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Shape notes

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GUEST 21 Jul 01 - 03:30 PM
catspaw49 21 Jul 01 - 05:05 PM
GUEST 21 Jul 01 - 05:22 PM
GUEST,who started thread 21 Jul 01 - 05:39 PM
SINSULL 21 Jul 01 - 08:30 PM
GUEST 22 Jul 01 - 10:51 AM
Burke 22 Jul 01 - 01:59 PM
GUEST 22 Jul 01 - 03:07 PM
Burke 22 Jul 01 - 03:43 PM
GUEST 22 Jul 01 - 04:12 PM
Burke 22 Jul 01 - 04:53 PM
GUEST 22 Jul 01 - 05:50 PM
Burke 22 Jul 01 - 06:17 PM
GUEST 22 Jul 01 - 06:34 PM
Burke 22 Jul 01 - 07:18 PM
TNDARLN 23 Jul 01 - 06:21 PM
Pinetop Slim 23 Jul 01 - 09:45 PM
Burke 23 Jul 01 - 10:18 PM
Mark Cohen 23 Jul 01 - 11:14 PM
Burke 23 Jul 01 - 11:41 PM
wysiwyg 24 Jul 01 - 12:59 AM
Pinetop Slim 24 Jul 01 - 11:25 AM
Burke 24 Jul 01 - 12:32 PM
Mark Cohen 24 Jul 01 - 02:18 PM
GUEST 25 Jul 01 - 12:58 PM
The Fooles Troupe 12 Nov 03 - 10:01 AM
Burke 12 Nov 03 - 08:12 PM
The Fooles Troupe 12 Nov 03 - 10:29 PM
Dave Bryant 13 Nov 03 - 06:03 AM
Burke 13 Nov 03 - 11:40 AM
open mike 06 Oct 04 - 12:59 AM
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Subject: Shape notes
From: GUEST
Date: 21 Jul 01 - 03:30 PM

Someone please explain what these are; I've not heard the term before.


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: catspaw49
Date: 21 Jul 01 - 05:05 PM

Shape Note is also known as Sacred Harp singing and we have several members active in SH singing. Try some of the info on this thread which has several web addys that will explain much of it......until one of our experts show up.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: GUEST
Date: 21 Jul 01 - 05:22 PM

Just search for 'shape note' on google, and you'll find a lot.


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: GUEST,who started thread
Date: 21 Jul 01 - 05:39 PM

Thanks; fascinating!


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: SINSULL
Date: 21 Jul 01 - 08:30 PM

A question was asked in another thresd about shape note singing in concentration camps. I just remembered seeing the movie with Glenn Close called "The Glory Road" (?) about a group of women in a Japanes POW camp who did just that. Warning: some of the violence is hard to take.


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: GUEST
Date: 22 Jul 01 - 10:51 AM

Two traditions of shape note singing in US, the Anglo American tradition, and the African American tradition. They share some hymns, but performance style is *very* different.

Of the two, in the US, the African American tradition is most developed, and is generally considered the strongest living tradition of the two. In the rural American South, the Anglo American tradition is still a living tradition, although in smaller numbers than the Delta African American tradition. The Anglo American tradition outside the Delta is a revival tradition.

The African American tradition has both the continuous living tradition, especially in the Delta region, and an organic "continuum" which now is well-entrenched in urban black churches. Piano accompaniament is now becoming popular in black urban churches singing shape note, as it merges with other urban gospel traditions.


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: Burke
Date: 22 Jul 01 - 01:59 PM

Here's a more recent thread where I posted a few locations where you can hear Sacred Harp on the web.

I think guest's African American tradition is referring to 7 shape gospel. If not & it's the 4 shape, I'd like more information. In the past the 4 shape tradition was strong in the rural south among both Anglo & African Americans. A few small African American groups are active in Alabama and Mississippi, but they seem to be aging very rapidly with not many young people still participating.


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: GUEST
Date: 22 Jul 01 - 03:07 PM

There seems to be a real difference between how I approach the music perhaps. To me, what is meaningful is not which book people are sangin' from, but the community they are sangin' in.

