his curse are his unique position in the order of creation; but little lower than the angels, the blind forces of nature and the all-seeing eye of the divine are wrapped in mortal skin, within which is continually fought the relentless battle of good versus evil. Man is good. Slowly he is learning that the witless destruction of any part of creation is evil. Man is good. Although he has continually throughout history martyred his spiritual leaders, he still remembers and honors them, not their assassins. Man is good. From the beginning of time we have all shared in “a dream”—a vision of peaceful men and free men living as brothers. Have we not all one Father? If God created man in His image and likeness, surely He accepts all men in their diversity. Throughout the Old Testament there is reference to all generations. Overlaying texts from Isaiah, Martin Luther King, Hillel, the Psalms, and music from The Beatles, Chopin, Israeli, Mexican and Russian folksongs, Simon & Garfunkel, improvised jazz and rock, I wrote a collage of sound for the climactic section, The Lord Is Good.

When I completed writing The Gates of Justice, I found in Micah 6:8 a summation of my thinking: “It hath been told thee, O man, what is good and what the Lord doth require of thee: Only to do justice, and to love mercy and walk humbly with thy God.” Only?!!

—Dave Brubeck

Suggestions for further reading and research:

There is very little scholarship on The Gates of Justice or on Brubeck's sacred music more generally. The books below are offered as a starting point. The biography by Fred Hall contains a chapter that discusses The Gates of Justice in relation to Brubeck's other religiously-oriented works. Melnick's book does not discuss Brubeck, but does discuss African American-Jewish relations in music. Dollinger's book is one of the more recent on the topic of African American-Jewish relations, but does not discuss music.

Dollinger, Marc. 2018. Black Power, Jewish Politics: Reinventing the Alliance in the 1960s. Waltham: Brandeis University Press.

Hall, Fred M. 1996. It's About Time: The Dave Brubeck Story. Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press.

Melnick, Jeffrey. 1999. A Right to Sing the Blues: African Americans, Jews, and American Popular Song. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Press Coverage

Humphreys, Henry. 1969. "Boatwright 'Steals Show' In Brubeck 'Gates of Justice' Premiere." The Cincinnati Enquirer, October 20.

Reich, Howard. 1993. "Dave Brubeck's 'Gates of Justice' as relevant today as it was in 1969." Chicago Tribune, May 2.

Reno, Dorris. 1969. "Brubeck Plays Peace Message. Miami Herald. October 28.

The Brubeck archives are held at the Wilton Library:

Full Score

—Jeff Janeczko



I Kings 8:27–30, 41–43

O Lord, the heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee;
How much less this house that I have builded!
Yet have Thou respect unto the prayer of Thy servant,
And of Thy people Israel, when they shall pray toward this place.
Yea, hear, and when Thou hearest, forgive.

Moreover, concerning the stranger that is not of Thy people Israel,
When he shall pray toward this house, hear Thou;
And do according to all that the stranger calleth to Thee,
That all the peoples of the earth may know Thy name.

Union Prayer Book, based on Psalms 95–98

Oh, come let us sing unto the Lord;
Let us raise our voice in joy to the Rock of our salvation.

Sing unto the Lord a new song.
Sing unto the Lord, all the earth.

Sing unto the Lord, bless His name,
Proclaim His salvation day to day.
Honor and majesty are before Him.
Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
Tremble before Him all the earth.
Let us sing unto the Lord.
Let us raise our voice in joy to the Rock of our salvation.
The Lord reigneth.
The world is established that it cannot be moved.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice,
Let the field exult and all that is therein.
He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness.
Oh, ye that love the Lord, hate evil.
He preserveth the souls of His servants.
Light is sown for the righteous,
And gladness for the upright in heart.
Be glad in the Lord, ye righteous, give thanks to His holy name.
He hath remembered His mercy and faithfulness toward the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
The Lord our God is holy.

Psalm 118:19–23; Isaiah 62:10; 57:14

Open the gates, open the gates.
Open to me the gates of justice,
I will enter them and give thanks to the Lord.
The gate is the Lord’s, the just shall enter in.
I will give thanks to Thee, for Thou hast answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing, and is marvelous to behold.

Go through, go through the gates;
Clear ye the way for the people.
Make way! Cast up the highway, gather out the stones.
Clear the way.
Take up the stumbling block out of the way of the people!

Psalm 118:19–23; Isaiah 58:6–7, 9, and 12

Open the gates. Throw wide the gates to me.
Is not this the fast that I have chosen,
to loose the fetters of wickedness,
to undo the bands of the yoke,
And let the oppressed go free?
And when ye break every yoke, is it not to deal thy
bread to the hungry?

Open the doors to bring the poor that are
cast out to thy house.
When thou see the naked thou shalt cover him.
Then thou shalt call and the Lord will answer;
Thou shalt cry, and He will say, “Here I am!”
Out of the way of the people!
They shall build the old waste places.
Thou shalt raise up the foundations.
Thou shalt be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of the paths to dwell in.
Open the gates. When will you open the gates?

Psalm 127:1 

Except the Lord build the house
They labor in vain that build it.
Except the Lord keep the city,
The watchman waketh but in vain.

