Sounding Spirit Receives $260,000 Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities

Class, Choir, and Congregation (1888).

I’m excited to announce that Sounding Spirit, a project I direct at the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship, received a $260,000 grant today from the National Endowment for the Humanities through the Scholarly Editions and Translations program. The three-year grant will support the publication of five digital critical editions of important songbooks from the southern vernacular sacred music diaspora—collections of spirituals, shape-note music, hymns, and gospel. This funding will help boost our capacity and enable us to hire a managing editor for the project.

As described on the Sounding Spirit project site, the initiative focuses on songbooks in these genres between 1850 and 1925,

a time of great dramatic demographic and cultural change that shaped intersections of race, religion, region, and music in the United States. These genres refracted these issues and comprise the roots of popular music in the twentieth century. These songbooks, part of the Pitts Theology Library English and American Hymnody and Psalmody Collection, are drawn from different religious groups, include the work of black, white, and Native American contributors, and each represent music using different music notation and book designs, shedding light on the relationship of music forms to identity.

The digital and print editions will be co-published by ECDS and the University of North Carolina Press in a first-of-its-kind open access publishing partnership. Several ECDS staff members will support this work, including my former advisor, Allen Tullos, who serves as the project co-director.  Sara PalmerJay VarnerYang Li, and Robert A. W. Dunn will also contribute expertise.

Sounding Spirit complements existing music edition projects. The Committee on the Publication of American Music recognized that Sounding Spirit covers “highly significant vernacular American musical repertoire … ground that has been overlooked by complementary publication projects, including COPAM’s own flagship series,” Music of the United States of America (MUSA). Happily, MUSA, co-edited by Sounding Spirit editorial board member Mark Clague, also received funding today through the NEH’s Scholarly Editions and Translations program. Together, the awards comprise a remarkable showing of support for scholarly editing in American music.

Another project of mine was also approved for funding today through the NEH’s Digital Humanities Advancement Grants program. The Digital Drawer, a project to develop and test a platform for crowd-sourcing rural history was approved for $86,471 of level 2 funding. I serve as co-director of this project, which is directed by Scott Robertson of Georgia Institute for Technology’s Interactive Media Technology Center in partnership with ECDS and Historic Rural Churches of Georgia.

I’m humbled and gratified by this outstanding support for these initiatives at the intersection of digital humanities, critical regional studies, and preservation. And I’m particularly thankful to the US legislators and their constituents who have fought to preserve the vital federal funding for the humanities that makes work like this possible.

New American Music Article on Genre-Spanning Shape-Note Compositions

“Genre Spanning in the Close and Dispersed Harmony Shape-Note Songs of Sidney Whitfield Denson and Orin Adolphus Parris,” American Music 35, no. 1 (Spring 2017): 94–132.

In a new article, “Genre Spanning in the Close and Dispersed Harmony Shape-Note Songs of Sidney Whitfield Denson and Orin Adolphus Parris,” in the latest issue of American Music I argue that often-reified boundaries between dispersed harmony and convention gospel were porous and frequently crossed by mid-twentieth-century Alabama composers. I focus on compositions by Sidney “Whit” Whitfield Denson (1890–1964) and Orin Adolphus “O. A.” Parris (1897–1966), two singer-composer-compilers from northern Alabama. In the essay,

I argue that Denson and Parris tailored their contributions to fit the genre conventions of the oblong tunebooks and gospel convention songbooks in which their music appeared while also infusing much of their work with hybrid harmonic and lyrical language and extending elements from one shape-note genre to another. Their composition and songbook editing practices reveal a musical culture in which a variety of shape-note genres coexisted, influenced one another, and attracted overlapping followings.

In pointing to these composers’ genre-crossing work, my article challenges assumptions about the stylistic boundaries of white gospel music and Sacred Harp singing. My article also contributes to “the discussion of genre classification, development, boundary work, and disruption,” suggesting that boundary-spanning can actually contribute to the reification of genres.

In addition to making these contributions, I also hope that the article’s concise treatment of topics such as dispersed harmony and categories of contrapuntal effects in gospel music, will prove useful to others. A section of the article delves into the notation systems, harmonic styles, text meters, and contrapuntal effects in different shape-note genres, along with a review of scholarship on these topics.

Jesse P. Karlsberg, “Orin Adolphus Parris: At Home Across the Shape-Note Music Spectrum,” Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter 6, no. 1 (September 1, 2017).