What interests me are the two communities of people who claim this music as their sacred music. And I don't mean sacred in a New Age sense, but in the sense that it is the music of their religion.

When people ask about shape note, I think its important to give the background of both communities' traditions, and explain that there are two distinct communities in the US who claim this religious music as their own. The two communities have historically been segregated racially in the deep South, and IMO, that history matters, both musically and culturally. Those differneces are meaningful in the present day contexts and practices of shape note and sacred harp singers.

So, that's it really. A difference Burke, in the way you would choose to describe shape note and the way I would, which, perhaps, is rooted in the difference between your values and mine. Not that mine is better than yours, just a different point of view.


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: Burke
Date: 22 Jul 01 - 03:43 PM

Guest, (I think there are 2 in this thread so I'd like to know which is which) I don't disagree.

There are many ways of singing basically the same music (music from the same book) and 2 entirely different types of music covered by the same term 'shape note.' There are clear differences in the basic music contained in the 4 shape & the 7 shape books. I make the book distintion because I'm not clear which you are talking about.

The Sacred Harp in a 4 shape book that northern revivalists incorrectly treat as synonymous with shape note. There are black Sacred Harp singers in the Wiregrass area of Alabama. They have 2 recordings that New World Records released. "The colored sacred harp" and "Desire for piety" Their tradition, community & style is very different from the white Sacred Harp. There are some small groups as well in Mississippi. I have not a clue what you mean by 'more developed tradition' but no one would call the tradition stronger, since most are afraid it may not last another generation. If the Delta singers you refer to also singing from this 4 note tradition I know some people who would like to connect with it.

The seven shape singing was until fairly recently far stronger all over the south that the four shape. It may still be, I don't know. From the late 19th cent on, many books were published using it, including the Southern Baptist, Broadman Hymnal. Just because it was so widespread, I'm sure it was used in both black & white settings that would have their own style of singing it.

So yes, the community is important, the cultural tradition is important. When you say one "tradition is most developed, and is generally considered the strongest living tradition" you have to clarify the underlay definition of what you mean by shape note. I don't know anyone who would make your claims of the 4 shape tradition. It might be valid of 7 shape.


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: GUEST
Date: 22 Jul 01 - 04:12 PM

I am the guest answering. The other guest is the guest who asked.

Rather not argue semantics based upon your 4 shape/7 shape distinctions. As I said, that's looking at the books, not the people who sing in the churches they sing in.

I am speaking in general terms about communities of singers, you are speaking specifically in terms of which shape note (4 or 7) are connected with sacred harp and shape note.

I'm sure my knowledge is no greater than your own. I think we are, again, speaking from different perspectives. The communities are the meaningful distinctions to me, not the notes.

In terms of which is the stronger tradition, I do believe it is the African American communities traditions. They were adapted and incorporated into the black gospel traditions in ways which the Anglo American traditions weren't. Rather, the latter became more and more isolated, and didn't develop the song traditions into the bluegrass and country hymn singing traditions as did the African American tradition with gospel music.

Does that explanation make better sense of what I mean by "more developed" and "stronger tradition"?


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: Burke
Date: 22 Jul 01 - 04:53 PM

Since you won't tell me what you mean by a shape note tradition, I can't decide if your assertion about a stronger or more developed tradtion is true.


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: GUEST
Date: 22 Jul 01 - 05:50 PM

What *I* mean by "shape note"?

I think I'm going pretty much by generally accepted terms.

As to the African American shape note traditions, let me direct you to a quick Internet source which reflects my general understanding of "shape note" in a broader cultural context, not just a music one:

www.folklife.si.edu/97fest/likeariv.htm

The easy tip-off for me is the term "folklife" in the URL. I'm not just talking about music, I'm talking about music in its living human contexts, and race has a whole lot to do with this particular music.

If we need clarify ourselves beyond that in terms of the music, are you not interested in the regional, cultural, and racial differences in the music? Are we talking New England Anglican or Southern Baptist? White Southern Baptist or black Southern Baptist?

