Category Archives: Shape-Note Music

Sources of the Sacred Harp and Southern Harmony

Many of the songs in the 1844 edition of The Sacred Harp are original, representing composers including B.F. White and E.J. King, the compilers of the book. How did the songs that are not original enter the book? About half of the songs in The Sacred Harp match songs in William Walker’s The Southern Harmony (1840 ed.) exactly. What was the origin of the songs in this book?

My thesis is that neither William Walker, B.F. White, nor E.J. King had access to enormous libraries, so most of the pieces in The Sacred Harp or The Southern Harmony are either original or copies or edited versions of songs from one of a handful of books. In short, the principal sources of The Sacred Harp (1844) are The Southern Harmony (1840 ed.), The Easy Instructor (ed. c.1815), The Missouri Harmony, and A Supplement to the Kentucky Harmony (eds. 2, 3). The principal sources of The Southern Harmony are Carden’s Missouri Harmony (1830s ed.), Moore’s Columbian Harmony, Davisson’s A Supplement to the Kentucky Harmony (ed. 2), Carden’s Western Harmony, and Wyeth’s Repository, Parts I and II.


My method is to identify all possible sources for a song, using the Temperley’s Hymn Tune Index (HTI) and Pappas’s Southern and Western American Sacred Music and Influential Sources (SWASMIS), two databases containing over 100,000 indexed tunes. Then I compare the versions to find exact or near-exact matches, if they exist. I have compared entire arrangements, not just the tenor parts, including the text, attribution, and typography of the page.

I’ve summarized my findings in the accompanying tables. Many songs have a unique match in previously published tunebooks, producing a list of “known sources” that include The Missouri Harmony, The Easy Instructor, and others. Where a song has a match in multiple books, I attribute it to a known source if possible, rather than introducing a new source to my list. The number of songs assigned to each source is somewhat fluid, since there may be identical versions in two or more books. For example, Moore’s Columbian Harmony and Davisson’s A Supplement to the Kentucky Harmony, ed.2, have songs in common that match exactly. When making a tally of songs in each source, songs that match multiple “known sources” are attributed to the book that appears to be the most used source. In the preceding example, since significantly more songs are attributed to Columbian Harmony than A Supplement, I attribute a song that matches both books to Columbian Harmony.


In short, the principal sources of The Sacred Harp (1844) are The Southern Harmony (1840 ed.), The Easy Instructor (ed. c.1815), The Missouri Harmony, and A Supplement to the Kentucky Harmony (eds. 2, 3). (The 1850 edition introduced The Hesperian Harp as a principal source.) The principal sources of The Southern Harmony are Carden’s Missouri Harmony (1830s ed.), Moore’s Columbian Harmony, Davisson’s A Supplement to the Kentucky Harmony (ed. 2), Carden’s Western Harmony, and Wyeth’s Repository, Parts I and II. Other shape-note sources used include Carrell’s Songs of Zion, Hickok and Fleming’s Evangelical Musick, Leavitt’s The Christian Lyre, Clayton and Carrell’s Virginia Harmony, Caldwell’s Union Harmony, and Johnson’s Tennessee Harmony (ed.2). These last three contribute only one song apiece. Either Davisson’s Kentucky Harmony was not used, or its contributions are indistinguishable from The Missouri Harmony, which drew heavily on The Kentucky Harmony. I think the former is more likely, because The Missouri Harmony was widely available and remained in print into the 1840s, while the final edition of The Kentucky Harmony dates to 1821.

Walker mentions in the introduction to The Southern Harmony that he sometimes combined parts from different arrangements. Eighteen songs in The Southern Harmony are what I have called “composite” arrangements. They do not match published versions, but aren’t completely new. They combine parts from two or more sources and/or have been edited (by Walker or unknown others). Some composite pieces (like THE TRUMPET) have a new treble added to a published two-part song. White & King added trebles to two songs but only minimally altered or subtracted existing parts in published songs.

I had previously assumed that Walker omitted alto parts from New England pieces because he favored a three-part texture. While it is true that all of Walker’s own compositions or arrangements of this time period, except ALABAMA, lack an alto, the deciding factor between omitting or retaining the alto appears to be the use of the alto clef. Walker retained only one alto in the alto clef (FAREWELL ANTHEM, where the alto has solos), while including almost all of the alto parts that were written in the treble or bass clef in his source tunebooks. He changed the clef of the alto from treble to bass in two songs. He never rewrote alto clef parts using the treble or bass clef. In contrast, White and King did not omit alto parts from songs in their source tunebooks. Subsequent nineteenth-century revisions of The Sacred Harp even contain newly composed songs or added altos using the alto clef.

The role of round-note sources is mysterious. Only a handful of pieces in each book had been published exclusively in round notes prior to their inclusion in The Southern Harmony or The Sacred Harp. Most published round-note pieces have been significantly altered from their original versions. For example, the bass fuge entrance in MORNING doesn’t match the original in Pilsbury’s United States Sacred Harmony and the alto is omitted. It is possible that the compilers found these pieces in manuscript collections, rather than books. HANOVER appears in print only once – in Russ & Poor’s obscure Uranian Harmony (1791) – but was included in Amzi Chapin’s manuscript collection (c.1798), which draws heavily on Uranian Harmony. Chapin’s is the only instance of HANOVER indexed in SWASMIS prior to the song’s appearance in The Southern Harmony, in a different key, with different words, without an alto, and with a few other alterations. It’s far more likely that the piece was circulated in manuscript, perhaps by Chapin himself, than that Walker had a copy of Uranian Harmony. Alternately, melodies published in round notes, and even harmony parts, may have circulated through oral tradition. This may account for the garbled versions of round-note tunes like MOUNTVILLE (a parody of ROMAINE or DUNKIRK) and INVITATION (arr. King from Smith’s PSALM 119) and even for Walker’s altered version of HANOVER.

Both Walker and White & King claim that their books include “nearly one hundred pieces never before published.” This is a gross exaggeration only if we count pieces that are attributed to local composers. However, if we generously interpret “never before published” to include original songs and arrangements, “composite” arrangements, and pieces that were only available in round-note collections (or perhaps found in manuscripts or the oral tradition), the number is almost 90 for both The Sacred Harp and the 1835 edition of The Southern Harmony and 100 for the 1840 Southern Harmony.

One of my motivations in studying the sources of The Sacred Harp is to understand how songs (and, in particular, alto parts) change across time. There’s a striking contrast between Walker, White & King, and Davisson. White & King made almost no changes to songs that they imported into The Sacred Harp from other sources. As mentioned before, Walker omitted a number of altos, made edits to some songs, and added or combined parts from several sources. Davisson’s changes are mostly to the alto part. He typically altered altos to make the parts more interesting and higher. He refers in his rudiments to women singing the alto part, and perhaps that is the reason for making the part higher. In addition, he rewrote alto clef parts in treble or bass clef. As The Missouri Harmony is chiefly derived from Davisson’s books, a number of Davisson altos are in The Sacred Harp today.

SH via SoHin SH onlyTotal“never before published”
SH original or original arrn/a828233.88%8836.36%
SoH original, original arr, or composite*53n/a5321.90%
Missouri Harmony3664217.36%
Easy Instructor013135.37%
Western Harmony9093.72%
Supplement to the Kentucky Harmony2683.31%
Wyeth I or II5383.31%
misc shapenote**4483.31%
round note or manuscript1562.48%
Contents of The Sacred Harp, 1844 ed.

*there are `40 SoH original or original arrangements in the SH and 13 SoH “composites,” meaning arrangements that combine more than one different published version or where additional parts were added to published songs
**miscellaneous shape-note sources

also in SHunique SoHtotalpct“never before published” in 1840 ed
SoH original, original arr, or composite*53449743.89%10143.89%
Missouri Harmony36276328.51%
Western Harmony91104.52%
Wyeth I or II5494.07%
Supplement to the Kentucky Harmony2573.17%
misc shapenote**46104.52%
round note or manuscript1341.81%
Contents of The Southern Harmony, 1840 ed.

Miscellaneous Sources

  • Carrell’s Songs of Zion
  • Caldwell’s Union Harmony
  • Johnson’s Tennessee Harmony
  • Hickok & Fleming’s Evangelical Musick
  • Cumberland Harmony or Sweets of Music
  • Virginia Harmony
  • Christian Lyre
  • Carden’s United States Harmony

Did Lucius Chapin write the Amazing Grace tune?

