“Regional Roots” and “Seasonal Songs” in the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter

Cath Tyler leads at a Sacred Harp singing in Utrecth, The Netherlands, August 30, 2015. Photograph by Jesse P. Karlsberg.
Cath Tyler leads at a Sacred Harp singing in Utrecth, The Netherlands, August 30, 2015. Photograph by Jesse P. Karlsberg.

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[.]

Bobby Watkins and son Taylor sport seasonal outfits at the 2014 Henagar-Union Convention. Photograph by Martha Beverley.
Bobby Watkins and son Taylor sport seasonal outfits at the 2014 Henagar-Union Convention. Photograph by Martha Beverley.

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.

Vol. 4, No. 2 Contents

Fall Presentations on Sacred Harp and Digital Publishing Platforms

This fall I’m presenting internationally on Sacred Harp singings geography, history, racial politics, and contemporary relationship to the past. I’m also speaking on Southern Spacess newly redesigned Drupal-based website and on Readux, Emory’s new platform for reading and annotating digitized books and publishing digital critical editions.

Jesse P. Karlsberg introduces Sacred Harp's history at the Festival Oudiemuziek Utrecht, in the Netherlands, August 30, 2015.
Jesse P. Karlsberg introduces Sacred Harp’s history at the Festival Oudemuziek Utrecht, in the Netherlands, August 30, 2015.

In late August I traveled to Utrecht, in the Netherlands, to give a pair of presentations on Sacred Harp’s history and the relationship of contemporary singers to that past. My talk “Resonance and Reinvention: Sounding Historical Practice in Sacred Harp’s Global Twenty-First Century” at the Stichting voor Muziekhistorische Uitvoeringspraktijk [Foundation for Historical Musical Performance Practice] described frames of folk and early music applied to Sacred Harp singing have affected contemporary singers’ and performing ensembles’ conceptions of the style’s aesthetics. This symposium is held each year in conjunction with the Festival Oudemuziek Utrecht, a large international early music festival. The festival this year featured a Sacred Harp singing school taught by Cath Tyler of Newcastle, United Kingdom, and an all-day singing, the first in the Netherlands. In addition to participating in the singing, I gave a short talk on Sacred Harp’s history and geography to complement Cath’s singing school.

Festival organizers invited black and white groups of Sacred Harp singers to sing together at the 1970 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife in Washington, DC. Photograph by Joe Dan Boyd, courtesy of the Alabama Council for Traditional Arts.
Festival organizers invited black and white groups of Sacred Harp singers to sing together at the 1970 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife in Washington, DC. Photograph by Joe Dan Boyd, courtesy of the Alabama Council for Traditional Arts.

In October and November I’ll give two additional talks on Sacred Harp’s history, here centered on interactions between folklorists and Sacred Harp singers in the field and at folk festivals. In “Separate but Equal?: Civil Rights on Stage at Sacred Harp Folk Festival Performances, 1964–1970” at the American Studies Association in Toronto, Canada, part of a session I organized on “Race and Resistance in the Folklorization and Reappropriation of Musical Cultures of Struggle,” I’ll describe how folk festival organizers drew on ideas about the civil rights and folk music movements when deciding how to program Sacred Harp singers at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival and the 1970 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife, and will speak about how these concerns differed from singers’ own priorities. Later, at the Alabama Folklife Association’s Fall into Folklife symposium, I’ll speak about Alan Lomax’s relationship to Sacred Harp singing, focusing on the recordings that emerged from his visit to 1959 United Sacred Harp Musical Association in Fyffe, Alabama, and the encounter’s influence on Sacred Harp singing ever since.

Long Cane Baptist Church, a possible site of the 1845 first Sacred Harp convention, features a balcony in which enslaved African Americans sat after entering the church through a separate, then-outdoor staircase.
Long Cane Baptist Church in LaGrange, Georgia, a possible site of the 1845 first Sacred Harp convention, features a balcony in which enslaved African Americans sat after entering the church through a separate, then-outdoor staircase.

One final talk on Sacred Harp singing, at the American Academy of Religion meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, illuminates a little-told chapter of Sacred Harp’s racial history. In “The Black in ‘White Spirituals,'” I detail the racial politics and musical landscape of the nineteenth-century West Georgia setting in which the Sacred Harp’s compilers lived and worked. I argue that revival choruses, the song form most characteristic of the editions of The Sacred Harp edited in this region, emerged from the mixed-race religious context of early nineteenth century camp meetings, and may have reached the ears of Sacred Harp contributors sung by enslaved African Americans.

Home page of the redesigned Southern Spaces site. Screen capture courtesy of Southern Spaces.
Home page of the redesigned Southern Spaces site. Screen capture courtesy of Southern Spaces.

I’ll also give three presentations this fall on new digital platforms I’ve helped develop for open access journal and scholarly edition publishing. In presentations at the Digital Library Federation in Vancouver, Canada (with Sarah Melton), and at Drupalcamp Atlanta (with Daniel Hansen), I’ll detail the Drupal 7–based platform for scholarly journal publishing developed for Southern Spaces in conjunction with Sevaa Group, Inc., a project I oversaw as the journal’s managing editor. I’ll also speak at Emory University’s Currents in Research lecture series on the Readux platform’s value for editing and publishing annotated facsimile digital scholarly editions.