The English hymnody tradition, or the Scottish Calvinist hymnody tradition? The Gaelic Scots hymnody tradition of the Hebrides or the Anglo Scots hymnody traditions of Glasgow?


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: Burke
Date: 22 Jul 01 - 06:17 PM

Thanks for the link. I knew there was black Sacred Harp singing in Mississippi. According to the article there is more than I was aware of. I'm glad to see it as well, because I have a singing friend who can't get her choir director interested in music that's not black. I'll pass it along to her.

If this article is your justification for saying the black shape note tradition is stronger or more developed, I don't get it. This article is about singing in the delta, primarily African American, & emphasizes the connections in black music. An aricle about white shape note singing would show in more detail the connections with bluegrass, etc.


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: GUEST
Date: 22 Jul 01 - 06:34 PM

I think we could just agree that there are racial differences, and that my point was that the African American tradition shouldn't be rendered invisible by the Anglo American tradition.

I agree there was migration, adaptation, and assimilation into bluegrass and some country gospel on the Anglo side. My "stronger and more developed" is in reference to the music staying alive in the black church, more so than in white churches.

Hope that clears things up. I really don't think we are disagreeing about anything here.


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: Burke
Date: 22 Jul 01 - 07:18 PM

my point was that the African American tradition shouldn't be rendered invisible by the Anglo American tradition.

Here I thought it was the white tradtion you were trying to render invisible. Perhaps more to the point the Sacred Harp tradtion of the rural southeast is very open to participation by those who have not grown up in the tradition. What the heck, they let me do it :-) I can read about African American singing & listen to recordings, but I can do Sacred Harp.

Sacred Harp & the other 19th cent. books were & are not really a 'church' tradition at all. They're more a social worship experience. The newer books are more commonly used in churches. I have one used by the Church of Christ as well as a Broadman. I met some Mennonites who live nearby, in Central New York. Their hymnal has shapes & they told me they occasionally have a singing school to teach the children to use them.

Last weekend I was in Alabama for a weekend of singing. On Sunday we were in a Missionary Baptist church that must not meet every week because we were there all day. We were singing from the Sacred Harp. I think a couple of the singers were members, but not a lot. At the end of the day I talked to a few people who were members & had been there to listen & help with the food but did not sing.

They had 2 hymnals in thier pew racks. I don't recall the titles, but both were 7 shape, one was published by Stamps Baxter, probably the biggest 7 shape publisher. I didn't notice a piano or organ in the church, but I wasn't looking for one. I think there are still a lot of churches around that have not forsaken those old books for the newer contemporary music. I don't know that anyone has made a study of it.


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: TNDARLN
Date: 23 Jul 01 - 06:21 PM

Let's make the distinction between "shape notes" as in notation, and "shape note" as a singing style.
"Shaped note" notation was developed to facilitate sight singing in an often non-literate culture. Simple geometric shapes were assigned to the steps of the scale as a visual cue. The earliest shape note systems were "four note" [or four shape]. Instead of do-re-mi, etc. [and don't ask me why, I'm shootin' from the hip here- being too lazy to look it all up again]the major scale steps were fa so la fa so la mi fa [tho' it sounded just like the do re mi]. Out of several tunebook compilers' efforts, the most widely-used system that emerged/endured labeled a triangle as "fa", a circle as "so", a square as "la", and a diamond as "mi" [the leading tone of the scale]. This is the system used in both the Southern Harmony and the Sacred Harp [1844] tunebooks.
Before someone asks "why didn't they just go by the lines and spaces like I did in piano lessons", please remember that lines/spaces are a part of the "fixed do" or maybe I should say "fixed tonic" [fixed fa?]notation that instrumentalists use- tied to even temperament, etc. Shape notes were developed to aid singers, and unaccompanied ones, at that; so they use/d "moveable do [tonic, fa, etc]". In other words, as long as the pitches are in the same relationship to each other, [and we can hit the pitch]we really don't care whether it's a D or an F. [I confess that I don't know of any well-adjusted Sacred Harp singers with perfect pitch- 'bless their hearts!]
So, then, in the middle of the 19th century, someone came along with a "new and improved" notation system featuring seven shapes [aka seven-note]and the do-re-mi scale. Many of the tunes from the earlier four-note books were now transcribed into seven-note notation. The Christian Harmony tunebook uses this system. The seven shape system found its way into other realms of vocal music: As congregations began to use the camp-meeting revival-type songs in their services, even with accompaniment now, shape notes continued to be used [on a closed score though]. This is the beginning of what eventually became known as "gospel" or "Stamps-Baxter" [so named after one of the most successful publishers of this genre] or even "new book" [to distinguish it from the unaccompanied four-note] singing.
[How well I remember my Daddy's reaction to our church's purchase of "round note" hymnals in the 60s- it was just another sign of the end times!! ;o)]
I am not going to get into the term "gospel" as applied to a genre of music; and I don't really want to get into this tradition or that tradition. I will say that even among four-note singers, you find a variety of regional styles- even when they're singing from the same book. The same kind of thing pops up among fiddlers from either Cork or Clare. So there! T


