The purpose of this publication is to encourage collaboration between shape-note singers and church choirs. Today, there is less hostility between the worlds of church music and shape-note singing ensembles than there was in the past. There are increasing opportunities for shape-note singers to collaborate with church choirs in worship services. By presenting a shared repertory of hymns and tunes in a format that both church choirs and shape-note singers can use, this volume will encourage collaboration between the two worlds.

I should make clear that the purpose of this volume is not to “improve” the songs in shape-note tunebooks in order to make them conform to a notion of “correct” musical composition (a notion which hardly exists today). My attitude is that the repertories and performance practices of church choirs and shape-note ensembles are simply different; neither takes precedence over the other. This volume seeks to identify and celebrate the common ground between the two traditionswhile making pragmatic decisions about how these traditions can cooperate when they are in conflict.

Some of the tunes and hymns presented here will be unfamiliar to shape-note singers, especially those who only know the 1991 edition of The Sacred Harp. Most church hymnals published since the 1970s contain around two dozen tunes held in common with shape-note collections. However, some of these tunes are derived from collections other than The Sacred Harp (particularly The Southern Harmony). Other tunes are found in The Sacred Harp, but with considerable differences. For example, The Promised Land, a minor key camp meeting spiritual in The Sacred Harp, often appears in a major key arrangement in current hymnals. This volume deals with these discrepancies by presenting the main melody (tenor voice) in the variant most often found in current hymnals. The harmony parts are changed as little as possible from the original shape-note settings. In the case of The Promised Land, I use the major version of the melody, but I keep the harmony parts as close as possible to what is found in The Sacred Harp. This is in contrast to the settings in current hymnals, which use a simple chordal accompaniment that is less interesting but easier to perform on a keyboard.

 Folk hymns that are commonly found in church hymnals, but not in The Sacred Harp, include these:

  • Bourbon
  • Dunlap’s Creek
  • Morning Song (Consolation)
  • Nettleton

Folk hymns that are found in The Sacred Harp but are often encountered in a different variant include these:

  • Land of Rest (New Prospect)
  • Martyrdom (Sacred Throne)
  • New Britain (Amazing Grace)
  • Resignation (Irwinton)
  • The Promised Land

There are also several well-known hymn tunes with roots in English and Welsh folksong that, to my knowledge, have never been presented in shape notes. Ralph Vaughan Williams’s English Hymnal of 1906 was crucial for introducing these folklike tunes into the common repertory:

  • Forest Green
  • Kingsfold
  • Hyfrydol

I have composed new settings of these tunes, using the southern tunebook settings of folk hymns as a model. In each case, I have composed harmony parts with similar rhythmic and modal characteristics as the original tune, without chromatic alteration.

Other types of tunes shared among church hymnals and shape-note collections:

  1. Psalm tunes from the early years of the Reformation: Dundee, Old 100th,  St. Flavian, Tallis’ Canon. Some hymnals present these tunes in polyphonic settings from early psalm collections, in which the main melody is in the tenor voice. I have included such settings for Dundee and Old 100th, alongside the settings of these tunes from shape-note tunebooks. Though the early psalm settings present rhythmic and modal complications not found in the shape-note repertory, they will be of interest to many shape-note singers.
  2. Tunes popularized in English Protestant hymnals of the 18th and early 19th centuries: Adeste fideles (Portuguese Hymn), Arlington, Darwall’s 148th, Duke Street, St. Thomas, Sicilian Mariners. These were among the popular church tunes in the early 19th century, and as such, are the closest common ancestors of both the shape-note tunebooks and church hymnals.
  3. Tunes popularized in the publications of Lowell Mason and his followers in the United States: Antioch, Azmon, Bradbury, Christmas, Creation, Dennis, Hamburg, Webb, Woodworth. It is unfortunate that the name of Lowell Mason has become a bête noire among shape-note singers. Certainly, he was opposed to the shape-note method of notation, and he held Eurocentric ideas about musical taste that are out of fashion today. But on the other hand, he composed and arranged a large number of tunes that work well in a dispersed harmony arrangement (especially when compared to the Victorian tunes and gospel hymns that followed a generation later). The Sacred Harp contains several of Mason’s tunes and would be worse off without them. European common practice harmony does have a place in shape-note tunebooks, though as merely one style among many.
  4. Gospel hymns: Christ Arose, Marching to Zion, Near the Cross, Showalter. I have included a few examples of gospel hymns that are particularly useful for a congregation that observes the liturgical calendar. Shape-note singers familiar with the Christian Harmony or the Cooper edition of The Sacred Harp may find these songs especially congenial. In the future, a companion volume to The Liturgical Harp, containing a fuller selection of gospel hymns, may appear.

I have also reached beyond the boundaries of the shape-note canon to include other new tunes that will appeal to shape-note singers.

  1. The English Methodist tune Sagina, with its independent part writing, may be a worthy addition to the repertory.
  2. Most German chorale melodies are not well-suited for a shape-note arrangement (as can be observed in William Walker’s inept arrangement of Ein’ Feste Burg as Reformation for the Christian Harmony). However, the minor key melody Neumark (Wer nur den lieben Gott) is perhaps an exception, and I am giving it a try in this volume. Other tunes from German sources include Dix and Grosser Gott/Hursley.
  3. Two other minor key tunes often found in today’s hymnals are Leoni and Lacquiparle, which come from Jewish and American Indian melodic traditions, respectively.
  4. I am providing two arrangements of African American spirituals, Every Time and Let Us Break Bread. These songs are useful for the liturgy. They can also demonstrate the wrongheadedness of the idea, promoted by George Pullen Jackson, that the southern tunebooks contain “white spirituals” that were the original models for black spirituals. I am trying to treat these songs with the same respect that the southern tunebook compilers had toward the folk hymns they popularized.

Shape-note singers will also encounter familiar tunes setting unfamiliar words. In general, I have chosen the hymn that is most often associated with a given tune in current hymnals, except that I have not licensed any copyrighted hymns published after 1923. (Certain folk hymn tunes are omitted from this collection because they are usually found with copyrighted hymns: Beach Spring, for example.) For pre-1923 hymns, there can be wide discrepancies in the versions published today. One possible solution is to publish each hymn in its original wording, but sometimes the original wording is difficult to determine, and the hymn is well-known in an altered version.

The pragmatic solution I have adopted is to publish most of the hymn texts with the wording found in The Sacred Harp, for hymns appearing in that collection. For hymns not included in The Sacred Harp, I have defaulted to versions published in widely distributed hymnals prior to 1923, in the hope that they are reasonably similar to the versions found in common hymnals. Churches who participate in a license agreement such as OneLicense or CCLI can reprint current versions of these hymns, or newer copyrighted hymns that are sung to the tunes in this collection.


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