Monday, December 31, 2007

At the Close of the Year

At the Close of the Year (Short Meter)

Let hearts and tongues unite,
And loud thanksgivings raise:
'Tis duty, mingled with delight,
To sing the Saviour's praise.

To Him we owe our breath,
He took us from the womb,
Which else had shut us up in death,
And prov'd an early tomb.

When on the breast we hung,
Our help was in the Lord;
'Twas He first taught our infant tongue
To form the lisping word.

When in our blood we lay,
He would not let us die,
Because His love had fix'd a day
To bring salvation nigh.

In childhood and in youth,
His eye was on us still:
Though strangers to His love and truth,
And prone to cross His will.

And since His name we knew,
How gracious has He been:
What dangers has He led us through,
What mercies have we seen!

Now through another year,
Supported by His care,
We raise our Ebenezer here,
"The Lord has help'd thus far."

Our lot in future years
Unable to foresee,
He kindly, to prevent our fears,
Says, "Leave it all to Me."

Yea, Lord, we wish to cast
Our cares upon Thy breast!
Help us to praise Thee for the past,
And trust Thee for the rest.

-- John Newton (1725-1807)


As each year closes, I get one year older. I heard someone else say, "I am having my second 25th birthday." Yea, that.

Proverbs 4:7 states, "Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding." Having travelled half a century in this world, I don't think I can profess to getting much wisdom and understanding. I seem to be naturally turned to be a "fact collector" or "information gatherer". Sometimes it seems to be a compulsion or an obsession. When asked "why do want to know that" there is often no reasonable answer. I just want to know it. But knowing about things or facts is not the same as getting wisdom and understanding. So after a half century, I don't have any wise words to lay on anyone. Instead, an anecdote.

Yesterday, speaking of her brother's and my birthdays, a cousin humorously recalled a misquote of Scripture from my childhood. I didn't think to ask her the circumstances. Perhaps it was a failed memory verse. Perhaps a mondegreen. Anyway, my rendition of I Thess. 5:17 was "Pray without cursing." Even though I was only two letters off, there is no doubt that Paul's heaven-inspired version is better. But as I said to my cousin, "That's not bad advice." ;-)

"God is great, but sometimes life ain't good; And when I pray, it doesn't always turn out like I think it should - But I do it anyway." -- "Anyway", Martina McBride

Sunday, December 30, 2007

19 year old John Davis

According to Texas EquuSearch, "John Davis, age 19, was last seen on Monday, September 24, 2007 around 3:40 p.m. in the 400 block of Wesley Lane in Duncanville, Texas and has not been seen or heard from since. John was last seen wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt."

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Traditional American sacred music

A new site about Traditional American Sacred Music by R. Ryan of Waxahachie, Texas

Anyone in that area who is interested in shape note singing may wish to contact Mr. Ryan. Just use the easy contact form near the bottom of the page.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Annual shape-note singing schools

Following is a list of annual shape note singing schools, with location and latest web information

Alabama School of Gospel Music Boaz, AL 

Alva School of Music Alva, OK 
Ben Speer's Stamps-Baxter School of Music Nashville, TN 
Brockwell School of Gospel Music Brockwell, AR 
Camp FaSoLa Anniston, AL 
Camp DoReMi Little Switzerland, NC
Cumberland Valley School of Music Pulaski, TN 
Do Re Mi Gospel Music Academy Lebanon, TN 
Foundation School of Church Music Buda, TX 
Four States Praise Camp Canfield, AR
Gospel Heritage Singing School Broken Bow, OK
Gospel Singers of America School of Gospel Music Pass Christian, MS 
Grace Primitive Baptist Church Singing School Houston, TX
Haralson County School of Gospel Music Bremen, GA 

Harmony Highlands Singing School Jasper, AL
Harmony Hill Singing School Azle, TX
Harmony Plains Singing School Cone, TX
Harmony Valley Singing School Pontotoc, MS
Haskell Singing School Haskell, TX

J.G. Whitfield Memorial School of Music 
Jeffress School of Gospel Music Crossett, AR 
Leoma School of Gospel Music Lawrenceburg, TN
Liberty Singing School Arab, Alabama
Melody Grove Singing School, Warren, TX

Mountain State School of Gospel Music, Charleston, WV  
National School of Music camps in CA, TN & TX
North Georgia School of Gospel Music, Cleveland, GA

Rich Mountain Singing School, Alpine, AR
Shoal Creek Primitive Baptist Church Singing School Newborn, GA 
Singing School at Wilburton Wilburton, OK
Southern Gospel Music School of America, Collegedale, TN 

Texas Southern Gospel School of Music, Corsicana, TX 
The Singing School at ACU Abilene, TX
Tosh School of Gospel Music Fort Worth, TX
Tri-City Gospel Music Camp, Kingsport, TN
Tri-County Singers Association School, Charleston, WV 

West Virginia School of Gospel Music Kenna, WV
Wiregrass Shape Note Academy Camp 2014

All of the 37 schools on the above list share in common: (1) they are held annually, and (2) they teach participants to sing using shape notes. Some are strictly a cappella. Some use musical instruments. Some may simply introduce to shape notes; some may delve in music theory and even composition. Some are "denominational" (usually designed to support singing in a particular church/group). Some are "non-denominational" (usually designed to support singing in singing conventions). All except one are 7-shape. Camp FaSoLa is 4-shape (Sacred Harp). I think Harmony Hill, Rich Mountain, and a few others may briefly deal with Sacred Harp as well. Of the 7-shape schools all use the"Aiken system". Camp DoReMi also supports William Walker's 7-shapes. Click here to see various shapes.

The oldest (known) existing school is the Singing School at Abilene Christian University, which is a continuation of the Texas Normal Singing School established in Sabinal, TX in 1946. This is also the oldest existing school supported by the Churches of Christ. The oldest Primitive Baptist school is Harmony Hills, established in 1954. The oldest non-denominational school is the Brockwell School of Gospel Music, formed in Izard County, AR in 1947. There are perhaps others older that have not come to my attention (and perhaps other annual schools not listed). Many other shape note singing schools are held on a rotating and variable "as requested" basis.

Biennial singing school (occurring every other year)

Christian Harmony at John C. Campbell Folk School Brasstown, NC

If you discover new information or broken links, please let us know. Thanks!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Three comments on Christmas

Many of the trappings surrounding Christmas have little or no relation to the Bible and Christianity -- Santa Claus, reindeers and Christmas trees, for example. There are three things that do -- the birth of Jesus Christ & songs about the event, and the spirit of giving.