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: Pinetop Slim
Date: 23 Jul 01 - 09:45 PM

As a celebration of harmony, shape note singing's an ironic thing to argue boat. Still, it's easy for even a casual observer of singings (sangings) to understand why shape note singing fans feel so passionate about it they can't help but battle for it from time to time.
I've done some poking around over the years about Daniel Read, who was born in Attleboro, MA, where I live, and considered one of the foremost American composers of the post-Colonial period. Initially I perceived that, regardless of the unique beauty of his fuguing tunes, his music was, if not dead, at least quarantined to the academic world. Then I spotted his name as the composer of hymns included in the Sacred Harp. Shape note singing has kept Read's work alive all these years, though mostly far from his native New England. Billings has been served in a similar way, and I believe there are others. It also seems to me that Angel Band and Wondrous Love -- and, again, others -- came into the folk music canon via shape note singing.
In my mind, shape note singing has frequently served the cause of artistic justice, preserving the worthy despite the ignorance of others.


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: Burke
Date: 23 Jul 01 - 10:18 PM

Read is one of my favorites. I think Russia & Sherburne were probably the first tunes I learned.

Another place where this music shows up is in church choir arrangements. Last year our choir director found one of Billings' Easter Anthem. We have 4 Sacred Harp singers in choir so its really hard to do the arrangement instead of the Sacred Harp version. We were able to fix a couple of spots.

A lot of recent hymnals have added unharmonized versions in recent editions. They would be so surprised to hear the original harmonies of Beach Spring or Foundation (sang that in church yesterday)


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: Mark Cohen
Date: 23 Jul 01 - 11:14 PM

This is the kind of discussion that keeps me coming back to the Mudcat. I never even knew about the black shape-note tradition, so thank you, Guest-whoever-you-are, for pointing it out. I love shape-note singing, and I'm a Jewish kid from Philadelphia, so go figure. Unfortunately, the opportunities to sing shape-note here on the Big Island of Hawaii are vanishingly small, but that's part of the price one has to pay.

By the way, Guest One and Guest Two, it's easy and free to register as a member of Mudcat. Come on in!

Aloha,
Mark


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: Burke
Date: 23 Jul 01 - 11:41 PM

Here are some samples of shape note scores.

Angel Band in 7 shape close score.
I am bound for the Promised Land in 7 shape close score.
The Promised Land 4 shape 3 part open score. Melody in on the middle line. I think this a minor version of the major tune above.

Harmonia Sacra pdf files of 7 shape open scores. Pages 101-110 include Miles Lane (108), Solon (109 a different setting of the tune we know as Amazing Grace) Harmonia Sacra is a Mennonite hymnal first published in 1851. The shapes for do,re,and ti are not the same as those in the first 2 links above.


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: wysiwyg
Date: 24 Jul 01 - 12:59 AM

Guests, you fascinate me with the lore you offer. Please help us sort out which is which-- an easy way we could understand would be if one of you would call yourself something like "Guest, Abracadabra" and then list the posting times that were yours, and the other, "Guest, Shazzamarama," and list your post's times. Then keep whatever name you choose for subsequent posts.

