Upcoming Singing Schools

On Thursday, September 12, I’ll be teaching a Sacred Harp singing school during a session of an American popular music class taught by Tracey Laird at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. The class meets from 2–3:15 pm in Presser Hall’s Maclean Auditorium.

I’ll also be teaching a singing school in Dahlonega, Georgia, from 5:30–8 pm on Wednesday, September 18, at the Georgia Mountain Unitarian Universalist Church. The singing school will be held in conjunction with a class on the history of Appalachian music at the University of North Georgia taught by Barry Whittemore.

Both singing schools are open to the public. Come join us!

Sacred Harp Singing School at the Cameron Art Museum, Wilmington, North Carolina

On Saturday April 6, 2013 I will be teaching a singing school at the Cameron Art Museum in Wilmington, North Carolina. Co-presented by the Cameron Art Museum and WHQR Public Radio, the day will begin with an hour-long introduction to Sacred Harp singing at 10 am. Following a break we’ll spend the rest of the day singing from The Sacred Harp, stopping for lunch at noon. Thanks to Cleve Callison for organizing the event. If you’re in the Wilmington area, please join us on the sixth!

New Writing on Sacred Harp in Europe

In the wake of my trip last September to attend the seventeenth United Kindom and first Poland Sacred Harp Conventions and to teach at the first European session of Camp Fasola (held the week between these two conventions) I’ve continued to think and write about how Sacred Harp singers conceive of community, tradition, transmission, and place as the style spreads.

Keith Macdonald expands on the history of Sacred Harp singing in Germany. Comment on the wall of the "Sacred Harp in Poland" Facebook group. Accessed 3/14/2013.
Keith Macdonald expands on the history of Sacred Harp singing in Germany. Comment on the wall of the “Sacred Harp in Poland” Facebook group. Accessed 3/14/2013.

In November I wrote for the Country Dance and Song Society News on how these September singings “facilitate[d] cultural exchange, … inspire[d] community, and forge[d] emotional and spiritual connections” among European and North American singers. My essay, “‘Come Sound His Praise Abroad’: Sacred Harp Singing across Europe,” attempts to contextualize these recent events by recounting the introduction of this music to various European countries since 2008. In a comment on Facebook, Keith Maconald helpfully expanded on my account of the early history of Sacred Harp singing in Germany, pointing to the role he and the late Jutta Pflugmacher played in arranging for the Sacred Harp singing schools that Michael Walker and Aldo Ceresa held in Germany in October, 2011 (see screenshot from Facebook at right). I’ve transcribed a portion of Macdonald’s important comment below.

Jutta [Pflugmacher] had sung Shape Note while she was living in England and was very involved in organising cultural events in her home town of Büdingen. She organised a concert and workshop with Larry Gordon’s group in April 2010, where she met Keith Macdonald, who had recently moved to Germany and had also sung Shape Note in England. Together they decided to try to arrange further Shape Note music workshops in Germany, and were put in touch with Michael Walker through the UK shapenote website. Michael was an excellent contact, with a thorough knowledge of the German language, and he enthusiastically supported the plans; it wouldn’t have been possible without him. Sadly at this time Jutta became ill from cancer and was forced to take a back seat. Keith and Michael developed plans further for two workshops in Sacred Harp to be held in Würzburg and Frankfurt am Main in October 2011, under the superb tutorship of Aldo Ceresa. Members of the Bremen group travelled to Würzburg to participate in the workshop, and I am delighted that Jutta was able to participate in the workshop the following day in Frankfurt. Sadly she lost her fight with cancer shortly afterwards, but she stays in our memories as a key person in the story of Sacred Harp in Germany. Since then the Bremen group have gone from strength to strength, and a small group sings regularly in Frankfurt.

Michael Walker also touched on this early history in his essay on the October, 2011 German singing schools for the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter, “German Singing Schools: Sacred Harp Comes to the Land of J. S. Bach.”

In February I wrote for the Southern Spaces Blog on how the Sacred Harp events in Europe in September, 2012 “served as sites around which singers negotiated their associations of Sacred Harp singing with place.” My blog post—“Sacred Harp, ‘Poland Style’”—described how singers intentionally created what we described as a new “local tradition” of leading P. Dan Brittain’s song “Novakoski” with a time change from slow to moderate-fast at the start of the fuging section. The piece also noted how new singers from Poland and from Norwich in the United Kingdom have appropriated songs in The Sacred Harp bearing the names “Poland” and “Norwich” as symbols of their local Sacred Harp singing communities. My post was published the day before I left Georgia for another European singing trip, this time to Ireland for the third Ireland Sacred Harp Convention. Imagine my delight when the day after I arrived P. Dan told the story of “Novakoski,” “Polish Style” and led the song in the manner described above during his singing school the evening before the convention. Later, during the convention itself, a group of Polish singers led “Poland” and a group of singers from Norwich led “Norwich.” Quod erat demonstrandum.

