Fall Presentations on Sacred Harp and Digital Publishing Platforms

This fall I’m presenting internationally on Sacred Harp singings geography, history, racial politics, and contemporary relationship to the past. I’m also speaking on Southern Spacess newly redesigned Drupal-based website and on Readux, Emory’s new platform for reading and annotating digitized books and publishing digital critical editions.

Jesse P. Karlsberg introduces Sacred Harp's history at the Festival Oudiemuziek Utrecht, in the Netherlands, August 30, 2015.
Jesse P. Karlsberg introduces Sacred Harp’s history at the Festival Oudemuziek Utrecht, in the Netherlands, August 30, 2015.

In late August I traveled to Utrecht, in the Netherlands, to give a pair of presentations on Sacred Harp’s history and the relationship of contemporary singers to that past. My talk “Resonance and Reinvention: Sounding Historical Practice in Sacred Harp’s Global Twenty-First Century” at the Stichting voor Muziekhistorische Uitvoeringspraktijk [Foundation for Historical Musical Performance Practice] described frames of folk and early music applied to Sacred Harp singing have affected contemporary singers’ and performing ensembles’ conceptions of the style’s aesthetics. This symposium is held each year in conjunction with the Festival Oudemuziek Utrecht, a large international early music festival. The festival this year featured a Sacred Harp singing school taught by Cath Tyler of Newcastle, United Kingdom, and an all-day singing, the first in the Netherlands. In addition to participating in the singing, I gave a short talk on Sacred Harp’s history and geography to complement Cath’s singing school.

Festival organizers invited black and white groups of Sacred Harp singers to sing together at the 1970 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife in Washington, DC. Photograph by Joe Dan Boyd, courtesy of the Alabama Council for Traditional Arts.
Festival organizers invited black and white groups of Sacred Harp singers to sing together at the 1970 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife in Washington, DC. Photograph by Joe Dan Boyd, courtesy of the Alabama Council for Traditional Arts.

In October and November I’ll give two additional talks on Sacred Harp’s history, here centered on interactions between folklorists and Sacred Harp singers in the field and at folk festivals. In “Separate but Equal?: Civil Rights on Stage at Sacred Harp Folk Festival Performances, 1964–1970” at the American Studies Association in Toronto, Canada, part of a session I organized on “Race and Resistance in the Folklorization and Reappropriation of Musical Cultures of Struggle,” I’ll describe how folk festival organizers drew on ideas about the civil rights and folk music movements when deciding how to program Sacred Harp singers at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival and the 1970 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife, and will speak about how these concerns differed from singers’ own priorities. Later, at the Alabama Folklife Association’s Fall into Folklife symposium, I’ll speak about Alan Lomax’s relationship to Sacred Harp singing, focusing on the recordings that emerged from his visit to 1959 United Sacred Harp Musical Association in Fyffe, Alabama, and the encounter’s influence on Sacred Harp singing ever since.

Long Cane Baptist Church, a possible site of the 1845 first Sacred Harp convention, features a balcony in which enslaved African Americans sat after entering the church through a separate, then-outdoor staircase.
Long Cane Baptist Church in LaGrange, Georgia, a possible site of the 1845 first Sacred Harp convention, features a balcony in which enslaved African Americans sat after entering the church through a separate, then-outdoor staircase.

One final talk on Sacred Harp singing, at the American Academy of Religion meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, illuminates a little-told chapter of Sacred Harp’s racial history. In “The Black in ‘White Spirituals,'” I detail the racial politics and musical landscape of the nineteenth-century West Georgia setting in which the Sacred Harp’s compilers lived and worked. I argue that revival choruses, the song form most characteristic of the editions of The Sacred Harp edited in this region, emerged from the mixed-race religious context of early nineteenth century camp meetings, and may have reached the ears of Sacred Harp contributors sung by enslaved African Americans.

Home page of the redesigned Southern Spaces site. Screen capture courtesy of Southern Spaces.
Home page of the redesigned Southern Spaces site. Screen capture courtesy of Southern Spaces.

