Today the White House celebrates #BigBlockOfCheese day, reviving an open-house tradition dating back to President Andrew Jackson’s day. But for Sacred Harp singers, and Jeffersonians, the story of a 1,400-pound cheese at the White House recalls the even older story of Connecticut preacher John Leland’s journey to Washington to present a “mammoth cheese” (also weighing 1,400 pounds) to Thomas Jefferson at his inauguration. The event—and its retelling by Joseph Stephen James in the historical note accompanying “Bound for Canaan” on p. 82t of Original Sacred Harp—gave rise to the name “cheese notes” for James’s annotations. It’s great to see the White House bringing back such a cheesy tradition!
My first book, Original Sacred Harp: Centennial Edition, is printed and on its way to the publisher’s warehouse in Georgia. We will be officially launching the book at Emory’s annual Sacred Harp singing on Saturday, February 14, 2015.
We will celebrate the book’s publication with a joint session of the Emory singing and the annual meeting of the Society for Christian Scholarship in Music. I’ll give a short talk placing the book in the social world of its editors and describing its “musical conservatism and material modernity.” We’ll then devote the first session of the Emory singing to participatory singing from the Centennial Edition. Sacred Harp singers will take turns leading songs from the new book and I’ll chime in here and there with comments on the songs, the tunebook, and their makers. The debut presentation and singing will take place from 9:45–10:45 am in Emory University’s Cannon Chapel. The event is free and open to the public. Please join us!
We’ll sing for the rest of the day from The Sacred Harp, 1991 Edition, pausing for dinner on the grounds at noon. Other special events include:
- Noon and 3 pm: A tour of an exhibit on hymnody and psalmody at the Pitts Theology Library including Watts, Wesley, and selections from the library’s collection of shape-note songbooks.
- A talk by Joanna Smolko on the history of Sacred Harp singing in Athens, Georgia, also part of the SCSM conference session.
The new edition is the product of four years of work by a dedicated team at Emory University’s Pitts Theology Library and Emory Center for Digital Scholarship. At 584 pages, its editing was an enormous task I could not have undertaken without the support of many people, but Danielle Pitrone, M. Patrick Graham, and Allen Tullos deserve special mention. As noted on the book’s ordering page on the Sacred Harp Publishing Company website,
This commemorative edition celebrates the century that has passed since the 1911 publication of Original Sacred Harp, the direct progenitor of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company’s Sacred Harp, 1991 Edition. Each song in the book includes a historical note written by James. These annotations comprised the most ambitious and accessible record of the history of the songs and hymns in The Sacred Harp and their writers until David Warren Steel’s 2010 reference work, The Makers of the Sacred Harp. Although of variable accuracy, the annotations [in Original Sacred Harp] are a valuable source of information, and a frequent source of humor! Original Sacred Harp included all the songs in the 1870 Sacred Harp, the last edition Sacred Harp co-compiler B. F. White edited. In addition, it restored two thirds of the songs removed from the songbook in the nineteenth century, and introduced new songs that are among the most loved in the book today including “Present Joys,” “Praise God,” and “Traveling On.”
The Original Sacred Harp: Centennial Edition reprints the entire contents of the 1911 tunebook in meticulously reproduced facsimile, preserving the book’s quirky then-modern typographical style. The book features a new introduction by Jesse P. Karlsberg placing Original Sacred Harp in historical and social context, describing how it came to be published, and detailing its reception and legacy.
A handsome hardbound volume reproducing the 1911 tunebook’s original cover, Original Sacred Harp: Centennial Edition makes newly accessible James’s fascinating historical notes and a trove of engaging music.
The design of the Sacred Harp: 1991 Edition was widely hailed as a great improvement over previous editions, yet many singers bemoaned the loss of James’s historical notes. By far the crowd favorite among these notes is James’s comment on John Leland, author of the hymn-text “O when shall I see Jesus, and reign with Him above,” which accompanies Elisha James King’s “Bound for Canaan” (p. 82). James wrote:
Rev. John Leland was born in 1754 and died in 1844. He was a Baptist preacher. In 1801 he took a preaching tour from his home in Massachusetts to Washington with his Cheshire cheese, which made his name national on account of that trip. … The farmers of Cheshire, for whom he was pastor, conceived the idea of sending the biggest cheese in America to President Jefferson. Mr. Leland offered to go to Washington with an ox team with it and preach along the way, which he did. The cheese weighed 1,450 pounds. He died with great hope of rest in the glory world.