Iola Brubeck; I Kings: 8:27–30


Lord, Lord, what will tomorrow bring?
Today I felt an arrow stinging in a wound so deep,
My eyes refuse to weep.
What will tomorrow bring?

Lord, how can I face this day?
Each dawn I walk the city’s silence with a sense of peace.

They speak!
Nigger! Whitey! Jew!
There is no peace.
They speak!
There is no peace.

What will tomorrow bring?

Lord, when will the ill wind change?
We’re all just little children crying in a world
of hate for love,
and still we wait for love, and still we wait!

What will tomorrow bring?

O Lord! The heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee.
How much less this house that I have builded.
Yet have Thou respect unto the prayers of Thy servant, and Thy people, Israel,
when they shall pray toward this place.
Yea, hear, and when Thou hearest, forgive.

Leviticus 19:2, 18, 33, 34 

Ye shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.
Thou shalt not take vengeance nor bear any grudge
against the children of Thy people,
but thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself.
If a stranger dwell with thee in your land,
ye shall not do him wrong.
And thou shalt love him as thyself.

For ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Psalms 95–98; Isaiah 2:4; 50:8; 57:19; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Hillel


Come, let us shout unto the Lord!
Let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation.
Shout for joy, oh shout for joy!
Sing to the Lord and shout for joy with voice and trumpet.
Let us sound the trumpet!

With the sound of the trumpet, the sound of the cymbal,
we praise His name.
Let us praise Him with dance and the sound of the timbrel and harp.
Make a loud noise! Make a loud noise!
Let the seas roar with joy, and floods clap their hands.
Praise the Lord with the harp, with the drum!

Thou hast kept us in life.
Thou hast not let our footstep stray.
Thou hast watched over us in the night of oppression.
Thy mercy sustains us in the hour of trial.

Now we live in a land of freedom.
Let us continue to be faithful to Thee.
May Thy law rule the life of our children,
and Thy truth unite their hearts.

We must stand for freedom!
Knowing that one day we will be free.
If we don’t live together as brothers,
we will die together as fools.

We are living in a land of freedom!
Free at last! I’m free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we’re free at last!
I’m free! Free!

Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who is my adversary?
Let him come near to me.

If the time for action is not now, when is it?

Peace to him that is far off. Peace to him that is near.
Let them beat their swords into plowshares,
and spears into pruning hooks.
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
nor learn war anymore.

Make peace, not war!
Let them beat their swords into plowshares,
and spears into pruning hooks.
No more war, give us peace.
Make a loud noise, shout!

Psalm 8:4–7, 10

When I behold Thy heavens, the works of Thy fingers,
the moon and the stars which Thou hast established;
What is man, that Thou art mindful of him?

And the son of man,
that Thou thinkest of him, yet Thou hast made him
but little lower than the angels,
and hast crowned him with glory and honor?

Thou hast made him to have dominion over
the works of Thy hands,
Thou hast put all things under his feet.
O Lord, how glorious is Thy name in all the earth.

Psalm 8:2

How glorious is Thy name in all the earth!

Psalm 133:1; Isaiah 60:18, 20; Psalms 100:3–5; 91:4; quotations from various popular and folk songs

Behold how good and how pleasant it is for
brethren to dwell together in unity.
Violence shall no more be heard in thy land,
desolation nor destruction within thy borders,
but thou shalt call thy walls salvation,
and thy gates praise.
And the days of thy mourning shall be ended.
It is He that hath made us, and we are His.
We are His people and the flock of His pasture.
Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
Enter into His courts with praise!

Give thanks unto Him and bless His name.
Bless His name, for the Lord is good!
His mercy endureth forever.

And His faithfulness unto all of His beautiful people,
Where do they all come from? It’s the sound of silence.
Go through the gates of justice;
then God’s will shall be done.
All people are created by the same God; we are one.
And the days of thy mourning shall be ended.
Violence shall no more be heard in thy land.
He will cover thee with His pinions,
and under His wings He will give you refuge,
refuge for all when we are one,
all generations, when we are one.

Martin Luther King, Jr.; Psalm 91:5

There are knives and there are other arms.
You have called on all of us to put them away,
To bear instead, the weapon of nonviolence,
the breastplate of righteousness, the armor of truth.

His truth is a shield and a buckler.
Thou shalt not be afraid of the terror by night,
nor of the arrow that flyeth by day.

Psalm 149 (adaptation)

O come, let us sing a new song to the Lord.
O come let us sing a new song unto the Lord!

 ©1969 St Francis Musical Co. and Malcolm Music Co.



Composer: Dave Brubeck

Length: 50:09
Genre: Cantata

Performers: Baltimore Choral Arts Society, Tom Hall, director;  Dave Brubeck TrioKevin Deas, Baritone;  Russell Gloyd, Conductor;  Alberto Mizrahi, Tenor

Date Recorded: 03/25/2001
Venue: Kraushaar Auditorium/Goucher College, Baltimore, Maryland
Engineer: Lazarus, Tom
Assistant Engineer: Stedman, Marc
Assistant Engineer: Frost, David
Project Manager: Schwendener, Paul

Additional Credits:

Publisher: Derry Music Co.; Malcolm Music Ltd. (Music Sales Corp.)
Dave Brubeck plays the Baldwin piano.


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