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. ↩
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.” ↩
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.
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.
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.
In 1950 and later “Cooper book” editions through the 2012 edition a new song titled “The Christian’s Home” appears on this page.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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
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.
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?
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. ↩
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. ↩
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/. ↩
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). ↩
David Warren Steel with Richard Hulan, Makers of the Sacred Harp (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010), 194. ↩
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”. ↩
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. ↩
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. ↩
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. ↩
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). ↩
Twenty-seven of the notes in Denson’s fuging section are shared by all three parts, and many should thus be credited to Floyd. ↩
Thanks to Warren Steel for helpful comments on how to describe Denson’s work assembling the alto part for “The Last Words of Copernicus.” ↩
In my essay I situate the first Ireland Convention in the context of the establishment of Sacred Harp conventions outside the southeastern United States over the past four decades and describe how the Cork convention (like the New England Convention and other relatively new conventions) was founded thanks to influences from academic and traditional channels, was a revelatory emotional experiences for many who attended, and precipitated reciprocal travel among new groups of singers. As is the case with all of my research on Sacred Harp singing, writing and researching this essay was a moving experience.
My fieldwork for this article took me not just to Ireland, but to new digital spaces where Sacred Harp singers from across Europe and the United States are meeting and conversing about their singing experiences. In the wake of the Ireland Convention Irish, English, Polish, and American Sacred Harp singers took to Facebook to effuse about the Cork convention. I cited several of these comments in my essay, but in the wake of the convention my Facebook wall and the Cork Sacred Harp Facebook page overflowed with moving reflections.
Now, a year after the convention, Facebook groups continue to loom large in my research. Posts on the Sacred Harp Singers of Cork and Sacred Harp in Poland pages leave traces of the strengthening connections between singers from these places and newer groups in Germany and elsewhere in Ireland. These Facebook groups are sites of negotiation where singers try to fit their own understandings of religious faith, community activity, and music with the body of traditions associated with Sacred Harp singing for which they themselves feel compelled to advocate. Just as the National Sacred Harp Newsletter in the 1980s and 1990s, and the Fasola listservs in the 1990s and 2000s, facilitated the expansion of Sacred Harp singing across the United States,1 Facebook has become the tool of choice for facilitating the spread of Sacred Harp across Europe in the 2010s.
The fieldnotes I took in preparation for writing my Southern Spaces essay include my reflections on the singing school and singing sessions themselves and the time I spent with other singers in pubs around Cork. They quote conversations I had with singers in these spaces as well as on Facebook and Google chat in the wake of the convention. My tone is impassive at the start of the singing. I focus on describing the event with a clear eye toward any perceived divergences from traditional practice, or any emblems of a Cork singing style. As the singing continues, however, the tenor of my fieldnotes shifts as I become engrossed in the revalatory experience Alice Maggio described in her post-convention blog post.2 I write of my critical faculties being lost, and of feeling genuinely overwhelmed with love for my new singing friends.
In my fieldnotes I am revealed as an ethnographer but also as a participant. I express the same feelings of love and connection to new singing friends that singers expressed on Facebook and at the pubs at which we lingered until late in the night on Sunday, hoping to delay the conclusion of the weekend for another hour. In Traveling Home: Sacred Harp Singing and American Pluralism Kiri Miller writes of how all Sacred Harp singers behave like ethnographers to a certain extent.3 Certainly since the first secretary of a Sacred Harp convention recorded minutes singers have attempted to preserve a record of their gatherings. In the first half of the twentieth century Sacred Harp singers such as J.S. James and Earl Thurman attempted to document the early history of The Sacred Harp.4 From the 1960s through the present numerous singers have brought portable recording devices to singings in an attempt to capture what they experienced. Singers have related to these documents both as overwhelmed lovers of Sacred Harp singing and as scholars, attempting to account for their experiences and understand their importance. As a researcher thoroughly committed to my participation in the Sacred Harp singing tradition I attempt to understand and situate, this dual desire can sometimes feel distorting and dangerous. Yet at other moments, as during the research and writing of “To Meet To Part No More,” the tension between these two modes can enrich my experience, enjoyment, and understanding.