I also contributed an essay summarizing and expanding upon my argument to the latest issue of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter. In “Orin Adolphus Parris: At Home Across the Shape-Note Music Spectrum,” I detail O. A. Parris’s “unique and masterful approach to crafting new tunes in … three shape-note styles”: Sacred Harp, Christian Harmony, and gospel. This essay afforded me an opportunity to comment more extensively on Parris’s virtuosic approach to composition, noting favorite harmony parts  (“the bass in ‘Eternal Praise’ and the treble to ‘A Happy Meeting,'” both in The Christian Harmony), and articulating how “Parris’s harmony parts …elegantly interact with each other both rhythmically and melodically, like pieces of a puzzle snapping together.” As I note in the Newsletter, Parris and Denson were just two members of a group “that included several Densons, Kitchenses, McGraws, and Woodards” in the mid-twentieth century who applied their creativity across the shape-note genre spectrum.

But among this group, Parris seemed perhaps the most at home in the widest range of genres, capable in songs like “The Better Land” and “The Grand Highway” of mixing and matching elements from different styles while creating music that feels just right in its intended source.

Many thanks to all those who read and commented on drafts of these two essays, and to the archivists who assisted me in accessing the often obscure gospel publications featuring songs by these composers. Thanks, especially, to the descendants of Whit Denson and O. A. Parris, who shared family photographs and granted me permission to reprint their talented relatives’ songs.

New Article on the Ethics of Singing Across the Color Line

In a new article, “Singing Across the Color Line: Reflections on The Colored Sacred Harp,” in CDSS News, I delve into the history of The Colored Sacred Harp, a 1934 shape-note tunebook featuring the music of black Alabamians, to shed light on the racial history of Sacred Harp singing. In the essay I argue that “cultural, social and racial histories effect the choices we make about what and how to sing” and bear reexamining. I describe the circumstances behind book’s publication in Jim Crow–era southeastern Alabama, the popularity of the Wiregrass Sacred Harp Singers (a performing ensemble that sang from the collection during the folk music movement), and the tunebook’s use today, limited to two largely white shape-note singings in Montgomery. I suggest that these contemporary “singing[s] demonstrates both an ethical approach to the crossing of musical color lines and the challenges these crossings pose.” I conclude that

The choices we make when we sing songs initially performed in a context different from our own can help bridge vast differences of time, space, and culture. Our repertoire choices can facilitate respectful tributes to dear friends while highlighting often marginalized histories. Yet these same choices, if they allow for mimicry of affect, can easily turn well-intentioned efforts into caricatures that reaffirm marginalization. As we embrace more inclusive musical repertoires, let’s pay careful attention to the choices we make, drawing on our shared embodied knowledge to sensitively remember and perpetuate songs and styles with which we are intimately familiar.

The article appears in CDSS Newss “CDSS Sings!” column, which features a song and its backstory with each quarterly issue. My contribution includes “Remember Me,” a lovely song from The Colored Sacred Harp by southeastern Alabama singer and singing school teacher T. Y. Lawrence.

Writing by and about Sacred Harp Composer Raymond C. Hamrick

I contributed an essay on the many contributions of singer, composer, and scholar Raymond Cooper Hamrick to Sacred Harp singing to the latest issue of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter. In my essay, “Raymond C. Hamrick’s Contributions to Sacred Harp Singing and Scholarship,” I note that, as a composer,

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.

“Raymond C. Hamrick on The Sacred Harp,” special issue of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company Newsletter.

Raymond Cooper Hamrick on The Sacred Harp,” which I edited, “includes insightful essays by Hamrick himself, a video interview, and commentary on his many contributions to the Sacred Harp world.” The collection includes seven essays by Hamrick himself. Two of these, a masterful study of tempo and an insider’s account of the process of editing The Sacred Harp: 1991 Edition, were never before published. A short video of Alan Lomax and Hamrick in conversation recorded in 1982 had also never been published before appearing in the Newsletter.

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.

Digital Research Role at Emory Center for Digital Scholarship

This September I will be transitioning into an exciting new role at Emory University that mixes my interests in collaborative digital research projects, nineteenth- and twentieth-century American music, teaching, and interdisciplinary editing and publishing about the southern United States. After a year as postdoctoral fellow in digital humanities publishing, I will be joining the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship full time as senior digital scholarship strategist.

In this new role, my responsibilities will include overseeing the center’s process for producing digital projects, from the proposal stage, through implementation, to sustainability. I will also manage key center initiatives related to my own research on American music and the US South. These projects include the Sounding Spirit initiative to publish digital critical editions and companion print editions of key texts from the Southern sacred music diaspora, 1850–1925, the Atlanta Studies scholarly journal and blog on the metropolitan Atlanta region, the Readux platform for browsing, annotating, and publishing editions of digitized books, and the Sacred Harp Minutes research database. I will continue to teach one course a year in Emory’s American studies, interdisciplinary studies, and music departments. Finally, I’ll consult with Emory faculty on digital projects related to Readux and the southern United States. I’m excited to move into this new role.