Earlier in February I spoke about Sacred Harp in Europe at a conference titled “Southern Sounds/Out of Bounds: Music and the Global American South” held at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and organized by the university’s Center for Global Initiatives and Center for the Study of the American South. My paper, “Digital Transmission and Mutable Tradition among European Sacred Harp Singers, 2008–2012,” addressed how European singers have supplemented transmission through travel to singings in the United States with reliance on digital resources such as YouTube videos shared through Facebook, and described how these singers are attempting to strike a balance between adhering to what they see as “traditional” practices while adapting Sacred Harp to new local contexts.

In addition to my two short essays and conference talk, two other short pieces on the Sacred Harp singing events in Europe last fall have recently been published. Gosia Perycz and Fynn Titford-Mock each contributed singing reviews on these three events to the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter. Their essays: “A Hollow Square in My Homeland: Bringing Camp Fasola to Poland” and “Celebrating Sacred Harp in Europe, September, 2012” describe the U.K. Convention, Camp Fasola Europe, and the Poland Convention in detail and are well worth a read.

Talk on Sacred Harp Singing at Kennesaw State University

This Tuesday from 12:30–1:45 pm I’ll be giving a talk on Sacred Harp singing and its history, followed by a short singing school, for the Canterbury Club at Kennesaw State University. Please contact me if you’re interested in attending.

Singing School at the Pacific Northwest Sacred Harp Convention

Lauren Bock and I will be teaching a singing school in Portland, Oregon on October 20 at the Fall session of the Pacific Northwest Sacred Harp Convention. Our singing school will focus on the importance of listening while singing and will touch on accent, leading, and aspects of singing style. The Pacific Northwest Convention is free and open to the public. Come see us later this month in Oregon.

Singing School at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy

Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy Singing School
Poster for the Screening, Singing School, and All-Day Singing.

On April 13–14 I will join Matt and Erica Hinton, co-directors of the movie Awake My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp, at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Melbourne Florida for a weekend of Sacred Harp singing including a singing school, screening of the Hintons’ film, and all-day singing.

The weekend will begin with the film screening, followed by a question and answer session with the filmmakers, on Friday morning. In the evening, I will lead a singing school, teaching the rudiments of Sacred Harp singing to students at the Academy and interested members of the public. The next day we will hold an all-day Sacred Harp singing from 9:30–3:00.

The weekend has been made possible by a grant from the Community Foundation for Brevard.

Social Intercropping and Sacred Harp Singing

I presented a paper at last weekend’s Atlanta Graduate Student Conference in U.S. History titled “Social Intercropping: Sacred Harp Singing in the Cotton-Cultivating U.S. South.” An abridged version of a recent seminar paper, my presentation demonstrated connections between the scheduling of Sacred Harp singings and the cotton farming calendar between 1845 and 1929 and examined how Sacred Harp singings adapted to the post-cotton Southern political economy after World War II.

J. S. James, Leading, Composition, and Starting a Singing – Classes at Camp Fasola

I taught several classes this June and July at the two sessions of Camp Fasola, a weeklong summer camp for learning Sacred Harp singing, history, and traditions held in Alabama.
With Aldo Ceresa, I co-taught a class on the music and historical context of the revision of The Sacred Harp by J. S. James in 1911. Our class mixed singing with the telling of stories about James and his collaborators and rivals. The class was timed to mark the hundredth anniversary of the publication of the “James Book.”

I also taught an intermediate class on leading songs at Sacred Harp singings, moderated a discussion on starting, feeding, and maintaining a regular or annual singing, and led a session where singers led and discussed collaborative Sacred Harp composition exercises and new songs they had written in the styles of The Sacred Harp. 

Attendance at Camp was quite high this year and the campers came from across the United States as well as from Canada and several European countries. The campers ranged from singers with over 60 years of experience singing from The Sacred Harp to those who had never attended a singing. As always, teaching such a motivated and diverse group of learners was an enriching and enjoyable experience.

Lecture on Composers’ Approaches to Writing for the Sacred Harp at University College Cork

On Thursday, March 3 at University College Cork, in Cork Ireland, I will be participating in a lecture panel on The Sacred Harp with Professor Neely Bruce (Wesleyan University) held in conjunction with the first Ireland Sacred Harp Convention and Singing School.

My talk, “Experimentalism and Conservatism: Independence and Influence in the Music of The Sacred Harp” will discuss composers’ approaches to writing for The Sacred Harp. A brief abstract:

The wide ranging music in The Sacred Harp emerges from an approach to composition that is both experimental and conservative. Despite their relative isolation, and purposeful independence from any rules of composition, many Sacred Harp writers were nonetheless influenced by popular musical styles, and willingly constrained by the writing of previous generations.