I’ll also give three presentations this fall on new digital platforms I’ve helped develop for open access journal and scholarly edition publishing. In presentations at the Digital Library Federation in Vancouver, Canada (with Sarah Melton), and at Drupalcamp Atlanta (with Daniel Hansen), I’ll detail the Drupal 7–based platform for scholarly journal publishing developed for Southern Spaces in conjunction with Sevaa Group, Inc., a project I oversaw as the journal’s managing editor. I’ll also speak at Emory University’s Currents in Research lecture series on the Readux platform’s value for editing and publishing annotated facsimile digital scholarly editions.

Spring Presentations

This spring I’m presenting on a range of topics on the cultural politics and book history of Sacred Harp singing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The topics range from the Philadelphia print culture that produced the meticulously composed Sacred Harp editions of the 1840s–1860s to 1960s black South Alabama singers’ disagreements over the politics of protest.

In February I presented a paper co-written with Christopher Sawula at the Auburn University Montgomery Southern Studies conference on the life and music of Philadelphia bookkeeper Elphrey Heritage. Our paper argues that many of the songs Heritage contributed to tunebooks like The Christian Minstrel, The Hesperian Harp, The Social Harp, and The Sacred Harp, show musical markers of close and dispersed harmony styles. Combined with evidence of social interaction between Heritage, his employer the printer Tillinghast King Collins, and tunebook compilers William Hauser and John G. McCurry, Heritage’s music offers a glimpse into a Philadelphia social scene in the 1840s and 1850s that affected the form of southern shape-note tunebooks to a greater extent than commonly acknowledged.

Leading from Original Sacred Harp: Centennial Edition at the Society for Christian Scholarship in Music and Emory Singing with Allen Tullos, co-director of the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship and Danielle Pitrone, who assisted with the production of the new Centennial Edition.
Leading from Original Sacred Harp: Centennial Edition at the Society for Christian Scholarship in Music and Emory Singing with Allen Tullos, co-director of the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship and Danielle Pitrone, who assisted with the production of the new Centennial Edition.

The next weekend I presented a lecture–participatory singing at Emory during a joint session of the Society for Christian Scholarship in Music and the Emory Sacred Harp singing focusing on the musical conservatism and material modernity of Joseph Stephen James’s Original Sacred Harp. My talk, which also served as the official launch of the new Original Sacred Harp: Centennial Edition, was a hands on tour of the book’s design and contents, articulating how its various features illuminated its revisers’ aims and social context. After a short break over 100 singers and conference attendees joined in singing a range of songs from the new edition illustrating its editors’ musical choices. Amy Kiley, a reporter from Atlanta’s NPR station, WABE, covered the event and the publication of my new edition.

I presented at another conference in Atlanta the following weekend, the Southern American Studies Association, on the politics of race and protest that emerged in a 1968 field recording in which SUNY Buffalo music professor William H. Tallmadge interviews south Alabama reverend Shem Jackson, a son of Colored Sacred Harp compiler Judge Jackson. During an interview largely about services and singings at Jackson’s church the conversation unexpectedly turns to Jackson’s resistance to his daughter Mary’s participation in student protest at Tuskegee Institute—protests which Tallmadge seems to regard positively. I presented this paper as part of a panel on race and Sacred Harp singing, where I was joined by Nathan Rees, who spoke about the Wiregrass singers’ album cover art, and Jonathon Smith, who discussed celtic imagery in representations of East Tennessee New Harp of Columbia singers. Douglas Harrison, an insightful scholar of southern gospel, chaired our session.

Paste
Pasted corrections on a page for the 1992 “Cooper book.” Collection of Stanley Smith. Photograph by Jesse P. Karlsberg.

Earlier this month I presented a paper on how Texas singers associate the layout of pre–digitally retypeset Sacred Harp editions with the sound of small rural singings and find both an impediment to efforts promoting the style to urban(e) southern audiences. My paper, delivered at the annual meeting of the Society of American Music in Sacramento, drew on Buell Cobb‘s metaphor of “the South’s ring of repugnance” to describe how such singers invest the digital with the potential to erase the vernacular rusticity that some newer singers romanticize, echoing a folkloric paradigm.

Later this month I will travel to Boston for the Nineteenth Century Studies Association, where I will speak about the nineteenth century editions of The Sacred Harp. Far from a vernacular folk production, The Sacred Harp was a meticulously produced publication of T. K. and P. G. Collins, a high status firm at the center of the emerging national book trade.

Viewing the title page of Original Sacred Harp in Readux BETA.
Viewing the title page of Original Sacred Harp in Readux BETA.