By Rachel Wells Hall

The melody sung to John Newton’s 1779 hymn “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound” is, without a doubt, America’s best-loved hymn tune [1]. Unlike Lowell Mason’s “Nearer, my God, to thee,” the “Amazing grace” tune is of unknown origin. It first appeared in print in 1829 without any composer attribution, and there were thought to be no earlier surviving instances of the tune. However, an 1828 manuscript by Lucius Chapin (1760-1842), who was famous in his day as a hymn tune writer, raises the possibility that Lucius was its composer.

Lucius and his brother Amzi (1768-1835) were among the first and most influential composers to harmonize American folk hymns, using principles they had absorbed from New England and English church music, and perhaps from the oral tradition as well. They also composed hymns in a similar style. The brothers came from a large, musical Massachusetts family. Their mother was an exceptional singer, though she did not read music, and two of their brothers also became singing masters. Lucius and Amzi moved south and west as young men and taught singing schools throughout their lives. In 1828, Lucius was living in central Kentucky and Amzi in western Pennsylvania [2].

The 1828 manuscript was mentioned in passing in James Scholten’s 1972 dissertation on Lucius and Amzi Chapin. Scholten provided few details and seemed unaware of its significance. In page 87, Scholten wrote of Lucius’ son Cephas (1804-1828),

On July 25, 1828, [Cephas] died from typhus in Oxford, Ohio en route home to visit his parents. There are three tender expressions of paternal love and grief on the back of Cephas’ last letter penned there by Lucius, the tunes AMAZING GRACE and BRAINARD and a brief poem [2].

The familiar melody had a number of titles in its early publications: ST. MARY’S, GALLAHER, HARMONY GROVE (Shenandoah Harmony, p. 300), NEW BRITAIN (Sacred Harp, p. 45), and more. The one title it did not have was AMAZING GRACE, though that title was used for at least two other melodies. The tune wasn’t paired with Newton’s text until 1835. I was curious to see the manuscript, because neither John Newton’s hymn “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound” nor any of the tunes known for that text are associated with the Chapin family by modern scholars. However, the great nineteenth-century scholar W.E. Chute (1832-1900) attributed the melody to the Chapins, though his evidence is unknown.

I contacted Christine Engels of the Cincinnati Museum Center Library and Archives and she sent me a copy of the back of Cephas’ letter, reproduced here with permission. You can click on the image to see more detail. The date August 13, 1828 is visible in the lower right corner.

Music dated Aug 13, 1828 on the back of Cephas Chapin’s letter to Lucius Chapin

Since Lucius doesn’t name the tune on the left, I’m going to call it NEW BRITAIN, which is its most common name (hymn tune titles are traditionally written in capital letters). Here’s a closeup. Despite teaching shape notes for decades, Lucius never adopted them in his personal manuscripts.

The tune NEW BRITAIN written in Lucius’ hand

It is possible that NEW BRITAIN was added to the manuscript after 1828, or copied from a source that does not survive. However, the version here doesn’t exactly match any tune found, either published or in manuscript, in Nikos Pappas’ exhaustive index of over 60,000 early American hymn tunes (1700-1870) [3]. It is closest to the tune ST. MARY’S found in Shaw and Spilman’s Columbian Harmony (1829) [4]. Like Lucius, Shaw and Spilman lived in central Kentucky. More about that later.

Should we attribute the NEW BRITAIN tune to Lucius? Probably not. It is possible he composed it, but this isn’t like finding a Beethoven sonata written in Mozart’s handwriting, or even like finding NEW BRITAIN in Lowell Mason’s handwriting. Even if Lucius were the first to notate the tune, the concept of “authorship” in this repertoire is difficult. Composers felt free to write arrangements of popular sacred or secular melodies in oral tradition and publish them, either as unattributed tunes or with their own names attached. They also made their own versions of tunes in books or manuscripts, appropriated and rearranged European classical music, and composed music from scratch in a folk idiom [5].

Authorship as regards the Chapins is particularly difficult to pin down. The three most popular American folk hymns, TWENTY-FOURTH, NINETY-THIRD, and ROCKBRIDGE, are all ascribed to Amzi or Lucius (see The Sacred Harp, pages 47 and 31, and The Shenandoah Harmony, page 1, respectively) [3]. The brothers never published books, and the manuscripts that survive don’t clarify the situation. Lucius and Amzi most probably composed harmony parts, but we don’t know to what extent they “wrote” the tunes.

The other tune on Cephas’ letter, BRAINARD, gives some tantalizing clues to Lucius’ musical process. It is a folk hymn most often called INDIAN’S FAREWELL or PARTING FRIENDS (see page 271 of The Shenandoah Harmony). In this case, there are several published versions prior to 1828, though none match Lucius’ tune exactly [3]. What’s interesting here is the fact that Lucius appears to be making a transcription. He writes the tune twice, using two different rhythms and time signatures. He mistakenly writes “6/8” as the time signature for both versions, and the first version has an incomplete measure. In all the published sources, the first note is on the downbeat, not a pickup, as it is here. After viewing the letter in person, I believe that Lucius was also transcribing NEW BRITAIN, as there are scrape marks where he corrected mistakes.

The tune BRAINARD or BRAINERD and the text “When shall we thus meet again”

Why did Lucius write these particular tunes on the letter, presumably thinking of his son? INDIAN’S FAREWELL was usually coupled with the text “When shall we all meet again” by Anna Jane Vardill (1807). (Although Vardill wrote the poem in the persona of “Casmerian” (Kashmiri) Indian, it was spuriously associated with both Native Americans and missionaries, and perhaps Lucius’ title refers to David Brainerd, a well known missionary to the Indians.) Lucius writes a different text, however—one more tender, and one associated with the death of a child:

When shall we thus meet again (repeated)
When the dreary winter’s past,
When is hushed the northern blast,
When new verdure clothes the plain,
Then may we thus meet again.

This entire poem appears in Daniel Huntington’s 1838 memoir of his daughter Mary, who died in 1820 at the age of six. On page 43, Huntington writes that he composed the poem for her Sunday school class in 1819. It was published in the newspaper Boston Recorder in that year and somehow it made its way into Lucius’ hands. (If the beginnings of Vardill and Huntington’s texts seem familiar, it’s because they were inspired by the opening lines of Macbeth.)

What text or texts might Lucius have associated with NEW BRITAIN? Texts and tunes usually had an independent existence in this period. The two texts used in Columbian Harmony (1829) are Charles Wesley’s “Come, let us join our friends above” and Isaac Watts’ “Arise my soul, my joyful pow’rs.” Of those two, “Come, let us join” is closest thematically to “When shall we thus meet again.” It is one that Sacred Harp singers today associate with memorials, though we sing a different tune, ARNOLD, to these words:

Come, let us join our friends above,
That have obtain’d the prize;
And on the eagle’s wings of love,
To joy celestial rise.

If Lucius didn’t compose NEW BRITAIN, then who did? The basic structure of the tune is ancient. NEW BRITAIN is a folk hymn—a sacred melody that existed, in some form, in oral tradition prior to being notated. It belongs to a recognized “tune family,” or group of tunes, sacred or secular, that share enough structure and melodic phrases that they seem to be descended from a common root. Other related tunes include Amzi Chapin’s TWENTY-FOURTH (written in the 1790s) and, more distantly, the African-American spiritual “Swing low, sweet chariot” (published in 1873, but definitely older). The folk hymn CONSOLATION (attributed to the Chapins when first published in 1812) has the same contour, but is in the minor mode. Though clearly different melodies, all four tunes share the same four-phrase structure, with first phrase ending on the fifth below the tonic, the second phrase ascending to the fifth above, the third phrase descending from there down an octave, and the final phrase ascending to the third before returning to the tonic. All four of these tunes remain in print in multiple modern hymnals.

However, just because a tune is a folk hymn doesn’t mean that there wasn’t an originator for a particular variant of the tune family. There were at least ten slightly different versions of NEW BRITAIN written down from 1828 to 1840 in Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina [3]. Three of these were from central Kentucky. This argues for oral transmission, but the fact that each version differs from the others only in the amount of ornamentation notated suggests that one person, perhaps an itinerant preacher or singing master, was the “vector” that spread the tune through this area in the late 1820s to 1830s.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that Lucius’ version was closest to ST. MARY’S in Shaw and Spilman’s 1829 Columbian Harmony. There may have been a closer connection between Charles Spilman, Benjamin Shaw, and Cephas Chapin. Charles and Cephas were born within a year of each other and both were Presbyterians. In 1828, Charles and Benjamin were at Centre College in Danville, about 90 miles from the Chapin family.  Though Cephas was in Alabama prior to his death, he had previously been teaching singing school in Kentucky and stated in a letter that he had entered Centre College, although he didn’t graduate. Cephas’ letters say he participated in a revival there in 1826. Did Charles and Benjamin learn the tune from Cephas? Or vice versa? Or was this tune commonly known at Centre College?

