“Regional Roots” and “Seasonal Songs” in the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter

Cath Tyler leads at a Sacred Harp singing in Utrecth, The Netherlands, August 30, 2015. Photograph by Jesse P. Karlsberg.
Cath Tyler leads at a Sacred Harp singing in Utrecth, The Netherlands, August 30, 2015. Photograph by Jesse P. Karlsberg.

Two new articles of mine are included in the latest issue of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter (vol. 4, no. 2, December 31, 2015). In “Regional Roots: Growing Sacred Harp in the Netherlands, Alaska, and British Columbia,” I recount recent trips to growing Sacred Harp singings in Utrecht, Sitka, and Vancouver, contending that while during the first wave of Sacred Harp’s expansion beyond the South, singers from Alabama and Georgia played an enormous role in connecting new singing groups and sharing Sacred Harp’s practices, increasingly

regional cores—sturdy groups of singers with substantial Sacred Harp experience—are helping ensure the success of new classes in their areas … welcom[ing] new classes into the international Sacred Harp network, fostering Sacred Harp’s growth in a period when chartered busses no longer regularly transport southern singers to new conventions[.]

Bobby Watkins and son Taylor sport seasonal outfits at the 2014 Henagar-Union Convention. Photograph by Martha Beverley.
Bobby Watkins and son Taylor sport seasonal outfits at the 2014 Henagar-Union Convention. Photograph by Martha Beverley.

In “Seasonal Songs,” written with Mark T. Godfrey, we analyze the variety of ways in which Sacred Harp “singers think about songs in relation to the calendar” when deciding what to lead. As we illustrate,

[some] songs do indeed show a measurable and statistically significant burst in popularity at specific times of the year. Yet the reasons why some songs are led seasonally vary, as do the specific contours in the leading patterns of such songs over time. [This analysis] reveals just one small piece of how … [leaders’] individual discrete decisions build over time, shaping the seasonal ebb and flow of our collective experience.

In addition to these two articles, this new issue of the Newsletter—which I edit with Nathan Rees—includes articles on a 1924 Sacred Harp trophy from Mississippi, a Sacred Harp singing weekend in Sweden, conducting Sacred Harp research online in historical newspapers, a 1965 list of “dos and don’ts” by Nashville minister and Harpeth Valley Sacred Harp News editor Priestley Miller, and much more. You can access the full issue at the Sacred Harp Publishing Company website.

Vol. 4, No. 2 Contents

Article on the Debut Singing from Original Sacred Harp in the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter

Speaking about the history and design of Original Sacred Harp at the joint session of the Society for Christian Scholarship in Music and the Emory singing. Photograph by Mark Karlsberg.
Speaking about the history and design of Original Sacred Harp at the joint session of the Society for Christian Scholarship in Music and the Emory singing. Photograph by Mark Karlsberg.

The latest issue of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter includes an article I wrote recounting the debut singing from Original Sacred Harp: Centennial Edition. The singing, held on Valentine’s Day at Emory University’s Cannon Chapel during a joint session of the Society for Christian Scholarship in Music and the Emory Sacred Harp Singing, brought together more than one hundred singers and scholars. The event included a talk on the history of the tunebook, an hour or so of singing from the new edition, dinner on the grounds, and singing from The Sacred Harp: 1991 Edition. As I wrote in my report on the singing, “Old Strings on a New Harp,”

the day also gave a number of musicologists their first exposure to Sacred Harp singing, and provided an opportunity to reflect on how singers from generations past articulated the relevance of our tradition to their own times and places as we do so today in a rapidly changing Sacred Harp landscape.

Read “Old Strings on a New Harp” in the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter.

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.

Seventh Issue of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter

We published the seventh issue of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter on Wednesday, which “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.” 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 introduced the issue as follows:

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.

Vol. 3, No. 2 Contents

Open Access Interview with Emory Libraries

Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 4.52.08 PM
Chatting Open Access on the Robert W. Woodruff Library’s blog.

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.

