Copland scored his second set of Old American Songs for "medium voice" and piano, later arranged it for voice and orchestra (premiered in 1958 by mezzo Grace Bumbry), and ultimately asked others to prepare versions of four of the five songs for chorus and orchestra; in the case of "At the River," the task fell to former Copland student Raymond Wilding-White.
"At the River" is an arrangement of a hymn that had also caught the attention of Charles Ives, although Copland's version is much more straightforward. The accompaniment tends to be broad and chordal, with Copland-esque harmonies only at transitional points and climaxes in the third and fourth verses. This supports a stately melody line lightened by little melodic skips, with an overall effect of dignity completely free of either pomp or sentimentality. Copland employs the traditional melody in the first, second, and fourth verses, using a related countermelody for the all-important, affirming third verse.
Shall we gather by the river,
Where bright angels' feet have trod,
With its crystal tide forever
Flowing by the throne of God.
Yes, we'll gather by the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river,
Gather with the saints by the river
That flows by the throne of God.
Soon we'll reach the shining river,
Soon our pilgrimage will cease,
Soon our happy hearts will quiver
With the melody of peace.
(Repeat second verse.)