This possible connection raises the question of whether Lucius (or Cephas) wrote the arrangement of ST. MARY’S in Columbian Harmony. There are some aspects of the harmony—the four-part setting, and the variety of chords—that are found in the Chapin arrangements. However, the static treble (top line) and bass, the narrow, high range of the treble in relation to the melody (tenor), the use of parallel thirds, and the dominant seventh chord before the final note all argue against Lucius as arranger. As for Cephas, we have no record that he composed or arranged music.

What, if anything, does this manuscript add to the story of “Amazing Grace”? It’s fascinating that there is a direct connection between America’s best-loved hymn tune and our “first family” of sacred folk song. I could speculate endlessly on where Lucius learned the melody, or whether he composed this variant of the tune family. However, the one thing certain is that he wrote the tune on the back of the last letter he ever received from his son. The tune must have had emotional significance for him, and perhaps provided some consolation. In that, he would not be alone.


Another interesting story, though tangential, is the Chapin family’s connection to the antislavery movement. If you’ve read the story of John Newton (the author of the words to “Amazing Grace”) or seen the Broadway play, you’ll know that he was the captain of a slave ship who later rejected his past and advocated against slavery. The Chapin family lived in central Kentucky and some of their neighbors owned slaves, though there weren’t large plantations in the area. However, the diary of Cephas’ sister Harriet survives, and she was profoundly antislavery, though as a woman she didn’t have power to make decisions about her household. She thanks God that her father is “an Emancipator.” I don’t know if that means that he had slaves and set them free or if he didn’t believe in slavery and never owned slaves (I think the latter). Harriet considered it her duty to educate the two young African-Americans who worked for the family, an act that would have been illegal in many states. Harriet died in 1827, just a year before Cephas—a fact that must have made Cephas’ death even more difficult for their parents.

In general, the early revivals in Kentucky were far more democratic than were churches later in the 19th century. Both white women and African-Americans—even slaves—were called on to testify and even preach, and everyone participated in group singing, which was one of the hallmarks of these revivals. So the fact that this particular tune, whoever wrote it, is often associated with black spirituals and related to “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” is not surprising, as it was first popular in a mixed environment.


I found a poem about Cephas’ death and obituary online.


I would like to thank Christine Engels of the Cincinnati Museum Center Library and Archives for her assistance in locating the Chapin letter, the Museum Center for permission to post images, and Nikos Pappas for his willingness to share his invaluable research in documenting American sacred music.


[1] Steve Turner, Amazing Grace: The Story of America’s Most Beloved Song (New York: Harper Collins, 2002).

[2] James Scholten, “The Chapins; a study of men and sacred music west of the Alleghenies, 1795-1842” (PhD diss., University of Michigan, 1972).

[3] Nikos Pappas, Southern and Western American Sacred Music and Influential Sources (1700-1870). Database, 2015.

[4] Benjamin Shaw and Charles H. Spilman, Columbian Harmony, or, Pilgrim’s Musical Companion (Cincinnati: Lodge, L’Hommedieu & Hammond, 1829).

[5] Nikos Pappas, “Patterns in the Sacred Music Culture of the American South and West (1700-1820)” (PhD diss., University of Kentucky, 2013).

Long-lost Shenandoah tunebook found

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.

  • Angels Songs – arrangement of a Scottish melody called “The Lea Rig.”
  • Attention (called Lovest Thou Me by Hauser)
  • Broomsgrove (called Jesus Crucified by Hauser; the original text is “Lamb of God for sinners slain.”)
  • Calvary New
  • Elevation
  • Elysian (and page 2) This is basically the arrangement in The Sacred Harp, but with the original alto.  The melody is a traditional Irish one associated with Moore’s poem “The Minstrel Boy.”
  • Geneva
  • Melody – though the alto is not original to Carrell
  • Messiah – as in The Sacred Harp
  • Missionary – Hauser’s Eden has the same treble and tenor, but the bass is different and the alto is added.  In addition, Carrell’s text is “How firm a foundation.”
  • Mourner
  • Passover
  • Patmos (called Isle of Patmos by Hauser)
  • Pilgrim (called Anticipation by Hauser; a relative of Child of Grace)
  • Portsmouth
  • Solemn Thought – the match here is not exact – Hauser edited the bass part somewhat to avoid the lowest notes.  Carrell’s bass part is most like the Southern Harmony version. Davisson rewrote Carrell’s bass part in A Supplement, 2nd ed., and changed the treble slightly. The arrangement in The Shenandoah Harmony, page 34, is Davisson’s.

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:

  • Shepherd in the Southern and Western Pocket Harmonist
  • Elevation, ditto (Carrell’s alto is missing and the song is in 6/4 rather than 6/8)
  • Christian Soldier in Southern Harmony, though attributed to F. Price by Walker.  There are a couple of bass note differences but otherwise it’s the same arrangement.  This song is also in three parts in Songs of Zion.  The alto in The Christian Harmony and The Sacred Harp was added by Walker in 1866.
  • Delight in Southern Harmony is Carrell’s Broomsgrove without the alto and with the text “Vain, delusive world adieu.”
  • Solemn Thought in Southern Harmony, also attributed to Price.  See the note above.

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

  • CHILD OF GRACE / PILGRIM  – though he also ascribes this to “Robertson, 1813” – he must be referring to FIDUCIA with the Robertson reference.  See my comments on PILGRIM above.
  • MESSIAH – clearly
  • SOLEMN THOUGHT – he writes “Carrell & Davisson, from Ingalls.”  The Ingalls version is called HONOR TO THE HILLS.
  • MELODY – this is the one in the Hesperian Harp that I referenced
  • COLUMBIA – I would give the earliest printing of this minor Blackbird variant to Alexander Johnson, 1818, but perhaps Chute didn’t have the Tennessee Harmony.  But there is a similar melody in Songs of Zion so this attribution makes sense

Olive Leaf

  • NEW BRISTOL – this is the same melody as CHILD OF GRACE / PILGRIM
  • ALDRED – this is ELEVATION in Songs of Zion
  • CUMBERLAND – this is BELLEVUE or HOW FIRM A FOUNDATION.  The closest melody in Songs of Zion is called NEW MARKET, to the text “My God, I am thine, what a comfort divine.” However, the match is not particularly close – really a stretch, in fact.
  • RESTORATION – also somewhat of a stretch.  There’s a melody called JEWIN STREET in SZ that is related.  It’s almost identical to the melody of BROWNSVILLE in Hesperian Harp  Carrell uses the “come thou fount” text.

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.

Charts and graphs, oh my!

Charts and graphs, oh my!

Being a mathematically-inclined person, I’m always interested in the stories one can tease out of data…  Now that we’ve got the book mostly mapped out, I made a chart displaying the first publication dates of the songs.  Each dot in the chart represents a song.  Given that we started with the Kentucky Harmony and its Supplement, you’d think that the most common year would be, say, 1816 or 1825.  However, the majority of the tunes Davisson published were from earlier authors.  The longest line of dots is for the year 1793, the publication of Shumway’s American Harmony and Stone’s Columbian Harmony, both of which are well represented in The Shenandoah Harmony.

It’s quite interesting to compare the song profile of The Shenandoah Harmony with a similar chart displaying songs in The Sacred Harp (1991).  (Thanks to Ian Quinn for sharing some SH data with me.)

A few interesting points…

  • The ShH represents, on average, an earlier and less diverse repertoire than the SH.  The biggest difference is in the twentieth century.  You can also see the different editions of the SH, each of which corresponds with a large spike in the data.
  • You can clearly see the effects of copyright law on the ShH (songs published before 1923 are in the public domain; with two exceptions, our copyrighted songs are by living composers)
  • Even though copyright is not an issue, neither book draws from the 1890s.  Gotta be a low point for four-shape music!

UPDATE: Here’s another side-by-side comparison, showing the major-minor distribution of both books by year (see my earlier post about the major-minor split).  Interesting to see that there seems to have been a strong interest in minor tunes in the 1936 SH.  The spike in minor tunes from the 1990s in the Shenandoah may reflect the rediscovery of the Davisson repertoire by composers such as John Bayer and Judy Hauff.