The Georgia Roots Music Festival and the “Georgia Harmonies” Traveling Exhibition

Cover of booklet for "Georgia Harmonies: Celebrating Georgia Roots Music," 2012. Booklet designed by Debby Holcombe. Image courtesy of the Center for Public History, University of West Georgia.
Cover of booklet for “Georgia Harmonies: Celebrating Georgia Roots Music,” 2012. Booklet designed by Debby Holcombe. Image courtesy of the Center for Public History, University of West Georgia.

In June 2012 I wrote for the Southern Spaces Blog about the opening of “Georgia Harmonies,” a two year traveling exhibition organized by the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum on Main Street program in collaboration with the Georgia Humanities Council. In the blog post, I describe how “the exhibit focuse[d] on the connections between musical cultures and place.” In addition to a small museum exhibition, “Georgia Harmonies” included a variety of “[e]vents and performances at each of the small towns at which the exhibit stop[ped] featur[ing] musics with historical ties to the town and region, and present-day roots in the area,” including several Sacred Harp singings.1

On Saturday I organized a Sacred Harp singing for the concluding event of the touring exhibition, a day-long “Georgia Roots Music Festival” at the Woodruff Arts Center in downtown Atlanta. After an introduction by Jared Wright of the Center for Public History at the University of West Georgia, I taught a brief singing school, which led into an hour-long singing. Thirty-five Sacred Harp singers from across Georgia (with a little help from Tennessee) were joined by over one hundred festival attendees for what turned out to be quite a strong singing.

Micah Roberts leads during the Sacred Harp singing at the Georgia Roots Music Festival, Woodruff Arts Center, Atlanta, Georgia, January 18, 2014. Photograph by Sam Culpepper.
Micah Roberts leads during the Sacred Harp singing at the Georgia Roots Music Festival, Woodruff Arts Center, Atlanta, Georgia, January 18, 2014. Photograph by Sam Culpepper.
Jesse P. Karlsberg and Lauren Bock teach a singing school at Long Cane Baptist Church, near LaGrange, Georgia, October 27, 2014.
Jesse P. Karlsberg and Lauren Bock teach a singing school at Long Cane Baptist Church, near LaGrange, Georgia, October 27, 2014. Photograph by Ann Gray.

In addition to introducing Sacred Harp singing to Georgians across the state, “Georgia Harmonies” events proved engaging to the Sacred Harp singers who participated. As I wrote for the Southern Spaces Blog, the events led white Sacred Harp singers “to meet, share histories, and compare and contrast our musical practices” with participants in the a black shape-note gospel singing style called “note singing.” Exhibition events also brought singers to locations with historical or civic importance, ranging from the Woodruff Arts Center (Atlanta’s premier arts institution) to the Long Cane Baptist Church near LaGrange (which J. L. White identified in 1920 as the site of the first Sacred Harp convention in 1845), where Lauren Bock and I taught a singing school in conjunction with another of the exhibition’s stops.

Notes

  1. Public Sacred Harp singings were held in conjunction with the Calhoun, Perry, Waycross, and LaGrange tour stops. The Bremen stop included a concert featuring West Georgia shape-note singing styles, among them Sacred Harp singing. The LaGrange stop’s singing was preceded by a singing school I co-taught with Lauren Bock.

Upcoming Singing Schools

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!

Sacred Harp Singing School at the Cameron Art Museum, Wilmington, North Carolina

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!

Talk on Sacred Harp Singing at Kennesaw State University

This Tuesday from 12:30–1:45 pm I’ll be giving a talk on Sacred Harp singing and its history, followed by a short singing school, for the Canterbury Club at Kennesaw State University. Please contact me if you’re interested in attending.

Singing School at the Pacific Northwest Sacred Harp Convention

Lauren Bock and I will be teaching a singing school in Portland, Oregon on October 20 at the Fall session of the Pacific Northwest Sacred Harp Convention. Our singing school will focus on the importance of listening while singing and will touch on accent, leading, and aspects of singing style. The Pacific Northwest Convention is free and open to the public. Come see us later this month in Oregon.

Singing School at North Georgia College and State University

I’ve been invited by the Rev. Dr. Barry Whittemore to teaching a singing school on October 3 for his seminar on the history of religion in Appalachia at North Georgia College and State University in Dahlonega, Georgia. The singing school will be held from 5:30–8:00 at the Georgia Mountains Unitarian Universalist Church. All are welcome to attend.

Camp Fasola Summer Sessions

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.

Singing School at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy

Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy Singing School
Poster for the Screening, Singing School, and All-Day Singing.

On April 13–14 I will join Matt and Erica Hinton, co-directors of the movie Awake My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp, at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy in Melbourne Florida for a weekend of Sacred Harp singing including a singing school, screening of the Hintons’ film, and all-day singing.

The weekend will begin with the film screening, followed by a question and answer session with the filmmakers, on Friday morning. In the evening, I will lead a singing school, teaching the rudiments of Sacred Harp singing to students at the Academy and interested members of the public. The next day we will hold an all-day Sacred Harp singing from 9:30–3:00.

The weekend has been made possible by a grant from the Community Foundation for Brevard.