1. The Birth of Jesus. Christmas purports to be based upon and a celebration of the birth of Christ. Most Bible students would agree that the events recorded in the New Testament likely did not occur during the winter months, and the 25th of December surely has little possibly of being the right date. Whatever connection there may not be, the birth of Jesus Christ is an historical fact. The body of Jesus Christ was mediated to us through the flesh of a human female, a virgin Jewish girl named Mary.

2. Songs about Jesus' birth. Songs about the birth of Jesus Christ abound in the season leading up to Christmas Day (and die out quickly thereafter). This leads to the singing of good songs. But the tradition of singing songs about the birth of Jesus only at Christmas has robbed many from singing good songs about the birth of Jesus Christ the rest of the year. Good songs shouldn't be relegated to once a year, and if they're bad songs perhaps we shouldn't sing them at all.

3. The spirit of giving. Certainly the spirit of giving is founded in and bears much relation to Christians and Christianity. Here perhaps the Christmas tradition really turns the biblical spirit of giving on its head. Children are told if they've been "good little boys and girls" that they will receive a gift. Not only is this usually lieing -- even though they've been bad they still receive gifts -- it rejects the spirit of unconditional love and unconditional giving modeled by Jesus Christ. Not because we had been good, BUT while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.

"There came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.'"

We wise men from in the east are*
Bearing gifts; we traverse afar --
Field and fountain, moor and mountain --
Following yonder star.

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
Over us all to reign.

Frankincense to offer have I;
Incense owns a Deity nigh;
Prayer and praising, voices raising,
Worshipping God on high.

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb.

Glorious now behold Him arise;
King and God and sacrifice;
Alleluia, Alleluia,
Sounds through the earth and skies.

O star of wonder, star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

Words (and music) written by John Henry Hopkins, Jr. (1820-1891) in 1857. Hopkins was the General Theological Seminary’s first music teacher (1855-57), and editor of the Church Journal (1853-68).

* original wording is "We three kings of Orient are"

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Rethinkin our thinkin: on tradition

Rethinkin' our thinkin': some comments on Sacred Harp "myths" (concluded)

Myth # 6. On the place of tradition.

My great-great-grandfather, Edmund Harris Sanders, was born in Georgia (possibly Morgan County) 8 years before B. F. White & E. J. King published The Sacred Harp. He came to Texas after stays in Mississippi and Louisiana, and sometime between his birth in Georgia and anyone I knew remembered him, he became a Sacred Harp singer. His son was a singing school teacher, and two sons-in-law (one who also taught some) were the two men responsible for keying the songs at the community singings. One of Sanders' grandsons had a song published in the Cooper book, which G-g-grandpa probably would have seen before his death in 1922. My father was born in 1913 and raised in the Oak Flat community of southern Rusk County, Texas. In those days the community held a monthly Sunday afternoon Sacred Harp singing, as well as an annual Sacred Harp singing. From these singings my father learned what Sacred Harp IS, and anything that varied much from that wasn't quite Sacred Harp. However Grandpa and Uncle Joe and Aunt Axie and Aunt Donie Lyles did it was Sacred Harp. How could there be any question about that? Dad had very definite opinions on tempo (not too fast) and practice (it's not Sacred Harp if you don't sing the notes), and he remained a little skeptical of a red-backed book that he didn't know existed until he was near 70 years old. He could not sanction singing a song without singing the syllables first, even when we sang a few songs from the Sacred Harp in church worship services. Dad might have even argued for the use of a tuning fork, had not Uncle Joe Chapman (the tuning fork son-in-law) died and my Dad's grandfather began keying the songs "offhand", as he called it (which I guess has the general idea of impromptu or extempore as opposed to using an aid). To my father in a very real way Sacred Harp always was and would always be what he experienced as he grew up in that rural East Texas community. I expect such is roughly true of many "traditional" singers.

Perhaps that illustrates the strength of tradition in Sacred Harp. Tradition is a good thing. It keeps us anchored in the present and anchored to the past. But we must be mindful that traditions vary by location, and that old traditions have at times given way to new traditions. Sometimes when new singers enter the tradition they may accept the tradition of whatever area is "tradition" for them, unmindful that a variant tradition exists elsewhere.

Some things we may hear:

We always sing the notes. But "we" really don't always. A region of singers in Texas developed a "tradition" of not singing the notes. The philosophy seemed to be that once you learn a song there is no reason to keep singing the notes. Perhaps there was involved in the distant past some compromise to pacify seven-shape singers who didn't sing the notes, trying to keep them involved in the singings. Perhaps there was a difference of opinion on which shapes were best, so they just didn't sing any. Though we usually always sing the notes, there have been times and places in which this wasn't the case.

We don't use musical instruments. Never! Rarely ever. Well sometimes. A few years ago I was quite shocked to learn that musical accompaniment had been used at Sacred Harp singings in times past, from Alabama to Texas. Not too much. But any is too much for me!!!!! Some early recordings of Sacred Harp singers (studio recordings) included organs, pianos or melodeons. It actually sounds pretty good, but none of us want to go there, do we?

We don't have special music. But on occasion, from early in the 20th century to late, small groups of singers have "performed" at Sacred Harp singings.

We don't use tuning forks (or mechanical aids) to get the pitch. The other odd remarks highlight some "odd" practices that came and went and were out of the mainstream. But the use of tuning forks is, in my opinion, a different story -- perhaps never carefully researched because we really don't want to know. It is my impression that the use of tuning forks was probably once a common practice among the Sacred Harp community. We read of pre-Sacred Harp singing school teachers and their tuning forks. In old articles it is not uncommon to find a passing reference to a tuning fork at a singing convention -- from Georgia to Texas -- with no indication that is outside the norm.

We don't perform; Sacred Harp is not listener's music. An important feature of Sacred Harp singing is its participatory nature. Hugh McGraw's saying is oft quoted: "I'll travel across the country to sing Sacred Harp, but I wouldn't cross the street to listen to it." I think I understand what Hugh meant and agree with what I think he meant. I don't go to singings to listen. I go to sing. If I want to listen to a group, quartet, etc., I'll stay home and listen to the radio or a CD. I believe what is true in my case is probably true of others. I go to singings to sing; I don't go to listen. It doesn't mean I don't enjoy the sound, or that I wouldn't enjoy listening. That is not my priority. That is not my reason for going. That doesn't exclude it for being someone else's reason for going. We can overemphasize non-performance to the point of being incorrect. Choirs, quartets and soloists target an audience -- designing their program with the listener in mind. Sacred Harp, on the other hand, is not performance. Though listeners may enjoy the sounds of Sacred Harp, singers do not perform for listeners. But there is (or at least has been) a "performance" aspect of Sacred Harp. Two things come to mind. It the 1930s in Texas, Sacred Harp contests for children were quite popular. They would display their skills before judges, and win an award based on that "performance". In a similar vein, it was once the pride of accomplished leaders to demonstrate their skills by being chosen to lead a class of singers. Only leaders considered competent were called to the floor and often led 20 or 30 minutes at a time -- quite unlike our more democratic method followed today (which obviously hasn't always been the tradition). A more recent illustration of this is the promotion of Sacred Harp through the movie Cold Mountain and the related Great High Mountain tour.

I've included a few "odd" practices to illustrate the truth of the old adage, "never say never." A couple of things may have been a more established part of Sacred Harp -- for example, women not leading -- but died out over time. Some of the "oddest" of the practices mentioned probably have little to do with tradition, beyond being spoilers of it. So what's the point? Two or three, I suppose.

Let's be mindful of other's traditions. There are general overarching traditions that reach across boundaries of geography, genealogy, and generations. There are also local traditions that develop with local singings. Rather than expecting everyone to be "just like us", we should respect the traditions (or lack thereof) of other singers and singings. I once attended a singing in which leaders were not called to the floor as is the general practice, but whoever wanted to lead simply got up and went to the center. Now I wouldn't have done it that way, but I was a guest and believed it was their singing to choose to do as they pleased. One localized tradition that is unusual outside its area is found in north Mississippi. That tradition is the use of the Sacred Harp book, but singing seven syllables instead of four. I attended the Chickasaw County (MS) Convention, and although they said to sing four if you want to, I tried to conform to their practice and sing seven instead of four. It interesting and enjoyable -- and a good workout!

Tradition is what we make it. For example, if we once used tuning forks but give that up for "offhand" keying, then "offhand" keying becomes the new tradition. Once enough time passes it will be forgotten that we ever used tuning forks and "we don't use tuning forks" becomes the new tradition. Tradition doesn't so much mean that everything always remains the same, but that "tradition" is formed slowly and over the course of time by a general consensus of the Sacred Harp community. If B. F. White could visit a singing today, there would be some things that he would find odd, and some things that are much like he left them.

Tradition is a great leveler. Those who participate in Sacred Harp outside their own region/area learn of the traditions of others, learn which traditions are universal and which are unique. It may not cure all our "quirks", but it keeps constantly bringing us back to the center.

I hope this series of posts have got you thinking about whether the way we've always heard it is the way it's always been.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Rethinkin our thinkin: new books and the largest book

Rethinkin' our thinkin': some comments on Sacred Harp "myths"

Myth # 4. The early 20th century revision of the Sacred Harp was driven by lack of new books.

No one has ever claimed this as a sole reason for revision, but it has been brought up as a factor. But was it ever a factor? It has been brought to light that J. L. White and C. P. Byrd made at least two printings of the 1870 book -- at least one near the turn of the century, circa 1897. There is still in existence this mythical thinking that in 1900 all Sacred Harp singers were running around with 30-year old books that were falling apart. But the 1897 printing was only five years old when the Cooper book appeared in 1902. If books were falling apart, it was perhaps more of a choice than of a need. Surely the simple need for new books wasn't much of a factor.

Myth # 5. The James revision was the largest Sacred Harp book.

In his 1978 book, Buell Cobb reported 609 songs in 1911 James revision of The Sacred Harp. I'm not sure where this number comes from, but a review of the index will show it is conflated and inflated -- several pieces being listed twice. There are 623 songs listed in the index of the copy I have. The correct number of song in the James book is 580 (or 579; depending on whether "The Great Roll Call" is counted, it being in front of the "first" song in the book and not listed in the index).

The largest Sacred Harp book (barring closer review of the 1909 work of J. L. White) was the 1911 "Fourth Edition with Supplement" by J. L. White, the son of compiler B. F. White. The J. L. White book had 597 songs (not including 6 in the "Singing School Department"), making it larger than either Cooper's or James' revisions.

J. S. James' book was the largest in its physical dimensions (and possibly weight?). But when we mean largest repertoire of songs in one of the 20th century revisions, the answer is "The Sacred Harp, Fourth Edition with Supplement", published in 1911. The largest book in the 21st century is the recently revised 2006 edition of the Cooper Book, with 600 songs/hymns.[1]

Gratuitous information concerning the books (unrelated to myths): The newest edition of the Denson (formerly James) book contains 179 of the 242 songs (74%) included in The Sacred Harp in 1844. The newest edition of the Cooper book contains 173 of 242 (71%). These two different revisions have a different historical line after 1902. They continued to be revised by different committees made up of different personalities having different priorities and yet they are very close in the ratio of songs they have retained from the original book. It is even more striking when we consider a number of 1844 songs were removed from the book in 1870, and that the James revision added back many of those songs in 1911. The J. L. White book contains 90% of the 1844 book, being mostly unrevised in the first sections. When we compare the latest Cooper and Denson revisions to the 1870 edition of The Sacred Harp, the last book issued under the supervision of B. F. White, we find the numbers reversed -- The Cooper book contains 78% of the songs of the 1870 edition, while the Denson book contains 71% of the songs of the 1870 edition.

"All of the above mentioned tunebooks are Sacred Harp books, directly tracing their ancestry back to the 1844 tunebook co-edited by White and King and maintaining the name in their book titles. All the songs contained therein are, ipso facto, 'Sacred Harp' songs. [Some disagree concerning the aptness of the editorial inclusivity on particular songs but that's a different argument.]" - Karen Willard

(to be continued, d.v.)

[1] 597 songs/tune and 3 hymns.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Rethinkin our thinkin: new areas and dispersed harmony

Rethinkin' our thinkin': some comments on Sacred Harp "myths"

Myth # 2. The spread of "revisions" to new areas.

In his article
Stormy Banks and Sweet Rivers: A Sacred Harp Geography, James B. Wallace writes, "Although the Denson revision of The Sacred Harp is by far the most popular, two other revisions [by W. M. Cooper & J. L. White, rlv] maintain followings, especially where the shape-note tradition was somewhat late spreading."

Wallace implies that the revisions of Cooper & J. L. White picked up areas that were not well-settled on the Sacred Harp, with the James/Denson revision occupying the traditional strongholds of the Sacred Harp.1 In my opinion, this is based on an earlier misunderstanding that has not been corrected. For example in his 1978 book, Buell Cobb wrote, "The Cooper revision won wholesale acceptance in the newer western areas of the tradition, but it was never adopted in the territories where the original editions flourished." This seems to ignore: (1) All territories that used The Sacred Harp used the "original editions" before 1902. Surely the original editions flourished in some other of these places. Some of these territories received heavy migration from the Sacred Harp heartland of Georgia.2 (2) The J. L. White edition was adopted in some of the very same places Cobb intends by "the territories where the original editions flourished."

Do we really know that Sacred Harp traditions were later spreading to south Alabama and south Mississippi (where Cooper is used) than to north Alabama and north Mississippi (where Denson is used)? Wasn't there popularity of the J. L. White book in many of the same areas as the James/Denson book -- north Georgia, north Alabama and north Mississippi? What was the effect of strong leaders who were partisans for a particular revision? There is an element that is correct in what Wallace writes.3 It is far too simplistic to explain why certain regions preferred certain revisions. I don't think all the possible different factors have ever been contemplated in a scholarly study.

I suspect that Texas must be considered among the "newer western areas of the tradition". But the East Texas Musical Convention, some six or seven hundred miles from B. F. White's home, was organized only 11 years after White & King published the first edition of The Sacred Harp.4 Somewhat contrary to notions, the Cooper book won acceptance in the areas of Texas where the oldest conventions had been organized. The James book seems to have prevailed in some of the more western areas of the state. In the 1970s, Texas would have been considered "Cooper book country". But "in the beginning it was not so." For whatever reason(s) the use of the James book died out, and the Denson book was not adopted until the latter part of the 20th century. So in Texas the role was reversed -- "newer western areas of the tradition" adopting the James book, and the older established areas adopting the Cooper book. Does this trend mean anything? Possibly not much, since we don't know what other factors were at play in these regions.

Evidently the Cooper, James and White books all found some favor in the Sand Mountain area of Alabama. The Denson descendant of the James book has prevailed there, but the other revisions enjoyed acceptance as well. Elder Colonel Gibson Keith (1852-1926) of DeKalb County, AL has at least two arrangements in the Cooper book. I first heard songs from the J. L. White book on a tape of the
Wootten family that an Alabama preacher friend, Billy Mosteller, supplied me years ago. Within one regional area and perhaps within one community and/or family, we find some affinity for all three revisions of the Sacred Harp. Does this mean anything? Possibly not too much beyond what is seen on the surface, since we don't know what other factors were at play in this region (Perhaps some of the singers in this area know some factors that led to the prominence of the James/Denson tradition).

The above two paragraphs are not defining, but simple illustrations to show that there multiple circumstances in each area that would ultimately lead to the choice of one revision over the other. In my mind I can see Texas singers showing up at singings in the 1910s -- this one with the Cooper book, that one with the James book, another with the J. L. White book. What confusion might have prevailed for a time before some "shaking out" occurred?

Myth # 3. All songs were always written in dispersed harmony by Sacred Harp singers.

Scholars have never really claimed this. This seems to be a common misconception nevertheless. Objecting to J. L. White's 1909 changes to The Sacred Harp, the Mulberry River Convention of Alabama resolved that any new songs added to the book be "composed by old Sacred Harp singers only." (Cobb, p. 108) Certainly this Convention was asking that any new revision stick closely to the style of the old songs.5 But it was never true that all the songs in book were written "by Sacred Harp singers only." Is a song by Lowell Mason (who musically loathed much of what we Harpers hold dear), which B. F. White and company chose to use, really a Sacred Harp song? Is "Martin" by Simeon B. Marsh, included in every edition/revision of The Sacred Harp since 1869, a Sacred Harp song or a gospel song? What about "Shawmut" (added to the Denson book in 1960) by Mason? Does it have dispersed harmony and free moving parts? "The Marriage in the Skies" (added in 1909) is another example. It is nice song that I enjoy, but is in close harmony with parts that are moved along by the tenor. And there's always "The Great Roll Call" that the James book snuck in the front.

Instead of a generic "Sacred Harp is always..." it is better to address each edition and revision. Most songs in the 1844-1870 books fit the concept of "dispersed harmony". A few songs like "Martin" might be suspect. The James book varies little from this, but allowed a few to pass muster (likewise the Denson book). The Cooper book maintains the old harmonies from the 1844-1870 editions (with alto added, as James), but makes room for 19th century gospel songs with more close harmony (and some 20th century ones written in that style). The J. L. White book, after being unsuccessful with reharmonizations of many of the old songs, reprints the 1870 book pretty much intact -- with a few reharmonizations but few added altos -- and an appendix of close harmony 19th-century gospel songs in four-part harmonies. At least that's how I see it.

1. Footnote 5 in
yesterday's post briefly addresses the "newness" of Sacred Harp in southeast Alabama.
2. East Texas became home to at least 10 Sacred Harp composers: Oliver Bradfield, Reuben E. Brown, Sarah (Lancaster) Hagler, Elias L. King, John S. Terry, M. H. Turner, M. Mark Wynn, David P. White, J. T. White and William L. Williams.
3. On first glance the area theory seems like a plausible explanation, and it is generally true that the use of various revisions correlate to various areas of the south. The question for further study is how and why. I don't believe the "newer areas" idea considers all the facts playing into the decision.
4. It is interesting, though not necessarily telling, that two of the three oldest Sacred Harp conventions still in existence are in "Cooper book territory" and use the Cooper book.

5. Often unmentioned is that the Mulberry River Convention was itself only about 4 or 5 years old at the time they issued their complaint.

(to be continued, d.v.)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Rethinkin our thinkin: The interloper

Rethinkin' our thinkin': some comments on Sacred Harp "myths"

Winston Churchill said that history is written by the victors. Much of Sacred Harp history has been written by the "victors" -- that is, the majority who are followers of the James/Denson tradition of Sacred Harp -- beginning with Joe S. James and his "Brief History".

Myths is a loaded term. Perhaps a little too strong for the subject. But maybe it will get the attention of some who unintentionally perpetuate the following "myths" as absolute fact.

Myth # 1. W. M. Cooper was an interloper, somehow outside the Sacred Harp establishment.

It is not uncommon to read that W. M. Cooper and his revision of 1902 was not in the tradition of the Sacred Harp of B. F. White. Two main reasons are usually given: (1) Cooper added some songs in a style outside the tradition [e.g. Rock of Ages]; (2) Cooper was not part of White's "inner circle" of Sacred Harp singers, nor from the "Sacred Harp territory". I believe there are some anachronistic glasses being used here -- reading the future back into the past -- as well as conclusions based on things that have not been sufficiently investigated.

First of all, the Sacred Harp of B. F. White was never static, but a progressive work. Compiled and published in 1844, the book had been enlarged in 1850 and 1859, then revised in 1869.

Songs in the pre-20th century versions of the Sacred Harp can be studied to develop a frame of reference to determine the musical "loyalty" of the Cooper and James books to their predecessors. Most songs in the older books fit the modern concept of "dispersed harmony"1 -- though defining that in itself is problematic. There are a few songs I consider suspect (though I don't have the musical expertise to really debate it that well). I will touch on that in another post. A thorough study of 1869/70 revision would be helpful here. As far as I know this has never been done. Such a study would undertake to compile information about all the songs that were deleted and all the songs that were added -- as to style (e.g. camp meeting songs, hymn tunes, fuging tunes), makeup (e.g. 3-part or 4-part, major or minor, dispersed or close harmony), etc. This compiled data would be analyzed to determine any trends in the 1870 book -- perhaps away from the "style" of the original compilation, or reflecting only that "style". In so doing, we might learn whether the 1870 showed a move toward the type of song that Cooper would introduce into the book in 1902.2

Another factor to consider is the actual practice of the singers at the conventions. In the late 19th century, many other shape note tune books were being compiled and conventions were using these books as well as The Sacred Harp. The first convention founded by B. F. White -- the Southern Musical Convention -- succumbed to this trend and eventually moved away from the Sacred Harp. So while we look at the songs and the book on one hand, on the other hand we must understand that these songs in that book were not the only songs Sacred Harpers were singing. Sacred Harp did not exist in a musical vacuum. The entire Sacred Harp movement was in a state of flux between 1870 and 1902. The seven-shape note system and gospel songs garnered popularity in the Sacred Harp regions. Most new music was being written in four-part harmonies. Most Sacred Harp songs were in three-part harmonies. "Should we accept the new shapes or reject them?" "Should we sing the new songs or ignore them?" Some Sacred Harpers were not happy with the changes; some embraced them. Some Sacred Harp singers moved in both circles. We should not read future developments back into the past record and determine who were "real" Sacred Harp singers based on the outcome. What happened with the revisions of W. M. Cooper, J. L. White and J. S. James reflects not that some parties were "real" Sacred Harp singers and some were not, but rather that different groups of "real" Sacred Harp singers responded in different ways to the changing musical world in which they lived. [Interestingly, Cooper, James and J. L. White were all "second generation" Sacred Harpers, born within three years of one another.]

The second part of the "charge" against Cooper is based partly on incorrect interpretation and partly on lack of information. It seems to be incorrect to determine from our side of history that W. M. Cooper and south Alabamians were not part of the "inner circle" and outside the foundational territory. On a map it looks like south Alabama is about as close to Harris County, Georgia (where White published the Sacred Harp) as north Alabama is. Oh, I think there is an element of truth about the territory.3 But the fact remains (perhaps since history is written by the victors) that up until recent years little research has been done on the south Alabama connections to White's movement. There is evidence that B. F. White taught singing schools in south Alabama. It is in the realm of possibility that W. M. Cooper was taught by White. Some of the Georgia crew drifted into south Alabama -- Reuben E. Brown and David P. White (B. F.'s son and a music teacher) lived in the very area from whence the Cooper book arose.4

Maybe there is even a little circular reasoning going on here -- W. M. Cooper was not part of the "real" Sacred Harp establishment, so he couldn't properly revise the book. And since he didn't "properly" revise the book, he wasn't part of the "real" Sacred Harp establishment.

I think "W. M. Cooper the interloper"5 is a myth that needs to be laid to rest. By 1902 south Alabama likely had a long and well-established relationship with Sacred Harp and its conventions. Further study should be conducted on this relationship.6 Cooper's revision of the existing songs in the book -- particularly the alto parts -- indicate he was familiar with the style of the old songs. Wallace McKenzie's The Alto Parts in the "True Dispersed Harmony" of The Sacred Harp Revisions indicates that Cooper had at least as good, if not better, record in maintaining the "dispersed harmony" while adding an alto part to the three-part harmonies. Specifically, McKenzie notes that "no changes were made in the existing parts to reduce the parallel intervals or fill in incomplete triads" and that "the added alto parts actually increase the total number of parallels..." Further he noted that "Cooper's altos maintain some features of the contrapuntal-harmonic style...more closely than do those of Denson" though "many of the Denson altos make more interesting melodies...", finally stating that "the alto melodies are consistent with the contrapuntal-harmonic style of the three-part pieces." So McKenzie sets forth some empirical evidence that W. M. Cooper understood the general nature of the songs -- unless one argues that he just accidentally maintained the style of them. The fact that he included other songs not in this style is really another discussion altogether.

So I'd say: (1) There have always been some different kinds of songs in the Sacred Harp -- hymn tunes, campmeeting songs, fuging tunes, anthems -- and a few of the songs may not be strictly in the pervasive style of the rest of the book. If it's OK to have a few, why wasn't it OK for Cooper to add a few more? (2) The Sacred Harp gives us a view into what music was popular among and preferred by its original compilers and editors. We probably should place as much emphasis on that fact as on viewing them as making a concerted effort to compile a book containing only dispersed harmony songs. The southeast Alabama revisers were probably doing the same in principle. (3) Analysis of Cooper's work vindicates him of the charge that he did not understand the style/harmony of the songs that were in The Sacred Harp. One can contrast his work with some of the songs rewritten by J. L. White, which shows White understood the need to reharmonize entire songs (as opposed to just adding alto) in order to bring them into the newer style. (4) More study needs to be done on the spread of Sacred Harp into south Georgia, south Alabama & Florida, and a better understanding needs to be developed concerning their relationship to the Harris County center of Sacred Harp.

1. My personal working definition of dispersed harmony is harmony with open chords and freely moving parts (that is, parts not merely following and complimenting the melody).
2. In my opinion, songs like "Loving Jesus" and "Let Us Sing" prefigure the call and response of some gospel songs.
3. Considering that B. F. White moved north to Atlanta before his death.
4. Reuben E. Brown, Sr. (333 Family Circle) and Reuben E. Brown, Jr. (230 Converting Grace, 1991 Revision) are in Barbour County, Alabama in the 1850 U.S. Federal Census, listed as minister and music teacher, respectively.

5. But there is a sense in which I would consider both W. M. Cooper and J. S. James "interlopers" -- it seems the White family had the rights to revise the book rather than others. Apparently the Sacred Harp community as a whole did not view it that way.
6. Buell Cobb lists about seven Sacred Harp conventions formed in southeast Alabama between 1855 and 1889, and the 2006 Minutes of Cooper Book Conventions (published by the Sacred Harp Book Company) lists singings of at least nine southeast Alabama and west Florida conventions that are over 100 years old. The Southeast Convention (org. ca 1858) is "the oldest Alabama singing assembly still in existence." (Cobb, p. 139) I believe it is the third oldest Sacred Harp Convention in existence in the U.S., after Chattahoochee and East Texas.

(To be continued, d.v.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Still missing

Today my mother-in-law, Shirley Hunt, has been missing for six months. We have had no leads that have led us anywhere (except around in circles), as far as I can tell. I call it the long road to nowhere, which can be quite frustrating.

Thanks to all of you for your help, thoughts, prayers and concern.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Rethinkin our thinkin

I intended today to post a writing titled "Rethinkin' our thinkin': some comments on Sacred Harp 'myths'". I couldn't seem to get it all together and it was running long. I decided to post some Sacred Harp links, postpone "Rethinkin our thinkin" and break it into a few smaller pieces. I will begin to post it (d.v.) on Thursday, so Sacred Harper, et al., keep a look out.

Rethinkin our thinkin: The interloper
Rethinkin our thinkin: new areas and dispersed harmony
Rethinkin our thinkin: new books and the largest book
Rethinkin our thinkin: on tradition

I'm using a loaded term to perhaps catch a little attention. I don't think what I'm discussing will be absolute myths with no basis in fact. But these are items that, in my opinion, need to be tweaked to bring them closer to the whole truth. The fact seems to me to be that early in the 20th century J. S. James started writing the history of Sacred Harp in a polemic atmosphere and that most of it since has been written to some extent within that polemic atmosphere. So I'll use polemics as a call to objectivity! ;-)

Let me apologize ahead of time to some of you. It will be written with the assumption of some basics points that may not be as well known to those outside Sacred Harp circles. Feel free to ask for clarification.

List of Sacred Harp articles online

This post contains a list of some Sacred Harp articles that can be found online.

Free access:

Black Sacred Harp Singing in East Texas, by Donald R. Ross
Death in the Sacred Harp, by Jessica Tilley (Master of Arts thesis 2007, Georgia State University) 
John Wyeth and the Development of Southern Folk Hymnody, by David Warren Steel 
Mississippi's African American Shape Note Tradition, by Chiquita Walls 
"Stormy Banks and Sweet Rivers: A Sacred Harp Geography", by James B. Wallace, from Southern Spaces. 
The Alto Parts in the "True Dispersed Harmony" of The Sacred Harp Revisions, by Wallace McKenzie, (1989. Musical Quarterly 73:153-71) 
The Performance of History: Motivations for Revivalist Participation in Sacred Harp of the Chesapeake Bay Area, by Brigita Lee Sebald, (Master of Arts thesis 2005; University of Maryland) 
The Sacred Harp in Northeast Mississippi, by John Quincy Wolf (Mississippi Folklore Register, Volume IV, Number 2. Summer, 1970)

Limited or Paid access:

Anthems of the Sacred Harp Tunesmiths, by Wallace McKenzie (American Music 6(3):247-263. 1989) 
Daddy Sang Lead: the History and Performance Practice of White Southern Gospel Music, by Stanley Heard Brobston 
"First Sing the Notes": Oral and Written Traditions in Sacred Harp Transmission, by Kiri Miller 
"First Sing the Notes": Oral and Written Traditions in Sacred Harp Transmission, by Kiri Miller
 "Old Can Be Used Instead of New": Shape-Note Singing and the Crisis of Modernity in the New South, 1880-1920, by Gavin James Campbell (The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 110, No. 436. Spring, 1997) 
The Alto Parts in the "True Dispersed Harmony" of The Sacred Harp Revisions, by Wallace McKenzie
To purchase
“Blessed be the tie that binds”: community and spirituality among Sacred Harp singers, by Laura Clawson (Poetics, Volume 32, Issues 3-4, June-August 2004)
Limited preview on Google Books of
The Sacred Harp: A Tradition and Its Music by Buell E. Cobb.

Several articles are on JSTOR. JSTOR is an online journal archive. It is available through participating libraries and institutions.

Bonus, some links to images of pages from:
William Hauser's Hesperian Harp
The Sacred Harp 1859/60
Selected tunes from Jeremiah Ingalls' Christian Harmony
William Walker's The Southern Harmony, and Musical Companion

Monday, December 17, 2007

This day in 1850

On December 17, 1850, Wilson Marion Cooper was born in Henry County, Alabama. Cooper might have lived and died in relative obscurity, had he not become inextricably entwined with the history of a popular southern tune book -- The Sacred Harp.

In 1844 Benjamin Franklin White and Elisha J. King published a song book titled The Sacred Harp. King died shortly after the book was published. This left B. F. White as the guiding force behind the book and the upbuilding of its cause. During White's lifetime, the book went through three editions -- 1850, 1859, and 1869/70. The 1850 and 1859 editions added new songs to the back of the book. In the 1869/70 edition some songs were removed new ones added in their places. B. F. White died in 1879.

1902 -- enter Marion Cooper. Some call him songwriter and revisionist; some call him interloper
*. Whatever one's musical opinion of Cooper, it seems that we must admit that Cooper knew the old book and its tradition needed a shot in the arm -- particularly alto parts added to the songs -- if it was to weather the wintry onslaught of "contemporary" music. "To boldly go when no man had gone before," Cooper -- with a cadre of Sacred Harp singers and composers in tow -- undertook an all out revision of The Sacred Harp. The majority of the songs in the old Sacred Harp were written with three vocal lines -- treble, tenor, and bass. When Cooper and company turned out their revision in 1902, all the songs were fitted with a fourth harmonic part. The revision also added new tunes to include another music "style" not found in the original compilation -- the late 19th century gospel song.

For his trouble, Cooper brought the awe of some and the ire of others. Whether agreeing or disagreeing, they could not ignore him. Whatever might be said about him, Cooper was bold enough to take on the project while others dawdled. Others would also revise The Sacred Harp to their own tastes. Only Marion Cooper would ever be the first to do so.

*Word of the day: One that intrudes into some field of trade without a proper license; one that interferes with the affairs of others; a meddler.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Man mortal and God eternal

Man mortal and God eternal, Psalm 90

1. Through every age, eternal God,
Thou art our rest, our safe abode;
High was thy throne ere heav'n was made,
Or earth thy humble footstool laid.