This note led some singers to adopt the name “cheese notes” for James’s annotations. Singers in the Boston area even established an annual “cheese notes singing,” featuring dramatic readings of this and other choice historical notes from Original Sacred Harp.
Two other notes in which James touches on Leland’s character are less widely known. James’s comment on “Ecstasy” (p. 106) evinces an awareness of Leland’s friendship with Jefferson, which began during the minister’s time in Virginia from 1776–1791:1
Rev. John Leland … was a Baptist minister, and was a great friend of President Thomas Jefferson. … He was popular among his people, but had many peculiarities. Further notice of him appears under the tune “Bound for Canaan.”
Baptist colleagues of Leland commented widely on the preacher’s peculiarities.2 James’s juxtaposition of Leland’s eccentric nature with the story of the mammoth cheese in his note on “Religion Is a Fortune” (p. 319) suggests he was aware of and attempting to reproduce the story’s humor through including it in his annotations:
John Leland was … a Baptist minister, and composed his own hymns. He was also the author of several tunes. Some persons claim he was very eccentric. He traveled all the way to Washington from Cheshire, Mass., to carry President Jefferson a cheese weighing 1,450 pounds: He went through the country on an ox team, and preached all along wherever he could get an audience. He was a good man; and it is said on his deathbed he quoted the words of this hymn: “O When shall I see Jesus?”
Undeniably comical, the propensity of the notes to encourage jokes at the tunebook’s expense, along with the uneven display of pages after seventy-five years of additions and substitutions, was embarrassing to the tunebook’s revisers, in whose cultural context Sacred Harp singing was often regarded as “old fogy.” In its time and place, however—Cheshire, Connecticut, in November 1801—Leland’s journey to Washington was serious business. The journey was a political statement in favor of the separation of church and state and against slavery, as well as a celebration of the newly elected Jefferson. More on that in a future post!
- Elihu Barrett, “Correspondence of Sylvanus Urban: The Great Cheshire Political Cheese,” in Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. 3 (London: Bradbury, Evans, and Co., 1869), 636. ↩
- “Eccentric John Leland; Baptist Pastors Tell Stories of a Once Noted Preacher,” New York Times, October 26, 1886, 8, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9F0CE4DB163AE033A25755C2A9669D94679FD7CF. ↩
Here’s the first in what I hope will be several installments of gems mined from Joseph Stephen James’s historical notes in Original Sacred Harp (1911). James authored a note for each of the book’s 609 songs. The notes are always interesting, sometimes humorous, and just about as often historically accurate. They were a source of embarrassment to singers seeking to shed the “old fogy” label often applied to Sacred Harp singing in the mid-twentieth century. For this reason the notes were removed from The Sacred Harp, 1991 Edition and eventually replaced with David Warren Steel and Richard L. Hulan’s impressively researched Makers of the Sacred Harp. I’m rereading James’s notes as I review page proofs from my Original Sacred Harp: Centennial Edition, forthcoming from Pitts Theology Library and the Sacred Harp Publishing Company in February 2015.
From the Dictionary of Musical Terms in James’s “Rudiments of Music” (p. 24):
Musical Science—The theory of music.
… [several entries later] …
Theory of Music—The science of music.
From James’s note on “Clamanda” (p. 42):
This tune is on page 42 of the “Sacred Harp” … Like some other tunes we have been unable to find any trace of its history or the words in the tune.1
This didn’t stop James from attributing the minor folk hymn to F. F. Chopin.
- The rest of James’s note on “Clamanda” is suggests that the song was the “Murillo’s Lesson” of 1911, frequently requested by older listeners seated toward the back of the church: “It is a great favorite among the older people who sung it from thirty to fifty years ago … and is often requested to be sung in conventions and other musical gatherings, especially by those who used shaped note books.” ↩
We published the latest issue of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter on Wednesday. I contributed to three pieces in this issue:
- I coauthored an essay on Elphrey Heritage, a Philadelphia bookkeeper who was the sole northern contributor to nineteenth-century editions of the Sacred Harp tunebook. Christopher Sawula and I uncovered new details about Heritage’s life and work that help explain how his music came to be included in the book.