Do you notice anything else?

  • Songs
  • More songs

“One of the most beautiful of those old minors”

Columbia, from The Missouri Harmony, 1834 ed. Click for larger image.

The editions of The Kentucky Harmony and The Tennessee Harmony are roughly 60% minor; even the early editions of The Easy Instructor are over 50% minor. For comparison, The Sacred Harp (1991) is only 28% minor, though I’ve heard that the actual balance of songs called in singings is less heavily skewed.

In addition to these statistics, there is plenty of evidence that minor songs were all the rage in the early nineteenth century. Here’s a voice from “beyond the bounds of time and space”… Searching for information on the text for ShH 432b COLUMBIA, I came upon this letter in The Advance, a weekly publication of the Congregational church, from March 5, 1903. “After Supper” is a regular column where “Mrs. Miner” answers readers’ letters.

Dear Mrs Miner:

 … I very much wish that some one could tell me where to find the rest of a song, the first verse of which I enclose. It was written during the Revolution by whom I do not know. The tune is one of the most beautiful of those old minors so fashionable a hundred years ago or less.

As down a lone valley with cedars o’erspread,
From war’s dread confusion I pensively strayed,
The gloom from the face of the heaven retired,
The winds hushed their murmurs, the thunders expired,
Perfume as of Eden flowed sweetly along,
A voice as of angels enchantingly sung,
Columbia, Columbia to glory arise!
The queen of the world and the child of the skies!

I learned this by hearing my mother sing it when I was a child. In the same way I learned the “Greedy fox” [a children’s song].

Peterson, Ia.      Mrs. H.J.P. MARTIN.

I couldn’t find out if Mrs. Martin ever received an answer to her letter, but the poem is Timothy Dwight’s, from 1777 (see the embedded text at the end of this post). The tune she refers to may be the one we have in our book, COLUMBIA, from The Tennessee Harmony (1818), shown at the top of this page. It’s the only minor setting I could find of these words. It really is beautiful!

UPDATE: I just listened to Edden Hammons’ haunting fiddle version, recorded in 1947 and titled QUEEN OF THE EARTH AND CHILD OF THE SKIES, on the Bankrupt Museum blog.  It’s recognizably the COLUMBIA melody from Tennessee Harmony, but in the major rather than minor mode (or perhaps closer to mixolydian).  There’s more information on the tune on the web site Fiddler’s Companion, where it’s identified as the Irish air THE BLACKBIRD, traditionally played at funerals.

From the 1908 History of American Music on Google books:

Questioning the Unanswered Cadence

There’s sometimes an audible gasp from the class after singing REDEEMING GRACE (page 218t), THE HUMBLE PENITENT (399), or Allison Blake Steel’s arrangement of HICKS’ FAREWELL (403). Why the surprise? A lifetime of listening and performing music conditions us to expect that a song will end on its tonic chord—the chord that functions as a “home” for that song’s major or minor key.  In 218t, 399, and 403, the bass ends on the expected tonic (1-fa in major or 1-la in minor), but a note sung by some other part creates a chord other than the home chord.  We are left with an unanswered expectation of return.

I don’t have polished recordings of these songs, but here’s somewhere to start. Scores for the songs are later in the post.
PLAY ShH 218t Redeeming Grace
PLAY ShH 399 The Humble Penitent
PLAY ShH 403 Hicks’ Farewell

A little music theory: the tonic triad is created from the first, third, and fifth degrees of the scale—typically, the notes sounded by the keyer.  In major, the tonic triad is 1-fa, 3-la, and 5-sol, while in minor the tonic triad is 1-la, 3-fa, and 5-la.  When the bass sings the first degree of the scale, a tonic triad is in root position.  Many, many shape note songs don’t end with a tonic triad, however.  Most minor songs end with just the first and fifth degrees of the scale.  And not every major song ends with a complete major triad.  So I’ll refer to the “home chord” as the chord with the bass on 1 and the other voices on 1, 3, or 5, though not all three notes need be represented.  The home chord is the most stable harmony that we expect to hear.

With the exception of 218t, 399, and 403, all the songs in The Shenandoah Harmony end on their home chord, as do all of the songs in The Sacred Harp.  (A few songs shift into another key entirely, or modulate, as in ADMIRATION on page 160, but these also end in the home chord of their new key.)  In contrast, REDEEMING GRACE and THE HUMBLE PENITENT, both “major,” end on 1-fa and 6-la, with the bass on 1, while HICKS’ FAREWELL (“minor”) ends on 1-la and 4-sol, with the bass choosing between those two.  The final chord is neither the tonic chord nor any chord in root position.  Since a sequence of harmonies that ends a musical phrase is called a cadence, I’ve dubbed this ending an unanswered cadence.  Of course, every shape-note song repeats at least once, because we sing both shapes and words, with more repeats if more verses are sung.  So the unanswered cadence is “answered” by a return to the beginning of the piece.


Does the unanswered cadence even properly exist?  Early shape note books were plagued by typographical errors.  A very common mistake is to have a shape incorrectly placed on the staff.  Judging by subsequent printings and purely musical clues, the shape is more likely to be correct than its placement. It’s possible that the 6-la in REDEEMING GRACE and other songs was originally intended to be a 3-la, which would be a member of the home chord.  It’s also possible that a 5-sol is intended, rather than a 6-la. As I mention below, there’s at least one shape-note song where I think the final chord contains an error, rather than an intentional unanswered cadence.  In addition, unanswered cadences were sometimes edited out of later arrangements.  However, as a lover of the “unreformed” shape-note style, I don’t find the actions of late nineteenth century reformers particularly significant.

The best argument for the existence of unanswered cadence is the fact that REDEEMING GRACE retains its final unanswered chord in some books throughout its 200-year publication history, even while other notes in the song were changed.  However, as far as I know, it’s the only such song that has an unbroken singing tradition to the present day (through The Christian Harmony and The Southern Harmony).  I’ll start with versions of REDEEMING GRACE, then look at other songs that have unanswered cadences and speculate on how the unanswered cadence contributes to our understanding of shape-note music.


REDEEMING GRACE appears in The Southern Harmony, The Christian HarmonyHarmonia Sacra, The Hesperian Harp, and elsewhere.  The earliest printed version comes from Wyeth’s Repository, Part Second (1813), page 79. The chooser notes in the tenor on the first phrase of the melody are unique to Wyeth’s.

Redeeming Grace from Wyeth’s Repository

Here’s the arrangement in our book, which matches The Southern Harmony, page 56 (1835), except that we have added the alto from The Hesperian Harp.

Redeeming Grace in The Shenandoah Harmony’

Here’s The Hesperian Harp, page 262 (1848), which is the most mysterious arrangement of all.

Redeeming Grace in The Hesperian Harp

The things to notice in all of these arrangements are the cadences—the endings of the first two phrases and the endings of the piece.  The Hesperian Harp presents the class with an array of choices for the chord that ends the A part (this is an AABA song with a D.C. repeat, so this chord ends three of the four phrases in the tune, including the final phrase).  If at least one bass singer chooses the 6-la for the final note, the piece ends on a complete minor triad, and, following the “rule” that the key is the final note in the bass, the song is in E minor—that is, 6-la in major becomes 1-la in minor.  However, it’s unusual to end with the tenor on the third degree of the minor scale—I can’t think of another song that ends this way.  If all the basses choose 1-fa and some of the trebles or tenors choose 6-la, we have an unanswered cadence.  If all  the basses and tenors choose 1-fa and all  the trebles choose 3-la, however, the song ends on the home chord of G major.  Note that The Hesperian Harp is the only source to give the class a choice on the final chord.

What are we to make of the choosing notes in these three versions?  The rudiments of The Southern Harmony (1835) and The Hesperian Harp (1848) instruct us that if there is more than one singer, both notes may be sung, and this practice is followed by modern day singers.  I’m not sure that we should extrapolate backwards in time to Wyeth’s (1813), which does not mention choosing notes.  The tenor is supposed to be “the” melody. Is the melody, in fact, a matter of choice? It’s likely that the song was in oral tradition before 1813. Could there have been some disagreement among singers about the notes in the melody?  The two choices may even represent first and second endings for the repeated phrase at the beginning of the song; the class could sing the 6-la on the first pass and the 1-fa on the second, or vice versa.