Notes

  1. Emory’s scholarly communications blog has also published the conversation.

Stitched Together: S. M. Denson’s Alto Part for “The Last Words of Copernicus”

“Perhaps the most instantly recognizable musical feature of” Sarah Lancaster’s song “The Last Words of Copernicus” (p. 112 in The Sacred Harp) “was not in [the composer’s] original three-part setting,” I wrote in the winter 2013–2014 issue of the Country Dance and Song Society News. I continued:

The alto entrance to the song’s fuging section features a simple figure located at the moment in the song where the two highest parts drop out, leaving the altos singing exposed, with relish, at the top of their range.1

Grave of Sarah "Sallie" Lancaster Hagler, Oakwood Cemetery, Oakwood, Texas. Photograph by Ed and Sue Anderson, July 16, 2009.
Grave of Sarah “Sallie” Lancaster Hagler, Oakwood Cemetery, Oakwood, Texas, July 16, 2009. Photograph by Ed and Sue Anderson.
Used by permission.

This alto entrance in The Sacred Harp, 1991 Edition and its predecessors shines through on recordings of “The Last Words of Copernicus,” and even caught the ear of a producer of Bruce Springsteen’s single “Death to My Hometown,” from the 2012 album Wrecking Ball.2 As I noted in the CDSS News, the producer sampled this portion of the tune’s Original Sacred Harp alto part and included it in a musical interlude that recurs throughout Springsteen’s song.3

Clearly integral to the song’s contemporary appeal, the alto line to “The Last Words of Copernicus” is uncredited in the 1911 Original Sacred Harp in which it first appeared in its present-day form.

Who wrote it?

Three Early Twentieth-Century Alto Parts

Joseph Stephen James, and his colleagues on the five-member “sub-committee on revision” that edited Original Sacred Harp, credit Seaborn McDaniel Denson with 327 “altos composed … and added [in] 1911” in the book’s “Summary Statement.”4 The book’s editors explicitly list Denson as alto author on many songs’ pages, but a number of additional alto parts, though uncredited, may represent his work as well. For this reason, Warren Steel suggests that “The Last Words of Copernicus” alto part, as it appeared in Original Sacred Harp, is “probably by S. M. Denson.”5

As Steel and others have shown, however, many of the alto parts Denson added to Original Sacred Harp were his arrangements or selections of alto parts published in earlier works. In particular, Denson often drew on the alto parts included in Wilson Marion Cooper’s 1902 revision of The Sacred Harp (commonly known as the “Cooper book”), and William Walker’s 1866 The Christian Harmony.

Lancaster’s “The Last Words of Copernicus” does appear, with an alto part by “Miss Minnie Floyd” (a prolific writer of alto parts) in the 1902 “Cooper book.” The song is also included, with an uncredited alto, in the “remodeled and improved” second half of James Landrum White’s 1909 The Sacred Harp: Fifth Edition, the first of three attempts by this son of Sacred Harp co-compiler Benjamin Franklin White to revise the tunebook.6

How Do the Alto Parts Line Up?

While J. L. White’s 1909 alto part and Minnie Floyd’s 1902 parts have significant differences, close comparison reveals that over 60 percent of their notes are identical.7

Miss Minnie Floyd's alto part for "The Last Words of Copernicus," included in Wilson Marion Cooper's revision of The Sacred Harp, 1902.
Miss Minnie Floyd’s alto part for “The Last Words of Copernicus,” from Cooper’s revision of The Sacred Harp, 1902.
Alto part for "The Last Words of Copernicus," as rearranged by J. L. White for his The Sacred Harp: Fifth Edition, 1909. Blue notes are identical to those identical to the notes Floyd wrote for the "Cooper book." Black notes are original to White's version.
J. L. White’s alto part for “The Last Words of Copernicus,” from his The Sacred Harp: Fifth Edition, 1909.
Blue notes are identical to the notes Floyd wrote for the “Cooper book.” Black notes are original to White’s version.

Some of these forty-seven matches seem likely to be coincidental. In other places, though, such as measures four through seven in the middle of the plain section (four through six in White’s version), and fifteen through eighteen toward the middle of the fuging section (fourteen through seventeen in White’s version), the similarities are striking, last for multiple measures, and feature unusual musical figures. It seems overwhelmingly likely, then, that White had access to a copy of Cooper’s Sacred Harp revision, and drew on Minnie Floyd’s alto part for “The Last Words of Copernicus” in fashioning his own alto part.

Among White’s deviations from Floyd is the addition of a catchy flourish at the start of the song’s fuging section. This quarter note 5-sol, three 3-la quarter notes, and second 5-sol quarter note comprises the first publication of the recognizable figure from “The Last Words of Copernicus” noted above (though to be fair White’s version is in a different key, and starts with a quarter note, rather than half note, pickup). Aside from this addition, White’s changes generally seem aimed to lower the part’s range.8

Seaborn McDaniel Denson’s alto part for the 1911 Original Sacred Harp, though presented as an addition to the three-part version of the song added to The Sacred Harp in 1870, appears to draw on both alto parts that preceded it in print.