I’ll travel from Boston to Portland, Oregon, to present one final paper, discussing the Readux platform under development at the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship at the Library Publishing Forum. Readux is a new tool for reading, annotating, and publishing digital critical editions of digitized texts. The open source platform is designed to foreground scanned page images, paired with fully searchable text and robust multimedia annotations mapped to page regions. A digital critical edition of Original Sacred Harp will serve as a proof of concept demonstration of the tool’s capacity and will be the first in a series of editions featuring nineteenth- and twentieth-century sacred tunebooks and manuscripts, but the platform will also be available for use, for free of charge, by others interested in editing and publishing digital critical editions.

Original Sacred Harp: Centennial Edition Debut, February 14

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.

Front cover of Original Sacred Harp: Centennial Edition.
Front cover of Original Sacred Harp: Centennial Edition.

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.

“Race, Place, and Tunebook Revision”: Presenting on My Research as a Berea College Sound Archives Fellow

Black southeastern Alabama singer "Dewey [Williams] must get his own gas" at a service station outside Ozark, Alabama, June 1968. Photograph and notes by William H. Tallmadge. Courtesy of Berea Sound Archives.
Black singer “Dewey [Williams] must get his own gas” at a service station outside Ozark, Alabama, June 1968. Photograph and notes by William H. Tallmadge. Courtesy of Berea Sound Archives.
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.

Presenting on the Sacred Harp Museum at the Association for Recorded Sound Collections

Nathan Rees and I presented on the Sacred Harp Museum at the Association for Recorded Sound Collections in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Nathan Rees and I presented on the Sacred Harp Museum at the Association for Recorded Sound Collections in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

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.

Why Do We Sing Sacred Harp?

Panel discussion at the Alabama Folklife Association's "We'll All Sing Hallelujah" Symposium.
Panel discussion at the Alabama Folklife Association’s “We’ll All Sing Hallelujah” Symposium.

On Saturday March 15 I moderated a panel discussion in Columbiana, Alabama, on Sacred Harp music. The event was part of a daylong program called “We’ll All Sing Hallelujah” celebrating the opening of Sacred Sounds of Alabama, a new traveling exhibition created by the Alabama Folklife Association. The panel featured an esteemed and varied group of Alabama and Mississippi Sacred Harp singers, teachers, and authors:

Steve Grauberger, folklife specialist at the Alabama Center for Traditional Culture, recorded the day’s events and posted them to YouTube. I’ve embedded his video of the panel discussion above.

I asked the singers on the panel about how they became involved in Sacred Harp singing, what Sacred Harp singing means to them and why they choose to participate, how the style has changed over the course of their involvement, and what they imagine the future holds for Sacred Harp. The panelists spoke openly and with great feeling about their involvement in Sacred Harp singing. I’m grateful to them for their participation.

Our discussion followed two excellent talks: Buell Cobb reading two excerpts from his new memoir, and Warren Steel discussing the relationship between oral and written in Sacred Harp and related music. After the panel we walked over to the old Shelby County Courthouse, now the home of the Shelby County Historical Society, where David Ivey led a Sacred Harp singing.

“We’ll All Sing Hallelujah: Sacred Sounds of Alabama” was sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, Alabama Council on the Arts, Alabama Humanities Foundation, and the “Support the Arts” car tag fund. Thanks to Alabama Folklife Association executive director Mary Allison Haynie for her work organizing the event, and to Nathan Rees, who chaired the day’s talks and introduced the participants in our panel.

Racial Imaginaries and Folklorization at the Society for American Music

The Society's Fortieth Annual Meeting was held in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
The Society’s Fortieth Annual Meeting was held in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

I spent an exhilarating and productive four days this past weekend at the annual meeting of the Society for American Music (SAM) in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I presented a paper at the conference titled “Shifting Racial Imaginaries in the Folklorization of Black Sacred Harp Singers from Southeastern Alabama.”1 In it I analyzed May 1968 interviews between white Buffalo, New York, music scholar William Tallmadge and black Ozark, Alabama, Sacred Harp singers Thomas Y. Lawrence and Dewey President Williams. I argued that the preconceptions of these three people represented (uneven) shifts in the racial imagination since George Pullen Jackson had interacted exclusively with white Sacred Harp singers a generation earlier.