As I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog, the late 1800s saw a shift towards a more conventional harmonic and rhythmic style (that is, the style of European-influenced common practice music) and the use of seven-shape or round-note notation. In addition, minor sonorities, often conflated with four-shape notation, fell out of favor and triadic harmony was preferred to dyadic harmony (a dyad is a chord with only two different notes; some dyads are ambiguous in that they belong to more than one triad).  Although REDEEMING GRACE still has the unanswered cadence in Walker’s The Christian Harmony (1866), page 329, his alto lingers on the 3-la (mi in seven shapes), which completes a minor triad at the A-phrase endings (thanks to Calum Woods for pointing this out).  Others have “reformed” the song radically.  Here is Hauser’s re-arrangement of REDEEMING GRACE on page 362 of The Olive Leaf (1878).  Again, pay attention to the cadences… NOTE: the malformed shapes on F# in the second system, bass, are clearly typos. G (do in 7 shapes) is intended.

Redeeming Grace in The Olive Leaf

The unanswered cadence and indeterminacy of the choosing notes are gone, as is every single minor chord in the piece.  Whereas earlier versions had numerous dyads and a few dissonant chords, the chording here is 100% triadic.  Hauser liberally uses 4-fa in the bass to substitute major IV chords for minor vi chords and ends squarely on the home chord of G major.

The Harmonia Sacra is a book that had extensive revision with the adoption of seven shapes in the late nineteenth century.  Here’s the arrangement from page 242 (image used by permission of

Redeeming Grace in the Harmonia Sacra

I feel slightly disloyal to the Shenandoah writing this, but this is my favorite arrangement of the song—thanks to Dan Hunter for pointing it out.  Although the unanswered cadence is gone, the arranger (who?) preserves many of the minor chords, and adds an exquisite vi6 chord—a triadic completion of the dyad that ends the piece in the earlier four-shape arrangements—at the end of the B part.  The use of IV chords creates a more modern sound, but the vi chords hark back to the old four-shape arrangements.  NOTE: I’m still following up on the history of Harmonia Sacra revisions and will add more when I know the date for this arrangement.


Devotion.  The other well known song that sometimes has an unanswered cadence is DEVOTION, as in page 48t of The Sacred Harp.  Here’s the first published setting, which comes from Johnson’s Tennessee Harmony (1818) and is reprinted in The Southern Harmony (1835), page 13b.  This treble line, ending on the 6-la, is one of the loveliest I know.

Devotion from The Southern Harmony

Here’s a recording I made of Johnson’s tenor and treble, then one with all three parts, and finally a version with a bass I wrote to emphasize the minor chords. The tenor is in the right channel and the treble is in the left, so you can experiment with hearing just one part at a time.
PLAY Devotion Tenor and Treble
PLAY Devotion all parts
PLAY Devotion bass altered

Johnson “corrected” this arrangement in his second edition (1821), but the 6-la ending in the treble persists in later sources, and also appears in a different arrangement by Davisson in A Supplement to the Kentucky Harmony, ed.2, c.1822; like Johnson, Davisson removes the unanswered cadence in the 1826 edition of SKH.

The Humble Penitent and Conformity.  This song too has a history of revision by Davisson and others.  Our Shenandoah version is mostly from the third edition of SKH, but borrows one feature from the second edition.  Here’s HUMBLE PENITENT, page 13 of SKH ed.2, c.1822.

Humble Penitent from the second edition of the SKH

Here’s HUMBLE PENITENT, page 14 of SKH, ed.3, 1826.  In the reverse of the normal course of things, the unanswered cadence was added by Davisson a few years later.  He also extensively re-arranged the song.  I don’t attribute this ending to error; the 6-la appears in two parts and both lines are directed towards it.  We changed one note in The Shenandoah Harmony, giving the alto a 6-la in the middle of the piece to create the  open 6-3 dyad that’s in the SKH ed.2 version.

Humble Penitent from the third edition of the SKH

CONFORMITY in the Harmonia Sacra has a similar melody, but different text and arrangement.  It does not have an unanswered cadence.  Here’s the version in the modern book from; the earliest setting (1832?) lacked an alto and had two bass choosers: a choosing 5-sol above the 1-fa on the first note and a choosing 1-fa below the 6-la on the third note before the end, creating a vi6 triad again!

Conformity from the Harmonia Sacra

Friendship (to every willing mind). The version of this song in A Supplement to the Kentucky Harmony has an unanswered cadence created by a 6-la in the alto.  The tune is a variant of a melody by Handel; I’ve discussed it extensively HERE.  It’s in our book on 221b with a different arrangement.  There’s another version in The Christian Harmony.  I believe that the unanswered cadence in SKH is a mistake, and Hauser seems to agree—the alto note is changed to a 5-sol in The Hesperian Harp.

Angels Songs.  This setting of a British Isles folk tune is part of James P. Carrell’s recently discovered Songs of Zion (1821).  The alto 6-la is preserved in The Hesperian Harp (see HERE).   As in Friendship, the parallel phrase ends on 5-sol for the alto.  I’m somewhat less inclined to see this as a typo, because the song frequently cadences on the vi chord already, and because Hauser doesn’t change it.

Hicks’ Farewell.  Allison Blake Steel’s arrangement of HICKS’ FAREWELL, a William Walker melody from The Southern Harmony, ends (in minor) with the bass on a choosing 1-la and the 4-sol above it, while the other voices take 1-la or 4-sol.  It’s a delicious chord—reminds me of the second phrase ending in 344t SUFFERING SAVIOR. It is also a great example of how a composer can use old techniques to create something entirely new.

Allison Steel’s arrangement of Hicks’ Farewell

There are additional songs in the late nineteenth century seven-shape repertoire that don’t end on their home chord, but I’ll leave them out, as the musical style had changed considerably by then.


It seems appropriate to end this post, like these songs, with questions.  What does the existence, and persistence, of the unanswered cadence in REDEEMING GRACE tell us?  Why did Davisson revise his HUMBLE PENITENT arrangement to add more ambiguity rather than less?  How are we to accept that the lovely treble line of DEVOTION ends on the “wrong” note?  Of course, we can never know why any of these songs are the way they are, since we have little or no information from the composers and arrangers themselves.  However, tunebook compilers of the period felt free to change songs copied from other books, so both the survival of the unanswered cadence in some books and its”correction” in others are telling.

The most obvious hearing is a deliberate confounding of our expectations for the home chord.  In common practice music, this kind of fakeout is a type of deceptive cadence.  Perhaps this interpretation is too modern, however.  I’m not convinced that shape-note composers of this era thought in terms of chord progressions, though in their rudiments the home triad is mentioned as the most stable sonority.  I’m inclined to say that we have an ending “destabilization” rather than a chord progression.  (Just for kicks, I did some research on “unstable” endings in modern pop music.  I couldn’t find information about ending on iv6, but ending on the IV chord is popular enough in contemporary Christian music that one blogger, Greg Howlett, rails against it as a gimmick.  Springsteen’s “Lonesome Day” also ends on IV.  In fact, some iconoclastic alto could complete the ambiguous 6-1 dyad ending of REDEEMING GRACE, DEVOTION, and HUMBLE PENITENT to a IV64 triad, which has 1-fa in the bass, with the other voices taking 4-fa and 6-la.  David Temperley’s “The Cadential IV in Rock” mentions the use of IV to loop back to I, just as our unanswered cadence is followed by a return to the beginning of the music in the next verse.  If the unanswered cadence is a “gimmick” of the 1820s, however, it didn’t catch on; as far as I know, no new unanswered cadences were added between 1826 and Steel’s 2007 HICKS’ FAREWELL.)

Alternately, an unanswered cadence may be a way of pointing out a modal ambiguity in the melody itself.  Despite the firm differentiation between major and minor in the rudiments of shape-note books, the line between the two is blurred in the songs themselves, and, of course, the distinction had only became important when people started to notate music that had been in the oral tradition.  Many shape-note tunes are “modally restless” in that they share phrases with tunes that are in a different mode, and even may belong to tune families that have both “major” and “minor” members.  For example, HUMBLE PENITENT has some melodic similarity to BOURBON, which is minor; 2 RHODE ISLAND (minor) and 82 INDIAN PHILOSOPHER (major) are another such pair.  John G. McCurry commented in the rudiments of The Social Harp (1855), “There are some tunes that no man can tell whether they are major or minor keyed; e.g. refer to “Minister’s Farewell,” “Rhode Island,” “Antioch,” “Desire for Piety,” that the keys are in conflict all the way through.”  Although we don’t know whether modal ambiguity was a well known issue, McCurry, at least, had noticed it.  REDEEMING GRACE, HUMBLE PENITENT, DEVOTION, and ANGELS’ SONGS are all major songs that have prominent uses of 6-la, and the ending cadence reinforces the sense of being in major and minor at the same time. In HUMBLE PENITENT, especially, the final cadence says to me “no one knows what key we’re in.”