Seaborn McDaniel Denson's alto part for "The Last Words of Copernicus," in Joseph Stephen James's Original Sacred Harp, 1911.
Seaborn McDaniel Denson’s alto part for “The Last Words of Copernicus,” in James’s Original Sacred Harp, 1911.
Blue notes are identical to the “Cooper book” version, red notes are identical to the “White book” version, and purple notes are the same in all three alto parts. Black notes are original to Denson’s version.

Only eight notes in Denson’s alto part differ from both Floyd’s and White’s alto lines. In a couple of other measures Denson’s part is original as well.9 Just about everywhere else, however, Denson’s part largely follows Floyd’s, or White’s or both.

While White’s changes lowered the alto’s range, Denson’s shift the part higher. Denson seems to have selected the higher of the two available figures from Floyd or White with few exceptions. And three of the eight notes original to Denson’s parts replace the lowest note in the other two alto parts (the 7-mi) with a higher note (the 2-sol). In including high 5-sol notes but avoiding notes below the bottom space in the G clef, these changes are consistent with other alto parts in F major that Denson contributed to James’s Original Sacred Harp.

Comparing all three parts suggests that Denson likely used both Floyd’s and White’s alto parts as models. For much of the part’s plain section (measures three through eight), Denson follows Floyd almost exactly, copying note for note the unusual figure in measures seven through eight where the part soars upwards. Yet for much of the song’s fuging section, Denson’s alto imitates White’s, particularly at the start of the fuge (measures ten through twelve) and from the song’s alto treble duet nearly to its end (measures fifteen through twenty).10 While Denson may not have composed much of the Original Sacred Harp alto part for “The Last Words of Copernicus,” he does seem to have intentionally selected from the two previously composed alto parts available to him in putting the part together.

The Last Word

Who, then, composed the alto part to “The Last Words of Copernicus” that appears in The Sacred Harp, 1991 Edition?

S. M. Denson likely stitched together pieces of the two previously published alto parts by Minnie Floyd and J. L. White, making alterations or substituting his own inventions as he saw fit. Perhaps Minnie Floyd can take credit for portions of the plain section, though its final few notes owe more to J. L. White. White’s alto part seems to have been the model for the song’s fuging section, including the much loved entrance, though White’s fuging section cribbed extensively from Floyd’s.11 The alto entrance that Springsteen sampled is most effective in Denson’s version, which retains Sarah Lancaster’s half note pickup, lengthening the high 5-sol at the start of the fuge.

In assessing Denson’s methods for adding alto parts to songs in Original Sacred Harp we might add to the three strategies already well documented,

  • composing the alto part himself,
  • copying the alto part, unchanged, from an earlier source, or
  • arranging the alto part from an earlier source, with minor—or major—modifications,

a fourth strategy,

  • piecing the alto part together from two or more earlier sources.

Should we credit Denson as the probable composer of the alto part? Our answer may tell us more about our contemporary understanding of the word “composer” than it reveals about Denson’s activities or motivations.12

A better approach might be to continue to document the range of strategies Denson employed in devising 327 alto parts during the rush to bring Original Sacred Harp to publication between 1910 and 1911. How many other alto parts in the book (if any), did Denson stitch together in this manner? Are there alto parts where Denson stitched more of his own original writing together with music from one or more precursors?