- I introduced and annotated this issue’s “Just a Minute” feature: an 1880 memorial to Sacred Harp co-compiler B. F. White included in the minutes of that year’s Chattahoochee Musical Convention.
- Finally, I wrote a “brief history” of Joseph Stephen James’s 1904 A Brief History of the Sacred Harp. Singer David Saylor recently donated a unique copy of this rare book to the Sacred Harp Museum. I discussed the unusual history of this particular copy and the broader significance of the book.
Nathan Rees and I wrote introduced the issue:
The seventh issue of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter documents the continuing spread of Sacred Harp singing in Europe, sheds new light on important moments in Sacred Harp’s early history, and reports on recent developments at the Sacred Harp Museum.
Our issue opens with three writers exploring transatlantic Sacred Harp connections from different angles. Álvaro Witt Duarte’s account of the first Germany Sacred Harp Convention documents an important milestone for European Sacred Harp—and a moving and energetic weekend. Ellen Lueck writes from a broader viewpoint on the recent spread of Sacred Harp singing across the Atlantic. Singers who have wondered about what Sacred Harp is like in Europe will be interested to read her thoughtful observations about these dedicated communities far from the singing’s homeland. Chris Brown takes a historical perspective, investigating nineteenth-century English manuscripts to document thesurprising flow of New England hymn and fuging tunes across the Atlantic long before most historians assumed this ever happened. Jesse P. Karlsberg and Christopher Sawula share another tale of music traveling long distances, revealing the fascinating story of how Elphrey Heritage, a Philadelphia bookkeeper, became the sole northern contributor to the 1870 Sacred Harp. We turn from nineteenth-century printing to cutting-edge technology in Clarissa Fetrow’s review of “FaSoLa Minutes,” an iPhone app for searching Sacred Harp songs, singers, and singings. The latest installment of our series on the stories behind our singings’ minutes reprints the 1880 memorial in memory of Sacred Harp co-compiler Benjamin Franklin White, with new commentary on the text’s historical context. Concluding the issue, Nathan Rees reports on the recent digitization of the Sacred Harp Museum’s collection of open-reel tapes, and Jesse describes a rare copy of Joseph Stephen James’s A Brief History of the Sacred Harp, recently donated to the Sacred Harp Museum.
Please leave your comments on these articles and write to us with your feedback. We also welcome your suggestions of topics for future Newsletter issues.
Vol. 3, No. 2 Contents
- “Come Sound His Praise Abroad: A Report on the First Germany Sacred Harp Convention,” Álvaro Witt Duarte (Peabody, Massachusetts)
- “The Old World Seeks the Old Paths: Observing Our Transnationally Expanding Singing Community,” Ellen Lueck (Middletown, Connecticut)
- “American Tunes in West Gallery Sources,” Chris Brown (Elland, United Kingdom)
- “Elphrey Heritage: Northern Contributor to the Nineteenth-century Sacred Harp,” Jesse P. Karlsberg (Atlanta, Georgia) and Christopher Sawula (Tuscaloosa, Alabama)
- “There’s an App for That: A Review of the ‘FaSoLa Minutes’ App,” Clarissa Fetrow (Seattle, Washington)
- “The Chattahoochee Convention, August 1, 1880: Memorial for Benjamin Franklin White,” Jesse P. Karlsberg (Atlanta, Georgia)
- “Our Hope for Years to Come: Digitizing Recordings at the Sacred Harp Museum,” Nathan Rees (Grand Forks, North Dakota)
- “A Brief History of A Brief History of the Sacred Harp,” Jesse P. Karlsberg (Atlanta, Georgia)
I recently sat down for an interview with Emory’s Bethany C. Nash about open access publishing from my perspective as a graduate student. The Robert W. Woodruff Library’s blog has just published the interview in conjunction with Open Access Week 2014.1 In it, I talk about open access as a value in scholarly publishing, power and privilege in relationship to access to scholarship, the challenges of publishing open access as a graduate student, and how Southern Spaces—the journal I manage—benefits from publishing open access.