Announcing the Garfinkel Prize

I’m excited to join my colleagues in the leadership of the American Studies Association’s Digital Humanities Caucus in celebrating the announcement of the first annual Garfinkel Prize for “excellent work at the intersection of American Studies and Digital Humanities.” As our announcement notes, the prize “honors caucus founder Susan Garfinkel for her longstanding service to the caucus and her commitment to an inclusive, interdisciplinary, welcoming Digital Humanities.” The announcement continues:

We welcome submissions from all including college and university faculty; public scholars; university and K-12 educators including contingent faculty; students at the graduate, undergraduate, and even K-12 level; activists; artists; and all other researchers, creators, and thinkers. We encourage projects in pedagogy, research, documentary, critical making, digital art, and all other forms.

Submitted projects should have been completed or significantly updated during the 2015 or 2016 calendar year. We will announce the prize winner at the 2016 caucus meeting at the American Studies Association conference, but submitters are not required to present at or to attend the conference.

Please help us share the word about this exciting new endeavor, and consider submitting yourself. Submissions are due July 1, 2016, through a Google form.

“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

“Folklore’s Filter” in the New York Times

A recent New York Times article on a Sacred Harp course taught in the Yale music department features my dissertation, “Folklore’s Filter: Race, Place, and Sacred Harp Singing.” The article places the course, taught by Ian Quinn, in the context of recent student protests over racial inequality on campus. For Quinn, “Once the racial tensions broke out on campus, it seemed to me particularly urgent that we spend time talking about” race and Sacred Harp. As Times reporter Phillip Lutz notes, my dissertation “has become a reference for Quinn as he readjusts the course materials as a result of the racial protests.” The article continues:

The dissertation examines how in the civil rights era, a growing number of folklorists began to document black shape-note groups, and festivals started to feature them next to their white counterparts. Speaking to students before the community members arrived to sing, Mr. Quinn invoked Mr. Karlsberg’s analysis of multiracial programming at the Smithsonian’s Festival of American Folklife in 1970. He showed a video of the Wiregrass Sacred Harp Singers, a black shape-note group, performing at the 1983 Smithsonian festival.

But he said that such efforts at recognizing the tradition’s diversity had a limited effect on entrenched attitudes in schools, churches and other places where most of the singing is done. “By nature, Sacred Harp singing is a kind of conservative, tradition-bound practice,” he said. “That’s going to be the issue those of us who would like to see a more diverse community of singers will have to face.”

Mr. Quinn said Mr. Karlsberg’s dissertation represents one of the most sustained counterweights to Jackson’s work to date. Mr. Karlsberg, for his part, said sessions like Mr. Quinn’s might, when coupled with targeted outreach, constitute a forum for diversifying the Sacred Harp experience.

“The welcome mat is there, and the structure, the setup, the practices make it really great for that,” he said.

You can read Lutz’s article, “A Different Note on Race at Yale,” on the New York Times website. Thanks to Ian Quinn for reading my dissertation with his students, and to Phillip Lutz for thoughtfully engaging with the issues my work raises.

“Folklore’s Filter” and a Post-doctoral Fellowship

In August 2015 I graduated from Emory University’s Graduate Institute of the Liberal Arts with a PhD after my dissertation, “Folklore’s Filter: Race, Place, and Sacred Harp Singing,” was accepted by the graduate school. On September 1 I began an exciting new position as Post-doctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities Publishing at the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship.

My dissertation examines the impact of folklorization on Sacred Harp’s associations with race and place. I trace this through the tunebook’s twentieth-century editions and interactions between singers, folklorists, and folk festival audiences. Emory’s electronic theses and dissertations repository features the dissertation’s abstract and table of contents.

In my post-doctoral fellowship I will edit a digital critical edition of Joseph Stephen James’s 1911 Original Sacred Harp, a companion to the Centennial Edition I edited published by Pitts Theology Library and the Sacred Harp Publishing Company this February. The digital edition will use Readux, a tool for annotating and publishing digital critical editions developed by a team from Emory’s Center for Digital Scholarship and the library’s software development team with which I’ve served as annotation and export consultant. My digital critical edition will be the first volume in a series I’m editing using the platform tentatively titled Race and Religion in Turn of the Twentieth-century American Music. In addition to this project, I will teach a class each spring and will continue to pursue my writing and research. I’m happy to have completed my doctoral program and am thrilled to begin this new stage of my career.

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.