I was thrilled to meet Doris J. Dyen and Deane L. Root at the conference, and especially grateful for their presence at my session. Dyen and Root conducted extensive fieldwork with the same group of black Sacred Harp singers in southeastern Alabama just a few years after Tallmadge visited and shared their memories and insights during the question and answer period after I delivered my paper.2 My session also featured Florida State musicology doctoral candidate Sarah Kahre, who presented a fascinating paper on what revisions of the tune “Boylston” in different editions of The Sacred Harp tell us about revisers’ priorities. Nikos Pappas, assistant professor of music at the University of Alabama, served as a gracious and effective session chair.

Other highlights of the SAM conference included singing with southeastern Pennsylvania Sacred Harp singing friends Oliver Kindig-Stokes, Ted Stokes, Ruth Wampler, and Tom Tucker, among others, at the SAM singing; good conversation with too many friends, old and new, to name; a memorable evening program featuring the music of seven Anabaptist groups; and a tasty dinner at the world’s largest Smorgasbord! I look forward to continuing to develop the ideas I presented, and to many more SAM conferences to come.

Notes

  1. This paper represented my first attempt at drawing on the research I conducted as a Sound Archives Fellow at Berea College in January. I’m thankful to the college’s Appalachian Sound Archives staff, especially Harry Rice and John Bondurant, for their support. I’m just as thankful to Kent Gilbert, who housed me during my stay in Berea, and to Meredith Doster, Nathan Rees, and Alan Pike, who offered feedback on an earlier draft of the paper.
  2. Doris J. Dyen’s dissertation, “The Role of Shape-Note Singing in the Musical Culture of Black Communities in Southeast Alabama” (PhD diss., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1977) remains the most thorough scholarly treatment of black Sacred Harp singing in southeastern Alabama. Dyen is particularly attentive to manifestations of racial inequality.

Sacred Harp Singing at the Music Library Association’s Annual Meeting

Poster for the Music Library Association's 2014 annual meeting.
Poster for the Music Library Association’s 2014 annual meeting.

This past Thursday I participated in an enjoyable opening plenary session at the Music Library Association‘s 2014 annual meeting, held in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood. Joyce Clinkscales, Emory’s music librarian, organized and chaired our session. After Joyce’s introduction Nathan Rees and I each presented papers. My paper, “The Publishing History of The Sacred Harp: Tunebook Revision and Musical Culture,” introduced attendees to Sacred Harp singing and its history before discussing the tunebook’s editions and some tips on distinguishing among them. I’ve posted write-ups of these tips—on identifying editions by examining front covers and title pages or page 37—to this website. Nathan’s excellent paper considered how Sacred Harp singers express identity and ideology the visual culture of Sacred Harp singing, in particular, its shape notes and the hollow square.

After Nathan and I took questions from the convention attendees, I gave an abbreviated lesson on how to sing Sacred Harp music. Then, for the remainder of the session, we sang from The Sacred Harp. In addition to the four-hundred plus music librarians present, Nathan and I were helped by twenty Atlanta-area Sacred Harp singers, who were generous enough to give up much of their Thursday morning to participate in the plenary session. The conference attendees were among the most enthusiastic group of newcomers I’ve encountered (indeed, a number had run across and even sung Sacred Harp music previously). We were able to sing nine songs from The Sacred Harp before the session concluded: “New Britain” (p. 45t in The Sacred Harp), “Old Hundred” (p. 49t), “The Golden Harp” (p. 274t), “Northfield” (p. 155), “Beech Spring” (p. 81t), “Canaan’s Land” (p. 101t), “Mear” (p. 49b), “Reynolds” (p. 225t), and “Lloyd” (p. 503). In addition to including mostly easier tunes and a few familiar melodies, our selections featured prominent Georgia contributors to The Sacred Harp, both past (B. F. White, E. J. King, and J. P. Rees) and present (Hugh McGraw and Raymond C. Hamrick).

Conference attendees posted their comments, photos, and videos of the plenary session to Twitter. University of Iowa librarian Katie Buehner linked to her YouTube video of the group singing “Northfield,” which I’ve embedded below.

