It’s rare to discover lost shape-note songs, let alone entire books, so I was completely floored to find that a copy of the long-lost James P. Carrell’s Songs of Zion (1821) was recently cataloged by the University of Virginia. Songs of Zion is a 64-page collection of shape-note tunes published by Ananias Davisson one year after his A Supplement to the Kentucky Harmony.  Unlike A Supplement and most other contemporary shape-note tunebooks, which contain folk hymn arrangements and compositions by several people, Songs of Zion claims to consist almost entirely of Carrell’s own arrangements or compositions.  It gives us a rare opportunity to study one Shenandoah Valley composer in depth.  As I understand it, the last known copy of Songs of Zion belonged to W. E. Chute, who died in 1900, so many of these songs have gone unsung for more than a century.  See UPDATE below.

Thanks to some legwork by our friend John Alexander, we’ve now been able to view the entire book (except for the final two pages, which are missing) and several of us on the music committee have sung through a good portion of the songs–enough to appreciate that there are some appealing and unusual pieces.  The book is now freely available online HERE through UVA’s web site.  We also are planning to publish a small critical edition of Songs of Zion, together with essays about Carrell’s musical style, intended both for singers and scholars.

Here are a few highlights.  I’m assuming in this writeup that all of the songs in the book except the one he attributes to someone else are composed or arranged by Carrell.  Unless we can find them in prior manuscripts it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to establish authorship definitively, however.

Here’s a transcription of the title page:









Is any merry? let him sing Psalms– James V, XIII.


Printed by A. Davisson Harrisonburg, Rockingham County, Virginia.  Where on Application Music Printing

of every Description will be executed with neatness and despatch.


William Hauser, the compiler of the Hesperian Harp (1848), had access to Songs of Zion, or perhaps W. E. Chute sent him songs from the book (the two corresponded).  The following arrangements in the Hesperian Harp are taken almost note-for-note from Songs of Zion.  Click on the song title to see the page in the Hesperian Harp, courtesy of Berkley Moore’s site.  Thanks also to Nikos Pappas, who found a few I had overlooked.

Someone associated with William Walker, probably F. Price, may have had a copy of Songs of Zion.  Here are arrangements published by Walker that are close matches to Carrell’s book:

W. E. Chute, the most thorough nineteenth-century scholar of this music, traces the first printing of several folk hymns to Songs of Zion in his handwritten comments on several books.  The songs that Chute attributes to “Carrell, 1821” in his marginal comments on the Knoxville Harmony and the Olive Leaf are

Knoxville Harmony

Olive Leaf

As we get more chances to sing from Songs of Zion we’ll have a better sense of Carrell as a composer.  Like James C. Lowry, who was also an associate of Davisson, he experimented with arrangements of folk tunes and longer class songs, including a Christmas Anthem.

UPDATES from fasola-discussions

Richard Hulan pointed me to Irving Lowens’ intro to the 1976 reprint of Kentucky Harmony by Da Capo Press (p. 10), in which he says “Although James P. Carrell’s Songs of Zion was printed by Davisson in Harrisonburg in 1821 and, as would be reasonable to expect, was strongly influenced by the Kentucky Harmony, it is, in fact surprisingly individualistic.”  So Lowens must have seen a copy, perhaps the one at UVA now, since Lowens lived in Virginia.

Berkley Moore brought up the fact that Harmony Grove (also called New Britain, the melody now associated with Amazing Grace) in Clayton & Carrell’s Virginia Harmony.  It’s not in Songs of Zion.  The earliest printing of this melody known is in Shaw and Spilman’s Columbian Harmony, 1829.

Dick also mentioned that other tunebooks cite Carrell as a source for a few other melodies.

In addition to MILBURN PORT, an English tune (HTI #5314b) attributed to “Mr. Dyer’s Collection,” there is one unattributed song that is clearly an arrangement of a song that Carrell did not write: TRIUMPH is PEBMARSH (HTI #13068) by Burkill and also published by Dyer. The bass is the same, but the treble and alto are completely different; the fuge is removed in favor of an antiphonal section.