Tag Archives: minor songs

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?

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“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: