Saturday, July 11, 2009

Rethinkin our thinkin: My book is better

Back in December of 2007, I made a series of posts on some historical (and other) inaccuracies of Sacred Harp called Rethinkin our thinkin (all are available from this link). In the course of posts, I discussed six "myths". Today I want to think about one more.

Myth # 7. My book is better than your book.

In a singing tradition that has developed different followings of different books, it is inevitable that most singers will adopt a favorite book. This is reasonable and expected. Also inevitable, it appears, is the adoption of a not-so-reasonable "my book is better than your book" attitude by some.

I am a "Cooper Book" singer. It is my book. It is my heritage. I grew up in an area and a community that used the Cooper Book. I grew up in a family that used the Cooper Book. My Dad's uncle has a song in the book. That song, written by a young man who died an "untimely death",[1] (and those circumstances) forever anchors our family to one book more than others. The past is what it is and can't be changed. I wouldn't want to. Yes, my favorite Sacred Harp book is the Cooper Book. That doesn't mean it is better than the Denson Book or the J.L. White Book. Just that it is my favorite. If your favorite is the Denson, that doesn't mean it is better; if your favorite is the J.L. White, that doesn't mean it is better. Just that it is your favorite.

I can now hear some scholar say, "but this" and "but that", explaining musical technicalities, historic anomalies and various personalities. I say, if Sacred Harpers had listened to the "better" music boys,[2] there would be no Sacred Harp today. They "knew" what was better, and it wasn't The Sacred Harp.

Remember music is an art as well as a science. They say "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" -- or in this case "beauty is in the ear of the be-hearer". A person's favorite song is that person's favorite song, regardless of what some "expert" finds wrong with it. And a person's favorite song book is that person's favorite song book, regardless of what some "expert" finds wrong with it.

My book is not better than your book (nor yours mine). My book is my book. Your book is your book. The twain may never meet...But we'll meet together at your singing and sing from your book, then at my singing and sing from my book. Hopefully we'll love every minute of it!

[1] He was only 26 when he contracted typhoid fever and died.
[2] Lowell Mason, Thomas Hastings and company


Will Fitzgerald said...

I especially like the "Better Music boys" comparison. I'll try to remember that.

R. L. Vaughn said...

This made me think of some comments David Lee made at the 2000 Minnesota Cooper Book Convention (I wasn't there; heard it on the CD). Noting some of the "differences" in the books, he said it was where you were when you were singing out of them and what was going on at the time -- and what we associate with the songs.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to capture this for the August issue of the Colorado Sacred Harp newsletter.


R. L. Vaughn said...

Pete, you're welcome to use this for your newsletter. I made a few sentence tweaks and added a footnote explaining who the "better music boys" are, so I would prefer you capture it now with these changes. I hope it will be useful to you.

Pete Mathewson said...

Got it, thanks, Robert. First box of books came today. Looking for the balance tomorrow.


R. L. Vaughn said...

Hope they make it. It's funny how you can mail some things at the same time from the same place to the same place and they arrive at different times.