2. Long hadst thou reigned ere time began,
Or dust was fashioned to a man;
And long thy kingdom shall endure
When earth and time shall be no more.

3. But man, weak man, is born to die,
Made up of guilt and vanity;
Thy dreadful sentence, Lord, was just,
Return, ye sinners, to your dust.

4. A thousand of our years amount
Scarce to a day in thine account;
Like yesterday's departed light,
Or the last watch of ending night.

5. Death, like an overflowing stream,
Sweeps us away; our life's a dream,
An empty tale, a morning flower,
Cut down and withered in an hour.

6. Our age to seventy years is set;
How short the time! how frail the state!
And if to eighty we arrive,
We rather sigh and groan than live.

7. But O how oft thy wrath appears,
And cuts off our expected years!
Thy wrath awakes our humble dread;
We fear the power that strikes us dead.

8. Teach us, O Lord, how frail is man;
And kindly lengthen out our span,
Till a wise care of piety
Fit us to die, and dwell with thee.

-- Isaac Watts

Friday, December 14, 2007

Neat idea -- online library thing

Ever wanted to catalog the books you own, but didn't have the wherewithal? Check out LibraryThing. What is LibraryThing? According to the web site: "Enter what you're reading or your whole library—it's an easy, library-quality catalog. LibraryThing also connects you with people who read the same things." You can enter 200 books for free, or as many as you like for either $10 per year or $25 for life. One thing that makes this nice: you can search for, pull up and click on many common books, making it unnecessary to enter the information manually.

Thanks to
Kevin Higgins for mentioning this on his blog, which is where I first heard about it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Good advice

The Plattsburg Manual, an American military handbook published in 1918, contained a section called "Some General Hints", which were words to the wise to be borne in mind on the battlefield. Among them was this bit of advice: "Don't get killed--unless necessary".

Pretty good advice, I suppose!!

Update: A 'little' more context: "Don't get killed unless necessary; your usefulness to the State comes to an end when that occurs." The text of the manual can be found here.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Dispersed Harmony

Some comments on dispersed harmony, arranged in chronological order:

"If the intervals of a four-part harmony lie as near as possible together in the three highest voices, it is called condensed harmony. If they lie at at greater distance from each other, it is called dispersed harmony." -- From The Pianist's Handbook, by Carl Engel. London: Hope and Co., Published 1853. p. 21

"When the four-part harmony is written so that the three upper parts are contained in an octave, and can be played with one hand, it is called CLOSE HARMONY. If the interval between the soprano and base is about equally divided by the tenor and alto, it is called DISPERSED HARMONY." -- From
Palmer's Theory of Music: Being a Practical Guide to the Study Thorough-Bass, Harmony, Musical Composition, and Form, by Horatio Richmond Palmer, Cincinnati, OH: John Church & Co., 1876 p. 85

"Open, or dispersed, harmony requires the voices to be so separated that by transposing the soprano one octave lower it would come between the alto and tenor; and also by transposing the tenor one octave higher it would come between the alto and soprano, as at a (illustration, rlv). If only one of such transpositions is possible, the harmony is partially open, as a b (illustration, rlv). If neither is possible, or in other words, if the upper three voices are as near each other as they can be under a certain soprano, the harmony is close as at c (illustration, rlv). Any two voices lying next each other may often sing the same note; but, in elementary harmony, a lower voice should not sing above a higher, or the reverse." -- From
Elements of Harmony, by Stephen Albert Emery, Boston, MA: Arthur P. Schmidt Co., 1890, pp. 13-14

"If the three upper voices of a chord -- soprano, alto, and tenor -- lie outside the compass of one octave, the harmony is usually said to be dispersed, or in open position." -- From
Harmony: A Course of Study, by George Whitefield Chadwick, 1897, Boston, MA: B. F. Wood Music Co., p. 61

"Extended or scattered harmony: dispersed or extended harmony is that in which the notes composing a chord are so far apart that the upper three parts, treble, alto, and tenor, exceed an octave in compass; and between any two of the parts of a chord in dispersed harmony there is space for insertion of some one of the notes belonging to that chord." -- From
Musical Dictionary, by W. L. Hubbard, New York, NY: Irving Squire, 1908. (2006 reprint) p. 164. This book also (p.576) calls it wide harmony, extended harmony, and open harmony.

"Dispersed harmony (Music), harmony in which the tones composing the chord are widely separated, as by an octave or more." -- From
Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913)

"25. When the alto is given the next member of the chord below the soprano, it forms what is called Close Harmony. When the alto skips the next member of the chord below the soprano and the tenor is given the one skipped, it forms what is called Dispersed Harmony.
"26. A low soprano should be written in close harmony and a high soprano should be written in dispersed harmony while a soprano on the third line or adjoining degrees, may be written in either close or dispersed harmony according to the surroundings." -- From Modern Harmony and Voice Leading, by Adger M. Pace, Cleveland, TN: James D. Vaughan Co., 1916, p. 9

J. S. James defines it as harmony in which “the notes forming the various chords [are] separated from each other by wide intervals.” -- From An Explanation of The Sacred Harp, 1920

"Harmony, close - A harmony whose tones are compact, the upper three voices lying within the compass of an octave.
"Harmony, dispersed - A harmony in which the notes forming the different chords are separated by wide intervals." -- From Music Theory Dictionary: the Language of the Mechanics of Music, W. F. Lee, editor, New York: Charles Hansen Educational Music and Books, 1965, p. 29

Dispersed harmony "occurs whenever a chord exceeds two octaves or the alto goes above the soprano." Two essential characteristics of Sacred Harp dispersed harmony: "the upper members of a chord are often dispersed rather than closely grouped...[and]...the crossing of voices." -- The Sacred Harp: a Tradition and Its Music, Buell Cobb, 1978, p. 36

"I think dispersed harmony is created throughout a piece of music where it is composed as most Sacred Harp composers do -- as horizontal strands rather than vertical chords. Each part is written so as to make it a singable tune of its own and this leads to 'open chords'. (Open chords being defined as chords in which another note can be inserted between the upper voices.) Sacred Harp composers move from 'open' to 'closed' chords without regard to where the change takes place in the phrase. Add to this the frequent crossing of voices throughout the composition, especially between treble and tenor, and we have two essential points in the style known as 'dispersed harmony'." -- Raymond Hamrick (in a letter to Hugh McGraw, November 1981)

"In this style of composition (dispersed harmony)...each vocal part--treble, alto, tenor, and bass--contributes a sort of tune, occupying its own separate staff, with the parts freely crossing one another and the tenor, or third line, carrying the chief melody." -- From
The Tradition, by Jim Carnes, January 1989

