the day also gave a number of musicologists their first exposure to Sacred Harp singing, and provided an opportunity to reflect on how singers from generations past articulated the relevance of our tradition to their own times and places as we do so today in a rapidly changing Sacred Harp landscape.
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. ((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.))
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.
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.
Three of my shape-note tunes—“Clinton,” “Hamrick,” and “Newton”—are included in the new Northern Harmony (Plainfield, VT: Northern Harmony Publishing Company, 2012). First published in 1980, this fifth edition of the Northern Harmony includes 150 tunes—half written by members of the “first New England School” (1770–1810), and half by contemporary composers working in the dispersed harmony shape-note idiom. Singers across New England use the Northern Harmony as a supplement to The Sacred Harp at weekly and monthly singings. The songbook has also been used by Sacred Harp singers in the United Kingdom since the mid-1990s. A variety of adult and teen performing ensembles brought together by Vermont world music and shape-note music organization Village Harmony also make regular use of the songs in the Northern Harmony tunebook on concert tours and at singing camps.
I attended all-day singings from the Northern Harmony in Vermont and Massachusetts in 2001 and 2002 shortly after I was first exposed to Sacred Harp music. For several years I sang favorite tunes out of the fourth edition of the songbook at “otherbook” shape-note singings at Aldo Ceresa’s apartment in New York City and at various homes in Cambridge, New York. It’s an honor to be included in this new edition, and to have my songs appear alongside those of teachers of mine such as Neely Bruce, and co-conspirators such as Aldo Ceresa and Lauren Bock.
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.