Notes

  1. Jesse P. Karlsberg, “Imagining ‘The Last Words of Copernicus,’” Country Dance and Song Society News (Winter 2013–2014): 19, http://www.cdss.org/tl_files/cdss/newsletter_archives/news/CDSS_News_winter_2013-2014_song_copernicus.pdf.
  2. An identical alto part has appeared in the various editions of Original Sacred Harp published between 1911 and 1987. Bruce Springsteen, Wrecking Ball, Columbia, March 6, 2012.
  3. Karlsberg, “Imagining ‘The Last Words of Copernicus,'” 19. See also Jesse P. Karlsberg and John Plunkett, “Bruce Springsteen’s Sacred Harp Sample,” Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter 1, no. 1 (March 28, 2012), http://originalsacredharp.com/2012/03/28/sightings-bruce-springsteens-sacred-harp-sample/.
  4. Joseph Stephen James et al., “Summary Statement,” in Joseph Stephen James et al., eds., Original Sacred Harp (Atlanta, GA: United Sacred Harp Musical Association, 1911).
  5. David Warren Steel with Richard Hulan, Makers of the Sacred Harp (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010), 194.
  6. W. M. Cooper, ed., The Sacred Harp (Dothan, AL: W. M. Cooper, 1902), 112; J. L, White, ed., The Sacred Harp (Atlanta, GA: J.L. White, 1909), part 2, 112. Thanks to John Plunkett and Sarah Kahre for reminding me of these two pre-1911 publications including four-part versions of “The Last Words of Copernicus”.
  7. Though the author of the alto part that appears in J. L. White’s The Sacred Harp: Fifth Edition is uncredited, I describe the part as White’s in this post both for the sake of simplicity and because White takes credit elsewhere for “remodeling” the book’s songs. In making this comparison I’ve ignored other changes White made to Lancaster’s song such as lowering the key from F major to E flat major; replacing pairs of half notes with dotted half notes and quarter notes; and replacing the half note, half rest, and half note at the midpoint of the plain section with two quarter notes whose durations are extended by holds.
  8. White decreased the time the alto part spends in the upper part of the alto range by replacing 5-sol and 4-fa notes with lower notes in a few cases. He seems to have been particularly concerned with replacing instances of the 4-fa notes with 1-fa or 3-la notes, perhaps creating more conventional chord voicings while also lowering the part. In measure fourteen (thirteen in White’s version), White removed a flourish from Floyd’s part and added a quarter note enabling the altos to sing the entire Doddridge hymn text.
  9. In the song’s first measure, and its ninth, for example, its contour is sufficiently distinct that the instances where individual notes are identical to those in one or both of the two other alto parts are likely incidental.
  10. For parts of each of these three sections of the song all three alto parts are the same. (See, for example, measures three, fifteen, sixteen, and twenty.) Identifying the presence of notes I’ve marked red and the absence of those marked blue around and between purple notes (or vice versa), however, is a strong indication that Denson’s model in that place was Floyd’s part (or White’s, in the case of red notes and not blue).
  11. Twenty-seven of the notes in Denson’s fuging section are shared by all three parts, and many should thus be credited to Floyd.
  12. Thanks to Warren Steel for helpful comments on how to describe Denson’s work assembling the alto part for “The Last Words of Copernicus.”

Fifth Issue of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter

We recently published volume 2, number 3 of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter. This issue includes an article I co-wrote with Mark T. Godfrey and Nathan Rees on the quantitative effect of Cold Mountain on Sacred Harp singings, an essay by Harry Eskew that I revised on William Walker’s contributions to shape-note hymnody, and a collection of letters of condolence after the death of Sacred Harp patriarch Thomas Jackson Denson that I edited. Nathan Rees and I introduced the new issue of the Newsletter as follows:

The fifth issue of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter recounts the extraordinary lives and achievements of significant figures across Sacred Harp’s history and presents new insights drawn from the minutes of Sacred Harp singings.

Our issue begins with Sacred Harp Publishing Company Executive Secretary Karen Rollins’ remembrance of the four 2013 recipients of posthumous citations from the company: Harrison Creel, Jerry Enright, Lonnie Rogers, and George Seiler. Two additional pieces focus on one of the first recipients of a Publishing Company citation, singing school teacher, composer, and Publishing Company co-founder Thomas Jackson Denson. Company President Michael Hinton recounts family stories about “Uncle Tom” Denson, his grandfather, and introduces an account by Denson’s son Howard of his father’s last lesson, at the 1935 United convention. Another article collects letters of condolence written by prominent singers to T. J.’s other son, Paine, in the wake of Denson’s death. Harry Eskew recounts the contributions of nineteenth-century composer, arranger, and songbook editor William Walker, and in an excerpt from a 1964 speech, Hugh McGraw addresses some common criticisms of Sacred Harp singing and describes the state of the tradition in the mid-1960s. Turning to the present, Cheyenne Ivey contributes an account of the eventful trip twenty-two Sacred Harp singers made to Washington, D.C. this fall to join 2013 NEA National Heritage Fellow David Ivey in a celebratory concert. Two additional articles mine the Minutes of Sacred Harp Singings. Nathan Rees shares the story of M. B. Forbes and his harmonica, and Jesse P. Karlsberg, Mark T. Godfrey, and Nathan Rees draw on minutes data from 1995–2013 to measure the effect of Cold Mountain on our singings.