Another way I hear the unanswered cadence stems from my belief that shape-note music of the early 1800s is primarily melodically, rather than harmonically, driven.  Each voice part pursues its own melodic destiny.   In the rudiments of The Hesperian Harp, page xviii, Hauser encourages composers to “make each part so good a melody that it will charm even when sung by itself,” although he also stipulates that “[the fifth] should be the last note but one in every bass.” Though the voices are not meant to clash repeatedly, they don’t have to satisfy any particular harmonic expectations (Hauser notes that even the “rule” that the bass should end on 5-1 is sometimes broken).  Perhaps the unanswered cadence is nothing more than one part ending in major on 1-fa while another part ends in the relative minor on 1-la.  Or perhaps the situation is that, just as a tune that is centered on 1-fa can end on 5-sol, as does HALLELUJAH (SH 146), such a tune can end on 6-la—this is the idea of modal restlessness again—and the same goes for any individual voice part.

Spoiler alert—my next blog post will be on modally restless tunes…


Morgan’s Judgment Anthem, newly typeset

judgment_picUPDATE: Our friends Becky, Leland, Cheri, and Ivy in Northampton recorded JUDGMENT ANTHEM! You can hear and download it from Soundcloud.

I just completed a new shape-note edition of Justin Morgan’s JUDGMENT ANTHEM, available for download here. It’s a real choral showpiece, with multiple key changes and solo sections.  Asahel Benham first published JUDGMENT ANTHEM in his Federal Harmony in 1790.  It was the first anthem ever published in shapes, appearing in the first shape-note book, Little and Smith’s Easy Instructor (1801), and continued to be popular among early shape-note publishers, including Davisson and his contemporaries.  It appeared in Wyeth’s Repository of Sacred Music, Part Second (1813), Davisson’s Kentucky Harmony (1816), Carden’s Missouri Harmony (1820), Moore’s Columbian Harmony (1825), and several other books.

Whether by accident or design, Little and Smith changed the anthem in several significant ways, and these changes were copied in all the subsequent shape-note printings that I’ve seen.  In addition to my goal of producing a modern typeset version on a minimal number of pages (10), I also aimed to restore the original 1790 version of the piece as best as possible, with the addition of shaped notes.  I’ve listed my editorial changes on the last page.

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To get a sense of the JUDGMENT ANTHEM in popular culture, read this selection from Gerald Stanley Lee’s Mount Tom: An All Outdoors Magazine, 1906.  (This whole essay is a satirical account of the “wars” over church music at the time–definitely worth a read!)


Identity Crisis: The Real M.Kyes

In the current pre-publication packet some of you may have noticed that the composer of the anthem ShH 453 CRUCIFIXION is no longer given as “M. Kyes”. The identity of this composer has been a tantalizing enigma for some time; who could write such an extraordinary piece as Crucifixion, and yet remain utterly unknown? Ten pieces are ascribed to M. Kyes in Asahel Benham’s Social Harmony, two more tunes in Benham’s Federal Harmony, and a single tune (ShH 452 SOLITUDE) in Wyeth’s Repository, Part II.

A look at Benham’s indices brings up the question: why is “Kyes” the only composer there with an initial before his surname? There is no record of any other composer of the period with the same surname, so why was the distinction necessary? The clue lies in the name actually printed in Wyeth’s index: M’Kyes – using an apostrophe or full-stop (or period) was another way of writing Mc or Mac surnames – which means we should really be looking for a ‘McKyes’. This supposition was confirmed by early American sacred music expert Nym Cooke, who shared with us his discovery of several songs in an 1803 manuscript, located in the Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford and compiled by Ishmael Spicer, singing master of Connecticut.  The manuscript contains five tunes attributed to “McKyes” – four of them are from Benham’s “M.Kyes” tunes, and the fifth, ‘Rolling-Sky’, has not been found elsewhere.

I often search for old tunebooks which have recently been scanned and made available online (say what you will), so you can imagine my excitement at discovering, purely by chance, six tunes ascribed to “B. McKyes” in Mark Burnham’s Colonial Harmonist, 1832, published in Port Hope, Ontario (scanned and uploaded to by the University of Alberta). These six pieces do not sit easily with the overall style of the book (a round-note tunebook with Lowell Mason aspirations, including figured bass and containing many English compositions), but they show striking similarities to the “M.Kyes” tunes published by Benham. Four of them are in minor keys, in fact a significant proportion of the total amount of minor-key music in the book. So who was this B. McKyes?

After some eager research and correspondence, we are proud to reveal, with very little doubt, the man we believe to be the composer: Barnabas McKyes (c.1765-1835), a farmer who lived his later life in Amherst (now Cobourg), Hamilton, Ontario.
We managed to get in touch with his great-great-grandson, Edward McKyes, who told us that Barnabas’ father Daniel emigrated from the Isle of Man in the mid-eighteenth century. Exactly where in North America the family lived at this point requires more research – there  are Pennsylvania connections which still need chasing up (sometimes complicated by non-standardised spellings) – and it seems they did not stay long in one place. “Daniel McKeyes” (presumably Barnabas’ father) appears as head of a household in the 1790 census for Wallingford, CT, and Barnabas’ first son Willis was born in Vermont in 1794. Certainly more work is needed on McKyes’ connections to Benham (also a resident of Wallingford) and Spicer – was it a pupil-teacher relationship, or were they fellow singing masters?
As we can see, the McKyes family seem to have moved around a bit (we are not certain where or exactly when Barnabas was born) before travelling slowly northwards around the turn of the century to settle in “Upper Canada” as it was then known. Here they were one of the first new settler families, along with the Burnhams who were founders of the Hamilton township.
The Burnham and McKyes families appear to have became well acquainted (which explains McKyes’ tunes in Burnham’s Colonial Harmonist); Mark Burnham (1791-1864) and Barnabas were brother freemasons, members of the North Star Lodge which met at Stiles’ Hotel in Amherst/Cobourg from 1819-1822; also Zacheus Burnham, Mark’s older brother, appears as an executor of Daniel McKyes’ will in 1811.
Incredibly, not only do Barnabas’s direct descendants still live in south-east Canada, but we are told that musical ability has also been passed down through the family.


The total number of McKyes pieces known now stands at 21, with six of these currently heading for publication in The Shenandoah Harmony: 224 PREPARATION, 225 SURPRISE, 302 PARADISE, 452 SOLITUDE, 453 CRUCIFIXION, and 456 MORTALITY. That’s 10 in Benham’s Social Harmony, 2 in Benham’s Federal Harmony, 1 in Wyeth’s Repository Part II, 6 in Burnham’s Colonial Harmonist, 1 in the Ishmael Spicer MS, and 1 more in a MS Second Edition of Burnham’s Colonial Harmonist (c.1836).

A couple of Benham’s M.Kyes/McKyes tunes were republished in The Easy InstructorThe Tennessee Harmony, and The Hesperian Harp ; other than this, his music seems to have fallen into obscurity for about 150 years. Interestingly, N. Little used McKyes’ tune 456 MORTALITY as the model for his tune MEDITATION in The Easy Instructor.


It’s a good feeling to uncover a little bit about the life of a composer, especially a little-known and talented person such as Barnabas McKyes. I hope that we find more!
Thanks to Rachel Hall for encouraging me to do this write-up, and for following up leads on the right side of the pond, and thanks to Nym Cooke for sharing his research on McKyes – also, apologies for my UK English spellings!

Update: you can read more about this discovery in an article about Nym Cooke’s forthcoming shape-note book, The American Harmony.  We’re eagerly looking forward to his book!



Disclaimer: We have no indisputable proof that Barnabas McKyes, B. McKyes, and M.Kyes are the same person. However, we have presented the facts as we know them, and the available evidence reasonably suggests we may be correct in our supposition. We would be glad to hear of any information that either supports or undermines our theory!

