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.” ↩
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.
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.
On Thursday I gave a talk at Berea College’s Appalachian Sound Archives about the research I’ve conducted as a Sound Archives Fellow. My talk, “Race, Place, and Tunebook Revision: Researching Sacred Harp’s Twentieth Century Transformations as a Berea Appalachian Sounds Archives Fellow,” drew on my work with materials in the sound archives documenting black Sacred Harp singing in southeastern Alabama in the late 1960s and oral history interviews I’ve conducted as a fellow with members of families with long histories of participation in Sacred Harp singing from Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas. My talk drew on examples from both sets of material to describe how folklorists’ aesthetic and economic/occupational priorities often differed from those of their subjects.
The talk was well attended by a crowd of Berea College faculty and students as well as local Sacred Harp singers. I was particularly delighted to meet friends and colleagues of William H. Tallmadge (1916–2004), the music scholar whose field recordings and interviews with black Sacred Harp singers in 1968 I was discussing. Many thanks to Harry Rice, John Bondurant, and the staff of the Sound Archives for their help during my time as a fellow and for their work promoting the talk.
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.
On Saturday March 15 I moderated a panel discussion in Columbiana, Alabama, on Sacred Harp music. The event was part of a daylong program called “We’ll All Sing Hallelujah” celebrating the opening of Sacred Sounds of Alabama, a new traveling exhibition created by the Alabama Folklife Association. The panel featured an esteemed and varied group of Alabama and Mississippi Sacred Harp singers, teachers, and authors:
I asked the singers on the panel about how they became involved in Sacred Harp singing, what Sacred Harp singing means to them and why they choose to participate, how the style has changed over the course of their involvement, and what they imagine the future holds for Sacred Harp. The panelists spoke openly and with great feeling about their involvement in Sacred Harp singing. I’m grateful to them for their participation.
“We’ll All Sing Hallelujah: Sacred Sounds of Alabama” was sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, Alabama Council on the Arts, Alabama Humanities Foundation, and the “Support the Arts” car tag fund. Thanks to Alabama Folklife Association executive director Mary Allison Haynie for her work organizing the event, and to Nathan Rees, who chaired the day’s talks and introduced the participants in our panel.
I spent an exhilarating and productive four days this past weekend at the annual meeting of the Society for American Music (SAM) in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I presented a paper at the conference titled “Shifting Racial Imaginaries in the Folklorization of Black Sacred Harp Singers from Southeastern Alabama.”1 In it I analyzed May 1968 interviews between white Buffalo, New York, music scholar William Tallmadge and black Ozark, Alabama, Sacred Harp singers Thomas Y. Lawrence and Dewey President Williams. I argued that the preconceptions of these three people represented (uneven) shifts in the racial imagination since George Pullen Jackson had interacted exclusively with white Sacred Harp singers a generation earlier.
I was thrilled to meet Doris J. Dyen and Deane L. Root at the conference, and especially grateful for their presence at my session. Dyen and Root conducted extensive fieldwork with the same group of black Sacred Harp singers in southeastern Alabama just a few years after Tallmadge visited and shared their memories and insights during the question and answer period after I delivered my paper.2 My session also featured Florida State musicology doctoral candidate Sarah Kahre, who presented a fascinating paper on what revisions of the tune “Boylston” in different editions of The Sacred Harp tell us about revisers’ priorities. Nikos Pappas, assistant professor of music at the University of Alabama, served as a gracious and effective session chair.
Other highlights of the SAM conference included singing with southeastern Pennsylvania Sacred Harp singing friends Oliver Kindig-Stokes, Ted Stokes, Ruth Wampler, and Tom Tucker, among others, at the SAM singing; good conversation with too many friends, old and new, to name; a memorable evening program featuring the music of seven Anabaptist groups; and a tasty dinner at the world’s largest Smorgasbord! I look forward to continuing to develop the ideas I presented, and to many more SAM conferences to come.
This paper represented my first attempt at drawing on the research I conducted as a Sound Archives Fellow at Berea College in January. I’m thankful to the college’s Appalachian Sound Archives staff, especially Harry Rice and John Bondurant, for their support. I’m just as thankful to Kent Gilbert, who housed me during my stay in Berea, and to Meredith Doster, Nathan Rees, and Alan Pike, who offered feedback on an earlier draft of the paper. ↩
This past Thursday I participated in an enjoyable opening plenary session at the Music Library Association‘s 2014 annual meeting, held in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood. Joyce Clinkscales, Emory’s music librarian, organized and chaired our session. After Joyce’s introduction Nathan Rees and I each presented papers. My paper, “The Publishing History of The Sacred Harp: Tunebook Revision and Musical Culture,” introduced attendees to Sacred Harp singing and its history before discussing the tunebook’s editions and some tips on distinguishing among them. I’ve posted write-ups of these tips—on identifying editions by examining front covers and title pages or page 37—to this website. Nathan’s excellent paper considered how Sacred Harp singers express identity and ideology the visual culture of Sacred Harp singing, in particular, its shape notes and the hollow square.
After Nathan and I took questions from the convention attendees, I gave an abbreviated lesson on how to sing Sacred Harp music. Then, for the remainder of the session, we sang from The Sacred Harp. In addition to the four-hundred plus music librarians present, Nathan and I were helped by twenty Atlanta-area Sacred Harp singers, who were generous enough to give up much of their Thursday morning to participate in the plenary session. The conference attendees were among the most enthusiastic group of newcomers I’ve encountered (indeed, a number had run across and even sung Sacred Harp music previously). We were able to sing nine songs from The Sacred Harp before the session concluded: “New Britain” (p. 45t in The Sacred Harp), “Old Hundred” (p. 49t), “The Golden Harp” (p. 274t), “Northfield” (p. 155), “Beech Spring” (p. 81t), “Canaan’s Land” (p. 101t), “Mear” (p. 49b), “Reynolds” (p. 225t), and “Lloyd” (p. 503). In addition to including mostly easier tunes and a few familiar melodies, our selections featured prominent Georgia contributors to The Sacred Harp, both past (B. F. White, E. J. King, and J. P. Rees) and present (Hugh McGraw and Raymond C. Hamrick).
Thanks to Joyce and Nathan for an enjoyable session, to the organizers of the conference for their support, and—most of all—to the Sacred Harp singers who made the event such a success: Laura Akerman, Amy Armstrong, Hayden Taylor Arp, Daniel Bass, Lisa Bennett, Lauren Bock, Ellen Cullpepper, Gail Denney, Philip Denney, Jeannette DePoy, Scott DePoy, Jim Neal, Erin Mills, John Plunkett, Chris Sawula, David Smead, Michael Spencer, Christine Tweedy, Eric Tweedy, and Charles Woods.
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.”