And, or, join so we can send you PMs!

Welcome to Mudcat!

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: Pinetop Slim
Date: 24 Jul 01 - 11:25 AM

Thanks for the links, Burke; they're most helpful.
Could you shed any light on a practice where the singing leader comes in a little ahead of the group on the downbeat, and with a note of a slightly different color? (Sorry if the question sounds vague; I don't know of another way to put it, except to say the leader sort of barks the note).


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: Burke
Date: 24 Jul 01 - 12:32 PM

Anyone within driving distance of Sand Mountain Alabama, contact me or TNDARLN, there will be some great singing this Sat. & Sun (July 28 & 29)

Two stories about Pinetop Slim's question.

A leading southern singer was leading a singing school in a northeastern venue. He was clearly coming in early. Someone asked about it and he said don't do it. We continued to sing, he continued to come in early. Several people were quite confused. I was sitting opposite my singing mentor, who had know the teacher for 20+ years. I got a big wink from him.

If you're in New England singing circles, or have just been to the session at Old Songs, you have probably heard Hal Kunkel's Ten Thousand Charms. The tune has some early entrance syncopations written right into a couple of parts, pretty unusual for a shape note tune. In a discussion session, Hal told us that he modelled this entrance especially on what he had heard one particular southern leader do. The leader was later attending & doing some teaching at a northeastern convention. I was not there, but I'm told that when they started doing Hal's tune, the singer was really thrown by those written in early entrances.

After observations & discussions, I've concluded that it's pretty much unconsciously done by those who take stong leadership roles. It tends to help keep the tempo up to speed. Not everyone does it but there does tend to be a fair amount of sotto voce anticipation as well. You'd only notice it sitting right next to the person. I'm not sure I'd recommend cultivating it but it does come somewhat naturally when you're in a leading situation. I do find myself doing it.

I don't know that anyone I've heard is barking, but if you're talking about some of the old field recordings, I think that may be the case.

A closely related tradition is the no instrument singing done from books with words only in Primitive Baptist churches. I've sung from a word only book with some PB friends where they know the tune & we're tring to follow. In this case the leader's always just a little ahead of everyone else. With no set tempo, even if you know the tune, you'll wait for the leaders to move on to the next syllable before doing so yourself. The feel of it is a bit the same as that anticipation in doing Sacred Harp music.


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: Mark Cohen
Date: 24 Jul 01 - 02:18 PM

On the album "Rivers of Delight" by Vermont's Word of Mouth Chorus (a wonderful recording, by the way), there is one song that uses the style Pinetop Slim mentioned. I can't recall the title, and my Original Sacred Harp book is still packed away after my recent move so I can't look it up, but it's the song that has a verse beginning, "When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down..." On the last line of each verse, one of the tenors comes in very strongly about a half-beat early.

I've also heard it in John Roberts and Tony Barrand's recording of "Babylon is Fallen" (not in the Original Sacred Harp, but I think it may be in Southern Harmony) where one of them starts "Ba...bylon is fallen" a full beat earlier than the other, and holds that first syllable for the extra beat.

I like the effect. I imagine it started as a way to keep the other singers moving, and then some people liked the sound and "formalized" it.

Aloha,
Mark


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: GUEST
Date: 25 Jul 01 - 12:58 PM

refresh


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 12 Nov 03 - 10:01 AM

refresh


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: Burke
Date: 12 Nov 03 - 08:12 PM

Robin, to hear what it's like, give a listen to some of the files at Pilgrim Productions. I'm listening to the Minnesota Convention right now. A recording does not do justice to the experience of singing it, however.

I think you're in the UK. Stylistically similar is the West Gallery that's also been mentioned in the Unaccompanied thread. Some of the West Gallery people are also doing Sacred Harp. You can find out what they are up to HERE. I see there's a workshop in Haworth, West Yorks. on Saturday.