Thanks to Joyce and Nathan for an enjoyable session, to the organizers of the conference for their support, and—most of all—to the Sacred Harp singers who made the event such a success: Laura Akerman, Amy Armstrong, Hayden Taylor Arp, Daniel Bass, Lisa Bennett, Lauren Bock, Ellen Cullpepper, Gail Denney, Philip Denney, Jeannette DePoy, Scott DePoy, Jim Neal, Erin Mills, John Plunkett, Chris Sawula, David Smead, Michael Spencer, Christine Tweedy, Eric Tweedy, and Charles Woods.

The Page 37 Test: Identifying Basic Editions of The Sacred Harp

In my presentation on the publication history of The Sacred Harp at the opening plenary session of the Music Library Association’s annual meeting this past Friday, I concluded with some guidance on how to identify and distinguish among editions of the tunebook. The easiest way to distinguish among nineteenth- and twentieth-century editions of The Sacred Harp, I noted, is to examine the books’ front covers or title pages for the mention of appendices, the names of the lead revisors, and any dates. I’ve created a table with information on what to look for to identify a Sacred Harp edition in this way. But some editions have missing or illegible covers or title pages. For these cases I’ve devised what I call the “Page 37 Test,” a simple way to distinguish between seven different editions of The Sacred Harp.

You can use the “Page 37 Test” to distinguish between the B. F. White-led editions of The Sacred Harp and each of the three twentieth-century revision chains: the “Cooper,” “White,” and “James”/”Denson”/1991 books. You can also use the test to distinguish between earlier and later “Cooper” and “White” books, and between the “James” and “Denson”/1991 editions.

Benjamin Franklin White’s 1844, 1850, 1860, and 1870 editions all feature the song “China” in four parts and in D major on the top brace, and “Liverpool” in three parts and F major on the bottom brace.

Page 37 of The Sacred Harp, third edition, 1859.
“China” and “Liverpool,” page 37 of The Sacred Harp, third edition, 1859.

In 1902, Wilson Marion Cooper replaced these two songs with a composition of his own, a setting of his wife’s last words titled “Almost Gone.” Editions of the “Cooper book” published between 1902 and 1949 feature “Almost Gone” on page 37.

"Amost Gone," page 37 of The Sacred Harp, "Revised and Improved by W. M. Cooper,"  1927.
“Amost Gone,” page 37 of The Sacred Harp, “Revised and Improved by W. M. Cooper,” 1927.

In 1950 and later “Cooper book” editions through the 2012 edition a new song titled “The Christian’s Home” appears on this page.

"The Christian's Home," page 37 of The B. F. White Sacred Harp, 1960.
“The Christian’s Home,” page 37 of The B. F. White Sacred Harp, 1960.

In his 1909 first attempt at revising The Sacred Harp, James Landrum White moved two songs from elsewhere in the tunebook to this page: “Remember Me” and “Newman.”

"Remember Me" and "Newman," page 37 of The Sacred Harp, "Fifth Edition, Much Improved and Greatly Enlarged," 1909.
“Remember Me” and “Newman,” page 37 of The Sacred Harp, “Fifth Edition, Much Improved and Greatly Enlarged,” 1909.

Yet in editions of The Sacred Harp he published in 1910 and 1911 (and later printings), White retained “China” and “Liverpool” but added an alto to “Liverpool” and reharmonized both songs. He also changed their keys: “China” appears set in Bb major; “Liverpool” in Eb major.

"China" and "Liverpool," page 37 in The Sacred Harp, "Fourth Edition, with Supplement," 1911.
“China” and “Liverpool,” page 37 in The Sacred Harp, “Fourth Edition, with Supplement,” 1911.

In the 1911 Original Sacred Harp, edited by Joseph Stephen James, both songs appear. As with White’s 1910 and 1911 editions, “Liverpool” appears with an alto part added, but both songs retain the keys and other harmony parts they featured in the 1870 fourth edition. Each carries an extensive historical note.

"China" and "Liverpool," page 37 in Original Sacred Harp, 1911.
“China” and “Liverpool,” page 37 in Original Sacred Harp, 1911.

The 1936 “Denson book,” a revision of Original Sacred Harp by a committee led by members of the Denson family, retains the version of “Liverpool” included in the “James book” but shortens the song’s historical note. The edition also replaces “China” with a song “Ester” from elsewhere in the book.

