Nathan Rees has posted a recording of the 110th annual convention of the United Sacred Harp Musical Association that we held in Atlanta last weekend. The convention drew an audience of more than two hundred singers and listeners from the Atlanta area, fourteen states across the country, as well as singers from Ireland and Germany.

A particularly strong and lively pair of songs from the after-dinner session on Sunday are “Montgomery” (p. 189 in The Sacred Harp, led by Ted Mercer from Chicago) and “Panting for Heaven” (p. 384, led by Coy Ivey from Henagar, AL, father of David Ivey, recipient this year of the NEA’s National Heritage Award). Or, for something slower, you could listen to Lauren and me bringing the class back to order for the last hour of the day on Sunday singing “Devotion” (p. 48t).

Thanks to all who worked to make the convention a success. Next year’s convention will be held at Union Missionary Baptist Church, west of Warrior, Alabama.

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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!

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United Sacred Harp Musical Convention Returns to Atlanta

The Atlanta Sacred Harp singing community warmly invites you to join us this weekend, September 7–8, 2013, at Church of Our Saviour in the Virginia Highlands neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia for the 110th annual convention of the United Sacred Harp Musical Association (USHMA).

United Sacred Harp Musical Association Poster.

United Sacred Harp Musical Association Poster.

Sacred Harp singing is a “shape note” a cappella hymn-singing tradition based on a book called The Sacred Harp (published in 1844) using a system designed around 1800 to make reading music as accessible as possible to the general public. The USHMA was founded in Atlanta in 1904 by Joseph Stephen James, a state senator and magistrate, and James Landrum White, a prominent singing school teacher and son of the compiler of The Sacred Harp. The USHMA attracted thousands of attendees in the early twentieth century when the convention was held at the old Baptist Tabernacle (now re-purposed as a popular music venue in downtown Atlanta) and later the Atlanta Municipal Auditorium and was attended by officials such as former Atlanta Mayor I. N. Ragsdale. In the aftermath of World War II, Sacred Harp singing became less popular in the urban South and the United convention moved from the city to rural venues in Georgia and Alabama, where it has persisted out of the spotlight for over a half century. Now, in the twenty-first century, a resurgence of interest in Sacred Harp singing in Atlanta and far beyond has brought the convention back to its home for the first time since 1956. This weekend metro-Atlanta area singers will be joined by visitors from across the United States, and several European countries for what we hope will be one of the biggest and best opportunities to experience Sacred Harp singing in Atlanta in recent years.

Facebook Event Page

Schedule: The convention will meet at 9:30 am on Saturday September 7 and 10:00 am on Sunday September 8. We will sing until about 2:30 and break for dinner on the grounds at noon on both days. Jesse P. Karlsberg and Lauren Bock will host a dessert social at their home at 318 Arizona Avenue NE, Atlanta, Georgia, from 7:00–10:00 pm on Saturday.

Location and DirectionsChurch of Our Saviour, 1068 North Highland Avenue Atlanta, GA 30306.

Officers: David Ivey, Chair; Matt Hinton, Vice-Chair; Nora Parker, Secretary; Roberta Strauss, Chaplain.

Please consider joining us this weekend for the United Sacred Harp Musical Association. Contact us with any questions. We look forward to singing with you.

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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:

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“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.


  1. Rachel Wells Hall, “The Making of The Shenandoah Harmony,” Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter 2, no. 2 (July 2013),
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Congratulations to David Ivey on his receipt of an NEA National Heritage Fellowship. David Ivey, co-founder with Jeff Sheppard of Camp Fasola, and member of the committee that revised the 1991 Edition of The Sacred Harp, is also secretary of the Sacred Harp Musical Heritage Association. David Ivey is the third Sacred Harp singer to be honored as a National Heritage Fellow and is the first since 1983, when Dewey Williams received the award in its second year. Hugh McGraw, Executive Secretary Emeritus of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company, and head of the 1991 Edition’s music committee, received the award in 1982.

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New Issue of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter: Volume 2, Number 1

The new third issue of The Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter documents an important chapter in the continuing spread of Sacred Harp singing beyond North America, with singing reports on three Sacred Harp singing events held in Europe last September and on the first Australian All-Day Singing, held last October. Features in this issue of the Newsletter examine how aspects of Sacred Harp music promote the goals of harmony and unity through singing together, tell the story of the Beginner’s Guide to Shape-Note Singing, and relate new findings about Sacred Harp’s early history.

Vol. 2, No. 1 Contents:

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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!

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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.

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My tune “Akerman” is included in the latest issue of The Trumpet. I wrote “Akerman” as a present for Laura Akerman in recognition of her thirty-five years at Emory. With help from John Plunkett, Sarah Ward, and Mark Godfrey, I selected a text titled “The books of nature and of scripture,” which we felt might be appropriate for a librarian, and incorporated some musical characteristics of Laura’s favorite compositions.

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