There were five early printings of Original Sacred Harp between the book’s initial publication in 1911 and 1929. (Two later printings date from 1949 and ca. 1964.) Each of these early printings features a similar cover. Of the differences among the books’ covers, the most prominent are the colors of the ink, paper boards, and cloth on the spine.
In researching the publication history of this book while preparing a facsimile edition for publication in early 2015, I’ve run into trouble honing in on the colors of the third printing. The Sacred Harp Museum owns copies of the first (1911), second (also dated 1911), fourth (1921), and fifth (1929) printings of Original Sacred Harp with relatively unblemished covers. Yet the museum’s two copies of the third printing (also dated 1911) are in much rougher shape.
I’ve posted scans of covers of the first, second, third, and fourth, and fifth printings of the James book below.
(I’ll be adding a scan of the cover of the fourth printing soon!) [Update, 9/2/14: Added!; Update 2/17/15: new printing identified thanks to your responses, post altered accordingly.] Have you seen a copy of the third printing of the James book in better shape than the third image posted below? If so, please contact me!
Thanks to Danielle Pitrone and Wade Kotter for scanning the front covers of these books.
On Thursday I gave a talk at Berea College’s Appalachian Sound Archives about the research I’ve conducted as a Sound Archives Fellow. My talk, “Race, Place, and Tunebook Revision: Researching Sacred Harp’s Twentieth Century Transformations as a Berea Appalachian Sounds Archives Fellow,” drew on my work with materials in the sound archives documenting black Sacred Harp singing in southeastern Alabama in the late 1960s and oral history interviews I’ve conducted as a fellow with members of families with long histories of participation in Sacred Harp singing from Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas. My talk drew on examples from both sets of material to describe how folklorists’ aesthetic and economic/occupational priorities often differed from those of their subjects.
The talk was well attended by a crowd of Berea College faculty and students as well as local Sacred Harp singers. I was particularly delighted to meet friends and colleagues of William H. Tallmadge (1916–2004), the music scholar whose field recordings and interviews with black Sacred Harp singers in 1968 I was discussing. Many thanks to Harry Rice, John Bondurant, and the staff of the Sound Archives for their help during my time as a fellow and for their work promoting the talk.
Last Friday Nathan Rees and I presented on the Sacred Harp Museum’s new digitization and presentation efforts at the Association for Recorded Sound Collections conference in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The Sacred Harp Publishing Company board’s museum committee, established in 2011, is drawing on the museum’s historically strong connections to the international population of Sacred Harp singers. These singers both contributed the bulk of the museum’s collection and are the museum’s primary audience. The museum committee seeks to simultaneously encourage new donations, facilitate the digitization and preservation of the museum’s collection, and undertake new efforts to render the collection accessible. In our presentation, “Curating a Crowd-sourced Collection: Engaging Community at the Sacred Harp Museum,” Nathan and I focused on three projects to increase access to the museum’s collection:
- Online exhibitions: Nathan Rees is curating a new exhibition on the first National Sacred Harp Singing Convention, which will be launched on the Sacred Harp Museum’s website to coincide with the thirty-fifth National Convention this June. The exhibit draws on the Museum’s collection and new interviews with Sacred Harp singers, to document the motivations behind the founding of the convention, and its structure—modeled on the earliest nineteenth-century conventions, yet reflective of the transformed 1980 Sacred Harp landscape.
- The Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter: The Newsletter, which I edit, assisted by Nathan, publishes both newly written accounts of Sacred Harp singings and singers, new research into Sacred Harp’s history by contemporary singers and scholars, and newly digitized historical documents drawn from the museum’s collection. Some of our most compelling articles have paired historical documents with writing from contemporary singers who experienced the events discussed, or who are undertaking projects now that relate to the older articles.
- Oral History interviews: I’ve been conducting interviews with Sacred Harp singers across Alabama, Georgia, and Texas this spring as a Berea College Sound Archives Fellow, assisted by Nathan Rees, Lauren Bock, and Richard Ivey. These discussions have focused on interviewees earliest memories of singings, senses of how singings have changed over the course of their lives, and thoughts about what their participation in Sacred Harp singing has meant to them. These interviews have inspired us to launch a Sacred Harp oral history project, aimed at collecting copies of recordings of interviews with Sacred Harp singers conducted in the past, and encouraging singers to record new interviews with singers in their areas. We hope to officially launch this new project this summer.
The Association for Recorded Sound Collections conference was a great place to present on this work, and to learn about best practices for digitization, preservation, and access on a shoestring budget. I attended a pre-conference workshop called “All Things Digital: Managing Digital Audio Collections”—an opportunity to learn more about how to approach better preserving the Sacred Harp Museum’s collection. Nathan and I also benefited immensely from conversations with conference attendees from government agencies such as the Library of Congress and Smithsonian Institution, numerous university libraries and archives, and record companies. Michael Graves of Osiris Studio, an audio engineer who is presently digitizing twenty-two reel-to-reel tapes in the Sacred Harp Museum’s collection, was also present. We are in the earliest stages of this work toward better preserving the museum’s collection and making it accessible. It was invigorating discuss this work with such a supportive and informed audience.
The Sacred Harp Publishing Company recently published the latest issue of the Newsletter. The issue includes my and company executive secretary Karen Rollins’s tributes to 2014 posthumous citation award recipients Jeff and Shelbie Sheppard. I also contributed a short introduction to a 1965 essay by music educator Irving Wolfe on George Pullen Jackson’s contributions to Sacred Harp. Nathan Rees and I introduced this issue of the Newsletter as follows:
The sixth issue of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter features stories about key figures and events from Sacred Harp’s history and celebrates the Sacred Harp Museum’s rich collection of songbooks, papers, and recordings.
Our issue begins with company executive secretary Karen Rollins’s and vice president Jesse P. Karlsberg’s tributes to 2014 posthumous citation award recipients Jeff and Shelbie Sheppard. Matt Wells follows with the second installment of our series telling the stories behind the more unexpected moments reported on in the minutes, writing about his and Lara Andersen’s “surprise wedding” at the 2002 Minnesota State Convention. Karen Freund shares excerpts from a conversation 2013 citation award recipient Jerry Enright recorded with Lookout Mountain singer Barrett Ashley about his lifelong love of Sacred Harp singing. Another article features a speech by music educator Irving Wolfe on Sacred Harp scholar George Pullen Jackson’s contributions to our music, which was printed in the minutes of the 1965 United convention. Charlotte Wolfe, Irving’s daughter, introduces the speech with memories of her father’s involvement in Sacred Harp. Rebecca Over shares new findings about the life of Sacred Harp composer Lee Andrew McGraw, shedding light on the role Sacred Harp played in the lives of singers during early decades of the twentieth century. Finally, Nathan Rees reports on a recent donation of a rare 1909 edition of The Sacred Harp to the Sacred Harp Museum and a new initiative to digitize and make available rare and significant items in the museum’s collection.
The Sacred Harp Museum presents three new online resources which complement these articles:
- A recording and complete transcript of Jerry Enright’s conversation with Barrett Ashley,
- A complete transcript (and downloadable PDF) of the minutes of the 1965 United convention, and
- A downloadable PDF of J. L. White’s 1909 The Sacred Harp, Fifth Edition, recently donated to the museum and digitized by Charles Whitmer.
As always, we encourage you to leave comments on these new articles and to write us with your feedback and suggestions of topics for future issues of the Newsletter.
Vol. 3, No. 1 Contents
- “Honoring Jeff and Shelbie Sheppard: 2014 Citation Awards,” Karen Rollins (Bowden, Georgia) and Jesse P. Karlsberg (Atlanta, Georgia)
- “Minnesota State Convention, September 28, 2002: ‘To the Puzzlement and Delight of All,’ a ‘Surprise Wedding,’” Matt Wells (St. Paul, Minnesota)
- “A Happy Life: Reflections on Sacred Harp Singing by Barrett Ashley,” Barrett Ashley (Collinsville, Alabama), Jerry Enright (Chicago, Illinois), and Karen Freund (Chicago, Illinois)
- “Our Debt to George Pullen Jackson,” Irving Wolfe (Nashville, Tennessee) and Charlotte Wolfe (Ann Arbor, Michigan)
- “In the Footsteps of Lee Andrew McGraw,” Rebecca Over (Ash Vale, United Kingdom)
- “Making the Sacred Harp Museum Accessible: A Newly Donated and Digitized 1909 White Book,” Nathan Rees (Knoxville, Tennessee)