Sources of the Sacred Harp and Southern Harmony

Did Lucius Chapin write the Amazing Grace tune?

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. 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.

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 … Continue reading “Long-lost Shenandoah tunebook found”

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 … Continue reading “Charts and graphs, oh my!”

“One of the most beautiful of those old minors”

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 … Continue reading ““One of the most beautiful of those old minors””

Questioning the Unanswered Cadence

There’s sometimes an audible gasp from the class after singing REDEEMING GRACE, THE HUMBLE PENITENT, or Allison Blake Steel’s arrangement of HICKS’ FAREWELL. Why the surprise?

Morgan’s Judgment Anthem, newly typeset

UPDATE: 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 … Continue reading “Morgan’s Judgment Anthem, newly typeset”

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 … Continue reading “Identity Crisis: The Real M.Kyes”

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 … Continue reading “Barring It All, Part 1”

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 … Continue reading “Meter, Rhythm, and the Most Awkward Farewell”