Barring It All, Part 1

Thanks to some perceptive comments on fasola-songwriters and elsewhere, I’m going to revisit my previous post on rhythm and meter.  Two comments that intrigued me were Leah Velleman’s idea that there might be a generative theory of rhythm that applies to shape-note hymnody and Tarik Wareh’s observation that rhythm and the placement of bar lines are not independent phenomena.  Another suggestion, emailed by a friend, was to look at higher-level accents.

I hope you’re not sick of LOUISIANA (SH 207), because I’d like to start there again.  I had classified settings of the text as “even” if their accented syllables were evenly spaced.  However, as Leah and others pointed out, I allowed some fudging at the end of lines, so my “even” rhythms weren’t strictly even.  Here’s a rhythmic setting of “Come, little children” that is completely even.  Each accented syllable starts a bar, with the unaccented syllable or syllables following it.  The slurs indicate the structure of the poetry.

Example 1: Strictly even rhythm.

But this seems all wrong.  There’s nowhere for the singers to breathe between phrases.  Moreover, 2/4 is the only common choice of barring that preserves the musical symmetry we expect between the parallel two-line phrases of text.  Here’s what happens if we bar in 4/4:

Example 2: Barring Example 1 in 4/4.

However, if we add a little time in the middle of the verse, order is restored:

Example 3: Adding some time in the middle of the verse.

This rhythm, though no longer “even” in terms of the pattern of accented syllables, may be grouped into higher-level units of two, four, or eight measures.  Lengthening “morsel” (and “postle”) more or less gives a second accented syllable to that line, balancing the first line:

Come, LIT-tle CHIL-dren, NOW we MAY

The “swung” version of this pattern, barred in 6/4, with each two-note grouping replaced by a half note followed by a quarter note, is exactly the rhythm of the first four lines of Walker’s BABE OF BETHLEHEM (ShH 103).

Example 4: ShH 103 BABE OF BETHLEHEM.

However, the rhythm in Example 3 is not actually the rhythm of LOUISIANA, which goes like this:

Example 5: Text setting of LOUISIANA in The Sacred Harp, p. 207.

What I take from this is that giving more breathing space between lines (or at least pairs of lines) can take precedence over the binary symmetry of Examples 3 and 4—that is, it is acceptable and often desirable to have five-measure phrases.   After all, we’re singing, not dancing.  Moreover, making “Come” a half note creates a much easier entrance for the class and the leader.

Let’s turn now to the long-short-short-long rhythm of THE CHURCH’S DESOLATION (SH 89).  I called this pattern “uneven,” but it’s actually uneven in a specific way: the distance between successive accented syllables alternates between two beats and four beats.  I’ve put dotted lines before each accented syllable.

Example 6: THE CHURCH’S DESOLATION rhythm.

There is no obvious way to bar this rhythm.  If I were not familiar with the song, I would bar it in 3/2, which emphasizes the parallel long-short-short-long rhythmic patterns and divides each line of poetry in half–a division that is also present in the poetry of the first and third lines.

Example 7: Barring THE CHURCH’S DESOLATION rhythm in 3/2.

As you know if you’ve looked at the song, this is not the way this rhythm is actually barred:

Example 8: Actual barring of THE CHURCH’S DESOLATION rhythm.

Is the rhythm, then, misbarred in The Sacred Harp?  The “misbarring” football has been kicked around on fasola-discussions and elsewhere. And in fact, when arrangers “reform” earlier settings of a tune that has the long-short-short-long rhythm, they often change a 4/4 or 2/2 barring, which is typical in early shape-note sources, to a 3/2 barring—see my discussion of the history of BOURBON.  An opposite phenomenon happens when a 3/2, reformed-harmony song like Lowell Mason’s GRAVITY (CB 266t / ShH 4b) or BOYLSTON (CB 447t) enters the shape-note world and is barred in duple time.  Although it’s true that the accents of the poetry don’t line up as well with the text, Example 8 has more life in it than Example 7.  There’s a polyrhythm—a rhythm produced when the same unit of time is simultaneously divided in two different ways—between the duple-time pattern of the barring and the triple-time pattern of the note values and text that is just soooo satisfying.  And since Sacred Harp singers “beat time” with their arms while singing, the duple-time rhythm is embodied, as well (see this video, starting at 2:00).  So I wouldn’t say the rhythm is mis-anything, any more than I would say that shape-note harmonies are “incorrect.”*

I can see that I’ll have more to say on the subject.  I still haven’t addressed Tarik’s question of why I consider the settings of THE DYING CALIFORNIAN in the Denson and Cooper Sacred Harps to be fundamentally different.  And I wanted to look at different meters and songs that have more complex interactions between musical and textual rhythms, though let’s not say “misbarring.” I’d love to discuss songs like Walker’s TENDER-HEARTED CHRISTIAN (ShH 270) as well.  Let’s call this post “Part 1.”

*My preference for the barring in Example 8 raises the question of whether it is appropriate for a hymn to have “life,” at least in this obviously rhythmic way.  If sung quickly, the rhythm of THE CHURCH’S DESOLATION does, I think, clash with the gravity of the words.  The nineteenth-century reformers sought to make church music more reverential.  One of the ways they did was to slow tempos and regularize rhythms and harmonies.  “Unreformed” shape-note music is, mostly, not part of church worship.

Meter, Rhythm, and the Most Awkward Farewell

Here’s a sequel to my previous post on tune families.  After reading Charles Seeger’s article ”Versions and variants of the tunes of ‘Barbara Allen,'” I was intrigued by the idea of adding rhythm to my analysis of tune families.  In this post, I’m going to explore the contribution of rhythm to a tune’s identity.  Since settings of the same tune family can vary in four dimensions—pitch, time, text, and harmony—I’d like to incorporate rhythm into the study of tune families and also consider the existence of “rhythm families.”

First of all, let’s distinguish between meter and rhythm.  Meter, in this context, is the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in the poetry.  It is unaffected by how the text is set to music.  Rhythm, on the other hand, is the pattern of musical note durations in a tune.  Normally, there is a relationship between the meter of a text and the rhythm of the tune chosen for that text.  However, the same meter may be expressed in several different rhythms in different songs, or even within the same song.


LOUISIANA, page 207 in The Sacred Harp, 1991 (SH), is a good illustration of how rhythm is incorporated into the identity of a tune.  Its meter is 8, 7 D. iambic, meaning eight lines of iambic feet, alternating eight and seven syllables, with this stress pattern:

Come, LIT-tle CHILD-ren, NOW we MAY
Par-TAKE a LIT-tle MOR-sel.

My reduction of the song is below.  To make a cleaner picture, I’ve used only one note per syllable.  Often different instances of the same rhythm are barred differently, so I’ve chosen not to show a time signature or bar lines.  The dark bars indicate phrase endings, which often do not correspond to musical barring.  It’s common for lines of poetry to occupy the same amount of musical time, even if they do not have the same number of syllables.  However, in order to set the song in a familiar time signature—not something like 9/4, as this appears to be—rests are normally added between phrases, as in The Sacred Harp’s setting of LOUISIANA.  Since I don’t find the rests an essential part of the story, I’ve left them out.

I’ll call this example “even” because the syllables are set more or less evenly, with some correction at the ends and beginnings of phrases.  Other 8, 7 iambic songs with almost the same rhythm are MECKLINBURG, Shenandoah p. 259, and LOOK OUT, SH p. 90.

Rhythm 1: Even.Reduction_Louisiana

Now let’s experiment with changing the rhythm, while keeping the notes of the tune intact.  Here, I use the rhythm of BABE OF BETHLEHEM, page 103 in The Shenandoah Harmony (ShH).

Rhythm 2: Even, with swing.Reduction_Louisiana_BabeOfBethlehem

This rhythm is derived by “swinging” the original—that is, two equal notes are replaced by a long-short pair, with the long note falling on an accented syllable. It doesn’t take much to convince me that, in this form, LOUISIANA is almost identical to ZION’S CALL (ShH p. 131).

These two rhythmic patterns, or variations of them, seem to be the most common for 8, 7 iambic poetry.  However, they are not the only choices.  Let’s try LOUISIANA with the rhythm of THE CHURCH’S DESOLATION, page 89 in The Sacred Harp.  If we think of an accented syllable followed by an unaccented one as being a “unit” (a trochaic foot—the pattern that typically functions as a unit in musical settings), the lengths of units are uneven, though the pattern is quite predictable.

Rhythm 3: Uneven (long-short-short-long).Reduction_Louisiana_ChurchsDesolation

In fact, LOUISIANA is a relative of THE CHURCH’S DESOLATION.  You can especially hear this in the B part of the music.  There’s even a LOUISIANA in The Hesperian Harp that uses this long-short-short-long rhythm.    Although this pattern seems syncopated when sung quickly, it has a long history in church music, going back at least to the mid-eighteenth century.  Note that the words “morsel,” “union,” and “communion” have what’s called a “Scotch snap,” meaning a short-long rhythm where the shorter note gets the accented syllable.  I’ll call that pattern a snap.

Whether I hear the same sequence of notes as more like LOUISIANA, ZION’S CALL, or CHURCH’S DESOLATION depends on which of these rhythms I choose.  There is an additional rhythm for 8, 7 iambic that I’ve not seen with a LOUISIANA relative, though perhaps someone else will find one.  CHRISTIAN’S DELIGHT (ShH p. 359) uses essentially this pattern.  It is a swung version of Rhythm 3, with the two long notes replaced by a long-short pair.  There are snaps in the same places as Rhythm 3.  JESUS DIED FOR ME, page 511b in the Cooper edition of The Sacred Harp, has the same rhythm.

Rhythm 4: Uneven, with swing.Reduction_Louisiana_ChristiansDelight

Oddly enough, Rhythm 4 is very common in Seeger’s transcriptions of “Barbara Allen,” while Rhythm 3 is not found in the oral recordings.  Perhaps the need to write the song in musical notation, coupled with the preference for duple time signatures like 4/4 and 2/4 rather than triple time signatures like 3/2, meant that Rhythm 3 was preferred to Rhythm 4 in shape-note books (Rhythm 4 must be set in triple meter, while Rhythm 3 can be duple or triple).  For example, contrast the Cooper Sacred Harp‘s 1902 setting of WAYFARING STRANGER in duple meter, using an analog of Rhythm 3, to the Denson Sacred Harp‘s 1935 setting of the same tune in triple meter, this time with a pattern like Rhythm 4.

The four rhythms above and their close variants exhaust the possibilities I’ve seen for 8, 7 iambic in the Denson and Cooper editions of The Sacred Harp and The Shenandoah Harmony.  There is a metrical index for The Sacred Harp, 1991 HERE and for the Cooper book HERE.  Our eBook has a metrical index as well.

A side note—George Pullen Jackson and others have traced the LOUISIANA group of tunes, including also THE FLOWER (ShH 41) to a Scottish song Wae’s me for Prince Charlie (also HERE), which in turn is related to a 1615 tune, Lady Cassille’s Lilt.  See Bronson, The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads, 1959, vol. III, page 198 ff.

TROCHAIC 8s & 7s.

It seems that we might be able to describe “rhythmic families,” meaning collections of rhythm patterns that have similar characteristics, in the same way that we can attempt to classify tune families.  Let’s turn now to the 8, 7 trochaic family, a larger grouping that includes the “Come, thou fount” text that I discussed HERE.  The trochaic foot is a stressed-unstressed pattern: “COME thou / FOUNT of / EVE-ry / BLESS-ing.”

Example 1: Even. 
ShH 380 AUTUMN, 1787.


Example 1 is the most common rhythmic setting of 8, 7 trochaic.  I found the following in The Shenandoah Harmony: 248b TRIUMPH, 76b MOUNT WATSON, 432t NEW MONMOUTH, 264t ANIMATION, 244 CONCERT, 334 GETHSEMANE, and 36 OUR JOURNEY HOME.  Examples in The Sacred Harp are 56t, 59, 80t, 117, 145t, 148, 166, 312b, 333, and 458.

Example 2a: Even, with swing. 
ShH 55 BALL HILL, 1844.


Other examples of 2a are also ShH 226 THORNY DESERT (A part), ShH 118 LOCHLEVEN, and SH 370 MONROE.

Example 2b: Even, mixed swing and straight. 
ShH 246t PALMS OF VICTORY, 1854.

The “swung notes” can be other places in the tune—see ShH 293 CELESTIAL WATERING.  This is also a popular choice.  Instances of Example 2b in The Sacred Harp  are 30t, 54, 135, 144, 145b, 323t, 332, and 385b.

Example 2c: Even, with swing and snaps. 
226 THORNY DESERT (B part), 1835.


Snaps normally come at the end of a line of text.  ShH 241t SINNER, CAN YOU HATE THE SAVIOR is similar.  VILLULIA, 56b in The Sacred Harp, has an additional snap in the middle of the first line.  Other settings like Example 2c in The Sacred Harp are 52b, 118, and 154.

Example 3: Uneven (short-short-long-long).  

Rhythm_MyNativeLand See also ShH 340t PRINCETON and SH 335 RETURN AGAIN.

Example 4: Uneven, with swing (almost).  
SH 410t THE DYING CALIFORNIAN, arr. Howard Denson, 1935.


Example 4 is Howard Denson’s 1935 arrangement of the song, which is now in The Sacred Harp, 1991.  The rhythm is close to regular, but doesn’t fit the “uneven, with swing” pattern perfectly because the phrase “limbs are” is not swung.  Another example of the “uneven, with swing” rhythm—this time, a perfect match—comes from the 1927 song SHE IS SLEEPING, p. 540 in The Sacred Harp, Revised Cooper Edition, 2012.

The original 1859 version of DYING CALIFORNIAN is in the Cooper book (CB) and on page 410 in The Original Sacred Harp, 1911:

Example 5: Mixed even and uneven.


 I would classify the first phrase as even and the second as uneven.  I wonder whether Denson regularized the rhythm in 1935 to match how people actually sung DYING CALIFORNIAN, or if he was imposing his own idea of how the song “ought” to be.

In another category are three songs from the Cooper book: 449 BEAUTIFUL RIVER (1864), 454 THE BLESSED LAMB (arr. 1902?), and 483 WHERE THE SAINTS ARE PASSING OVER (1882).  The composers  draw out the phrase expressively in some places and compress it in others, in a way that seems to me more typical of gospel music than earlier shape-note repertoire.  Example 6 is a phrase from BEAUTIFUL RIVER.  The first line has the same rhythm as “I’ve been working on the railroad,” a glee from the 1890s.

Example 6: Expressive, regular.

Rhythm_BeautifulRiver2There is one additional song that doesn’t fit any of these models.

Example 7: Expressive, irregular.

See the Original Sacred Harp, 1911, page 460, for this tune from 1869.  The fact that THE BRIDE’S FAREWELL is one of the fifteen least popular songs chosen (out of 557) by Sacred Harp singers is, I’m sure, partly due to its maudlin text and angular melody, but the awkward rhythm doesn’t help either.

The alert reader may have noticed that I omitted text settings from fuges or part songs.  There are three, all from the twentieth century: SM Denson, TJ Denson, and JS James’ THE GREAT ROLL CALL (1909), CB 229, Paine Denson’s PEACE AND JOY (1959), SH 532, and Hal Kunkel’s TEN THOUSAND CHARMS (1996), ShH 140b. These songs are all popular in their respective books.  I won’t analyze them here, but it is informative to study how each composer effectively varies the “traditional” rhythmic patterns for this meter.


The classification system I have developed for 8s & 7s—even, uneven, swing, straight, snap—can be applied to different meters.  What other terminology is necessary to describe the full catalog of meters?  Certainly there are circumstances we have not encountered yet, such as “units” of stressed-unstressed-unstressed (dactyls) that occur in meters like 11s.  Do the vast majority of plain tunes fall under the same general categories?

The rhythms I classified as “expressive” in that the durations of individual notes vary widely are associated with the gospel era (late 1800s and early 1900s).  It also seems that the “uneven, with swing” rhythm appears relatively late.  What is the chronology of rhythms?  I find it particularly interesting that the rhythms of several songs in The Sacred Harp have been changed in the early twentieth century.

Finally, how have shape-note composers of the past set text rhythmically in fuges and part songs?  Have they more or less stuck to established models, or have they made innovations?  What can modern-day composers learn from this?


Another 8, 7 “farewell” song with irregular timing, arranged by William Walker in 1854:

Southern Harmony 328 MISSIONARY FAREWELL, 1854.Rhythm_MissionaryFarewell_SouH

The song appears in The Christian Harmony, 1866 with the same rhythm.  The editors of the Deason-Parris revision of The Christian Harmony (1958) “corrected” the rhythm by using a rhythm similar to the pattern chosen by William Hauser in his 1848 setting of the tune.  The Shenandoah setting (p. 14) by Dan Hunter is  based on Hauser’s arrangement.