"Ester" and "Liverpool," page 37 in Original Sacred Harp: Denson Revision, 1936.
“Ester” and “Liverpool,” page 37 in Original Sacred Harp: Denson Revision, 1936.

Denson editions through 1987 feature these two songs with this layout. In the retypeset 1991 edition, both songs appear, but with James’s historical notes removed.

Enabling distinguishing among the nineteenth- and twentieth-century Sacred Harp editions, the major Sacred Harp revision-chains, and earlier and later editions within each chain, the “Page 37 Test” is a simple way to narrow down which edition a songbook belongs to. But you’ll have to look at pages other than 37 to narrow things down further. In fact, details of The Sacred Harp‘s publishing history are still emerging. If you’d like help identifying which edition an old Sacred Harp tunebook you have belongs to, feel free to contact me.

Note: Thanks to Nathan Rees and Lauren Bock for their feedback on this post. Thanks as well to Joyce Clinkscales for organizing and chairing our Music Library Association plenary, “Sacred Harp Singing: Shape Notes, Songbooks, and Southern Culture.”

The Georgia Roots Music Festival and the “Georgia Harmonies” Traveling Exhibition

Cover of booklet for "Georgia Harmonies: Celebrating Georgia Roots Music," 2012. Booklet designed by Debby Holcombe. Image courtesy of the Center for Public History, University of West Georgia.
Cover of booklet for “Georgia Harmonies: Celebrating Georgia Roots Music,” 2012. Booklet designed by Debby Holcombe. Image courtesy of the Center for Public History, University of West Georgia.

In June 2012 I wrote for the Southern Spaces Blog about the opening of “Georgia Harmonies,” a two year traveling exhibition organized by the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum on Main Street program in collaboration with the Georgia Humanities Council. In the blog post, I describe how “the exhibit focuse[d] on the connections between musical cultures and place.” In addition to a small museum exhibition, “Georgia Harmonies” included a variety of “[e]vents and performances at each of the small towns at which the exhibit stop[ped] featur[ing] musics with historical ties to the town and region, and present-day roots in the area,” including several Sacred Harp singings.1

On Saturday I organized a Sacred Harp singing for the concluding event of the touring exhibition, a day-long “Georgia Roots Music Festival” at the Woodruff Arts Center in downtown Atlanta. After an introduction by Jared Wright of the Center for Public History at the University of West Georgia, I taught a brief singing school, which led into an hour-long singing. Thirty-five Sacred Harp singers from across Georgia (with a little help from Tennessee) were joined by over one hundred festival attendees for what turned out to be quite a strong singing.

Micah Roberts leads during the Sacred Harp singing at the Georgia Roots Music Festival, Woodruff Arts Center, Atlanta, Georgia, January 18, 2014. Photograph by Sam Culpepper.
Micah Roberts leads during the Sacred Harp singing at the Georgia Roots Music Festival, Woodruff Arts Center, Atlanta, Georgia, January 18, 2014. Photograph by Sam Culpepper.
Jesse P. Karlsberg and Lauren Bock teach a singing school at Long Cane Baptist Church, near LaGrange, Georgia, October 27, 2014.
Jesse P. Karlsberg and Lauren Bock teach a singing school at Long Cane Baptist Church, near LaGrange, Georgia, October 27, 2014. Photograph by Ann Gray.

In addition to introducing Sacred Harp singing to Georgians across the state, “Georgia Harmonies” events proved engaging to the Sacred Harp singers who participated. As I wrote for the Southern Spaces Blog, the events led white Sacred Harp singers “to meet, share histories, and compare and contrast our musical practices” with participants in the a black shape-note gospel singing style called “note singing.” Exhibition events also brought singers to locations with historical or civic importance, ranging from the Woodruff Arts Center (Atlanta’s premier arts institution) to the Long Cane Baptist Church near LaGrange (which J. L. White identified in 1920 as the site of the first Sacred Harp convention in 1845), where Lauren Bock and I taught a singing school in conjunction with another of the exhibition’s stops.

Notes

  1. Public Sacred Harp singings were held in conjunction with the Calhoun, Perry, Waycross, and LaGrange tour stops. The Bremen stop included a concert featuring West Georgia shape-note singing styles, among them Sacred Harp singing. The LaGrange stop’s singing was preceded by a singing school I co-taught with Lauren Bock.