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 12 Nov 03 - 10:29 PM

Thanks for your interest.

I remember now that I have seen such old books, but didn't realise the significance. My Paternal Grandfather was a Baptist. When I went to the Tabernacle, they always sang standing up. I was allowed to sing in the choir - cold - but then I was a better solo singer when I was a kid (2nd prize in a Eisteddford once...) - puberty and electrocution through the throat didn't help... :-)

Taking into account how much music of so many different styles I have listened to, I must have come across it - but as a gifted sight reader of the dots, I find such systems interesting, but basically a reversion to medieval singing practices before the modern staff notation was perfected. It is interesting that the examples I have seen are really a blend of staff and shape notation, unlike many of the medieval forms.

Sorry, my PC sound card died ages ago...

I'm in Australia.

Robin


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: Dave Bryant
Date: 13 Nov 03 - 06:03 AM

Is Larry Gordon coming over to do any workshops this year ? Singing "New Jerusalem" at Larry's tempo comes as somewhat of a shock to the system first time round, but after a while you don't want to sing it slow again.

BTW Linda and I are looking for an Alto and Bass so that we could run some harmony workshops - we have worked with "Cappella" in the past. This would be mainly for festivals and we would not need a huge repertoire. My preferred format is to start off with rounds - just to get people used to singing against each other - although of course it's great practice for fugal entries. Then to split the group into 4 parts and "notebash" (usually a Sacred Harp anthem) until each part is reasonably ok, and finally put them all together. It's great to see the looks of pleasure on the faces of people who've never done any part singing before. We can get a group of comlete novices singing something like "New Jerusalem" in a one hour workshop. The group then usually performs the piece in one of the main concerts - and often anywhere else they can get the chance. At Walton FF a few years ago, we had to do an encore in the main Saturday night concert.

We would need to do some rehearsing beforehand so it would be useful if you're not too far from SE London. You don't need to be able to sight read, but a bit of familiarity with "dots" would save time. You do need to be able to learn and hold a part and teach it to others fairly accurately. If the distances involved weren't too far, it might be possible to build up a concert repertoire as well. - Any Volunteers ?


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: Burke
Date: 13 Nov 03 - 11:40 AM

Robin, there are often discussions of why staff if you have shapes, etc. What it comes down to is using the shapes to enhance the information on the staff rather than replacing it. If you can read the dots well, they don't particularly help, but should not hinder. I'm not a good reader so I've found them very helpful & will sometimes write the syllables in on regular notation when I'm having difficulty. Here's a good article explaining the usefulness of shapes.

Mostly with the shapes you don't need to watch key signatures so closely. Harp of Columbia, an early 7 shape book, actually omitted the key signatures. It's really disconcerting to not have the sharps & flats at the beginning of the line, even though I think I'm not looking at them. The later edition, "New Harp of Columbia" did use the key signatures for new music added but did not add them to the tunes being reprinted from the earlier edition. I think of it as an experiment that did not succeed.

I've heard of a Sacred Harp group trying to get going in Australia, but don't know how they are doing. In a quick look I did not find any information on the Sacred Harp web pages. I've never heard that the 4 shape oblong books made the crossing to Australia, but I suspect the 7 shape Stamps Baxter music did. If your memory is of oblong books I'd like to know more about it.

If you like your music lines linear rather than vertical, you'd probably like singing Sacred Harp music. There is much more of a 'tune' to all the parts than in most hymns, but much easier than the early music we sometimes sing in church choir. It's most obvious in the fuges, but is present in most of the music. New Jerusalem, that Dave mentioned, is a good example. Melody in on the tenor staff, sing the alto down an octave!

Dave, Larry Gordon will be touring the UK with his adult group--Northern Harmony, February 5 - March 16, 2004. His web site has more information.

I went to a Northern Harmony sing about 2 weeks ago. We did several of the West Gallery pieces that are in the book. I always enjoy them.


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Subject: RE: Shape notes
From: open mike
Date: 06 Oct 04 - 12:59 AM

renewing this thread so it comes up with the other shape note threads


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