I’ve had some great opportunities this fall to start thinking through the research I’ve been conducting in connection with my dissertation project and to get feedback on my work from colleagues.
In October I traveled to the American Folklore Society annual meeting in Providence, Rhode Island, where I presented a paper on the sometimes fraught relationships between Sacred Harp singers and the folklorists who have studied and promoted their music. My paper, titled “Folklorization and Sustainability in the Twentieth-Century Spread of Sacred Harp Singing,” recounted the style’s folklorization during the twentieth century and then assessed how two twenty-first-century efforts to spread Sacred Harp singing1 cultivated particular audiences and examined how sustainable these efforts have been.
In November I participated in the Atlanta Graduate Student Conference on U.S. History held at Emory University. My paper, “Modernity and Historicization in Joseph Stephen James’s Original Sacred Harp (1911),” examined the circumstances leading to James’s 1911 revision of the nineteenth-century Sacred Harp tunebook. I argued that James sought to both modernize the book so that it better aligned with his vision of a “New South” and to historicize it so that it stood for noble, Christian values James associated with his past and worried might be lost in the shift from rural to urban and antebellum to postbellum. I was grateful for to my session’s respondent Scott L. Matthews, a lecturer in history at Georgia State University who studies documentary expression in the U.S. South.
Later in November I presented a paper as part of a session I organized for the American Studies Association annual meeting titled “Folklorization on the National Mall: Representations of Culture through the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.” My co-panelists Virginia Myhaver, Olivia Cadaval, and Diana Baird N’Diaye presented papers that differently interrogated the interactions between curators, presenters, interpreters, and audience members at Smithsonian Festivals from the 1970s to the 2010s. William S. Walker, author of A Living Exhibition: The Smithsonian and the Transformation of the Universal Museum (University of Massachusetts Press, 2013), who has presented and written extensively on the Smithsonian Institution, offered insightful feedback on the papers. My paper, “Participation on Folklore’s Terms: Sacred Harp Singing at the 1970 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife,” focused on an evening performance by two groups of Sacred Harp singers—one black, the other white—at the 1970 folklife festival. I analyzed how folklorization conditioned the singers’ presentation and reception, and assessed how the two groups approached their appearance and were later affected by it.
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.
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.
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.
I’ll be teaching this summer at both the adult- and youth-emphasis sessions of Camp Fasola. My classes this year include sessions on leading (with Judy Caudle and Cassie Allen), composing, the role of the arranging committee in Sacred Harp, and the rudiments of music (I’ll be teaching rudiments at the youth session of camp with Lauren Bock). Camp Fasola—Adult Emphasis will be held June 10–14 in Double Springs, Alabama. Camp Fasola—Youth Emphasis will be held July 2–6 in Anniston, Alabama.
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.