We invite you to leave comments on these new articles and to write us with your feedback and suggestions of topics for the future.

Vol. 2, No. 3 Contents

“Imagining ‘The Last Words of Copernicus'” in the CDSS News

A short article of mine on the history of Sarah Lancaster’s song “The Last Words of Copernicus” appears in the Winter 2013 issue of the CDSS News. The essay provides context for the song, touching on the composition of its hymn text by Philip Doddridge, Lancaster’s life as a composer, the addition of an alto part in the early twentieth century, and the song’s subsequent life in the popular imagination thanks to the dissemination of a recording by Alan Lomax later sampled in a hit song by Bruce Springsteen.

Fourth Issue of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter

The recently-published fourth issue of The Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter leads off with Sacred Harp Publishing Company President Mike Hinton’s story about the items tucked into the Bible of his aunt, beloved Sacred Harp singer Ruth Denson Edwards (1893–1978). Buell Cobb shares memories of singings at the Cullman County Courthouse, and an article reprinted from the January 1986 issue of the National Sacred Harp Newsletter features Lonnie Rogers’s and Joyce Walton’s account of a bus trip to the 1985 New England Convention. Another article reprinted from the same issue of the National Newsletter shares Raymond Hamrick’s findings on how singers pitch Sacred Harp music. We have paired it with a new introduction by Ian Quinn, who has recently conducted an extensive study on the same subject. Reports on Sacred Harp singing today in this issue of the Newsletter include Justyna Orlikowska’s account of a month-long trip that took her to the Ireland, Western Massachusetts, and Georgia State Conventions; an essay by Rachel Hall on the making of The Shenandoah Harmony; and an account of the informative and death-defying trip Jason Stanford took to a singing school in South Georgia with Hugh McGraw and Charlene Wallace.

Vol. 2, No. 2 Contents:

“Douglasville” and “Wilscot” in The Shenandoah Harmony

Cover of The Shenandoah Harmony.

Two songs of mine, “Douglasville” and “Wilscot,” are included in The Shenandoah Harmony, a four-shape shape-note tunebook published in early 2013.

Edited by a group of eight singers from Boston and the Mid-Atlantic States, this new tunebook was originally imagined by its compilers as “a collection of songs compiled, printed, and published by Ananias Davisson from 1816 to 1826 in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia,” The music committee ultimately “decided to make a book suitable for all-day singing” and so sought out a larger and broader array of compositions. My two songs are among sixty-eight newly-composed songs in the tunebook. The bulk of the 480-page book features music drawn from shape-note tunebooks published in the Mid-Atlantic states in the first half of the nineteenth century, supplemented by large numbers of earlier New England compositions, and later southern ones.1

Though more weighted toward minor music than The Sacred Harp, my two songs in The Shenandoah Harmony are major fuging tunes. I wrote “Douglasville” in March 2008 while on a trip to Georgia with Aldo Ceresa for the Hoboken annual singing and the Georgia State Convention. Inspired by the early-twentieth-century fuging tunes of T. J. and S. M. Denson, and their children Paine, and S. Whitt, the song features an F major key, Common Meter Double text, and limited chordal palette. Though its three separate fuge entrances create some textural interest, the song is among the most conventional I’ve composed. The song was first sung at in April 2008 at the Potomoc River Convention’s “new traditions singing,” where the alto class—a group that included future Shenandoah Harmony music committee member Nora Miller—was particularly enthusiastic about their part.

I wrote “Wilscot” a month later, during the last day of a two-week residency at the Sustainable Arts Society in Blue Ridge, Georgia in April of 2008 and named it for Wilscot, Georgia, a nearby town. I’d continued to experiment writing Denson-style fuging tunes during the stay and this song mixed the idiom with somewhat less conventional chords and ranges. I introduced a larger than usual number of sol-(mi)-sol (V) chords and transplanted the style from its F/Eb major home to A major. I first heard the song at the home of George and Jean Seiler at a social following the June 2008 New York Regional Singing in Albany.

Notes

  1. Rachel Wells Hall, “The Making of The Shenandoah Harmony,” Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter 2, no. 2 (July 2013), http://originalsacredharp.com/2013/07/29/the-making-of-the-shenandoah-harmony/.