Hamrick imparted to his music a distinctive voice that recalls the earliest American composers while embracing a fluid melodic style and expansive chordal palette all its own. He wrote hundreds of shape-note songs across a sixty-year period, contributing some of the most popular and well-loved songs to The Sacred Harp, and consenting to have some 179 of his songs published in two editions of The Georgian Harmony. Hamrick’s singing voice was renowned, an accurate bass singer with a warm and round tone. Hamrick harbored an unquenchable curiosity—he collected rare tunebooks, studied the history of the tradition’s songs and composers, and asked and answered questions about the music’s practices in the groundbreaking articles he wrote for Sacred Harp newsletters and scholarly journals. Hamrick was a gracious and generous mentor and a friend to many. He shared his knowledge of Sacred Harp’s history, his insight into composition, and his thoughtful opinions with singers young and old over decades.
My essay on Hamrick, who was a mentor to me, serving “as a gracious and humble model for combining enthusiasm for Sacred Harp singing and composing with research into its history and practices,” as I noted in my dissertation’s acknowledgments, appeared in the Newsletter‘s first special issue.
Hamrick’s unique dedication to studying and writing about Sacred Harp history and practices has largely escaped singers’ attention and was invisible to scholars unwittingly building on the foundations established by his research. I’m excited that this special issue brings Hamrick’s writings together in a single place, and grateful to have had the opportunity to draw attention to his fascinating findings and to his spirit as a person. I am also grateful to the large team of volunteers, Hamrick family members, and librarians and editors, named in my introduction, who made this issue possible.
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[.]
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.
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.
Last Friday Nathan Rees and I presented on the Sacred Harp Museum’s new digitization and presentation efforts at the Association for Recorded Sound Collections conference in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The Sacred Harp Publishing Company board’s museum committee, established in 2011, is drawing on the museum’s historically strong connections to the international population of Sacred Harp singers. These singers both contributed the bulk of the museum’s collection and are the museum’s primary audience. The museum committee seeks to simultaneously encourage new donations, facilitate the digitization and preservation of the museum’s collection, and undertake new efforts to render the collection accessible. In our presentation, “Curating a Crowd-sourced Collection: Engaging Community at the Sacred Harp Museum,” Nathan and I focused on three projects to increase access to the museum’s collection:
Online exhibitions: Nathan Rees is curating a new exhibition on the first National Sacred Harp Singing Convention, which will be launched on the Sacred Harp Museum’s website to coincide with the thirty-fifth National Convention this June. The exhibit draws on the Museum’s collection and new interviews with Sacred Harp singers, to document the motivations behind the founding of the convention, and its structure—modeled on the earliest nineteenth-century conventions, yet reflective of the transformed 1980 Sacred Harp landscape.
The Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter: The Newsletter, which I edit, assisted by Nathan, publishes both newly written accounts of Sacred Harp singings and singers, new research into Sacred Harp’s history by contemporary singers and scholars, and newly digitized historical documents drawn from the museum’s collection. Some of our most compelling articles have paired historical documents with writing from contemporary singers who experienced the events discussed, or who are undertaking projects now that relate to the older articles.
Oral History interviews: I’ve been conducting interviews with Sacred Harp singers across Alabama, Georgia, and Texas this spring as a Berea College Sound Archives Fellow, assisted by Nathan Rees, Lauren Bock, and Richard Ivey. These discussions have focused on interviewees earliest memories of singings, senses of how singings have changed over the course of their lives, and thoughts about what their participation in Sacred Harp singing has meant to them. These interviews have inspired us to launch a Sacred Harp oral history project, aimed at collecting copies of recordings of interviews with Sacred Harp singers conducted in the past, and encouraging singers to record new interviews with singers in their areas. We hope to officially launch this new project this summer.
The Association for Recorded Sound Collections conference was a great place to present on this work, and to learn about best practices for digitization, preservation, and access on a shoestring budget. I attended a pre-conference workshop called “All Things Digital: Managing Digital Audio Collections”—an opportunity to learn more about how to approach better preserving the Sacred Harp Museum’s collection. Nathan and I also benefited immensely from conversations with conference attendees from government agencies such as the Library of Congress and Smithsonian Institution, numerous university libraries and archives, and record companies. Michael Graves of Osiris Studio, an audio engineer who is presently digitizing twenty-two reel-to-reel tapes in the Sacred Harp Museum’s collection, was also present. We are in the earliest stages of this work toward better preserving the museum’s collection and making it accessible. It was invigorating discuss this work with such a supportive and informed audience.
The Sacred Harp Publishing Company recently published the latest issue of the Newsletter. The issue includes my and company executive secretary Karen Rollins’s tributes to 2014 posthumous citation award recipients Jeff and Shelbie Sheppard. I also contributed a short introduction to a 1965 essay by music educator Irving Wolfe on George Pullen Jackson’s contributions to Sacred Harp. Nathan Rees and I introduced this issue of the Newsletter as follows:
The sixth issue of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter features stories about key figures and events from Sacred Harp’s history and celebrates the Sacred Harp Museum’s rich collection of songbooks, papers, and recordings.
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.
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.
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.
The new second issue of The Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter features Chloe Webb’s fascinating account of the life of Lorraine Miles McFarland, the girl depicted on the cover of Awake, My Soul as well as a preview of the forthcoming shape note songbook the Shenandoah Harmony. A special section of this issue is a selection of reports on each of the five all-day singings and conventions held on the fifth Sunday this past April (and the Saturday before).