Joel Cohen's notes on the
The Boston Camerata's An American Christmas speaks of "'dispersed harmony,' with the soprano and tenor lines each doubled at the octave." (1993)

"Each part (treble, alto, tenor or lead, and bass) retains a degree of melodic independence ("dispersed harmony")..." -- From
Sacred Harp Singing: History and Tradition, by Steven Sabol, 2005

Dispersed Harmony "...the parts cross over each other rather than running parallel." -- From
Stormy Banks and Sweet Rivers: a Sacred Harp Geography, by James B. Wallace, 2007

DISPERSED HARMONY on Sympathetic Vibratory Physics

Note: in some Sacred Harp comments it seems the thought is that music written on four separate staffs is dispersed harmony. For example, "The parts in shape-note singing are so distinct that traditional tune books like The Sacred Harp print them on separate staves, displaying what is called dispersed harmony." -- New Georgia Encyclopedia, 2005

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Eldon “Punk” Hues

According to Texas EquuSearch, Eldon Hues, "age 79, was last seen on Monday, November 26, 2007 around 6:45 p.m. at Lake Tejas in Shepherd, Texas and has not been seen or heard from since. Eldon was last seen wearing blue jeans overalls and a red plaid shirt. He is driving a 1995 Toyota T100 maroon in color, license plate TX 9LT M67." As of 5 Dec 2007, his vehicle had been located but not him. A reward is being offered.

Update: according to information I have found online, Mr. Hues suffers from Alzheimers.


Friday, December 07, 2007

Random quotes again

"New Testament Christianity is humble, selfless and authentic. And those who carry the truth don’t preach for selfish gain or to meet an emotional need for attention." -- The Deadly Virus of Celebrity Christianity, by J. Lee Grady

"Life is what happens to you while you are making other plans." -- A. J. Marshall

"What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not been discovered." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"There are always people around you to help you if you just let them help you." –- Jake Keeling in “For Jake’s Sake” by Coshandra Dillard, Henderson Daily News, p. 2, Sept. 12, 2007

And since I noticed it is December 7: "Yesterday, December 7, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy -- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan." -- from a speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to a joint session of the U. S. Congress on December 8, 1941.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Tis Finished

Tis finished! The Messiah dies!
Cut off for sins, but not His own;
Accomplished is the sacrifice;
The great redeeming work is done.

Finished our vile transgression is,
And purged the guilt of all our sin;
And everlasting righteousness
Is brought, for all His people, in.

Tis finished, all my guilt and pain,
I want no sacrifice beside,
For me, for me the Lamb was slain,
And I’m forever justified.

Accepted in the Well-beloved,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
I see the bar to heaven removed;
And all Thy merits, Lord, are mine.

Sin, death, and hell are now subdued;
All grace is now to sinners given;
I only plead His precious blood,
For pardon, holiness, and heaven.

Charles Wesley, Short Hymns, 1762. (This perhaps may be an edited version. For example of another version, see The Cyber Hymnal.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Words of the day

Aphorist -- a person who makes or uses aphorisms (a brief statement of a principle, truth or opinion)

"James Carville, political consultant and aphorist, says: Nothing validates a candidate to voters as much as other voters." -- George Will, Romney and Obama not out of the race, Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel, Thurs 15 Nov 2007

'Ard' and 'moa' are words you won't come across that often -- unless you work crossword puzzles. Ard (an ox-drawn earth-turning implement introduced in Europe to replace the hand hoe) is a synonym for plow. A moa was a giant, flightless bird in New Zealand.

Kohl -- a powder, as finely powdered antimony sulfide, used as a cosmetic to darken the eyelids, eyebrows, etc. - answer to 19 across, Crossword Puzzle, Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel, 15 Nov 2007,

Attar -- a perfume or essential oil obtained from flowers or petals. - answer to 50 across, Crossword Puzzle, Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel, 15 Nov 2007

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Studying and climbing

"Studying is like climbing a mountain - a hard struggle,but the view from the top is the worthy result." -- Hulan Bass, PB/MB Forum, 4 Oct. 2007

Monday, December 03, 2007

Two hymns by C. Wesley

Or at least parts of them...

Death, where is thy sting.

O death! where is thy sting? Where now
Thy boasted victory, O grave?
Who shall contend with God? or who
Can hurt whom God delights to save?

Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
Hymns and Sacred Poems, 1739.

Jesus died for me.

Let the world their virtue boast,
Their works of righteousness,
I, a wretch undone and lost,
Am freely saved by grace;
Other title I disclaim;
This, only this, is all my plea:
I the chief of sinners am,
But Jesus died for me.

Jesus, Thou for me hast died,
And Thou in me wilt live;
I shall feel Thy death applied,
I shall Thy life receive;
Yet, when melted in the flame
Of love, this shall be all my plea:
I the chief of sinners am,
But Jesus died for me.

Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
Hymns and Sacred Poems, 1742.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

All About...Baptists

Just found an interesting web site:

All About...Baptists

According to the web site's Statement of Purpose: "This web site is intended to assist all who visit to become more knowledgeable of Baptist history, faith, doctrines, distinctives, people, groups, issues, worship, ministries, Bible study, music, and any other related topic. The contents of this site represents the best attempt of the webmaster to be fair and honest regarding who Baptists are and what we believe."

The site contains information on Baptist history, Baptist groups, Baptist worship, Baptist this, and Baptist that. Yes, pretty much "All about Baptists".

Friday, November 30, 2007

A Restoration Movement book

For those interested in studying the beliefs of the Stone-Campbell Restoration movement Church of Christ:

Introducing the Church of Christ, by various authors and published by Star Bible Publications. (© 1981)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

New book on Sacred Harp

Traveling Home: Sacred Harp Singing and American Pluralism by Kiri Miller is now available from the University of Illinois Press (ISBN 0252032144). Kiri is an assistant professor of music at Brown University. In 2002 she edited The Chattahoochee Musical Convention, 1852-2002: A Sacred Harp Historical Sourcebook, and authored the American Music article "First Sing the Notes: Oral and Written Traditions in Sacred Harp Transmissions" (Volume 22, No. 4 Winter 2004 475-501). This new book is a version of her 2005 PhD dissertation (A Long Time Traveling: Song, Memory, and the Politics of Nostalgia in the Sacred Harp Diaspora) -- though Kiri says it is "shorter and a bit more user-friendly."

"A powerful musical practice that has drawn together a diverse and far-flung community, Sacred Harp singing has roots in the American South and flourishing branches in New England, the Midwest, and on the West Coast. It has served as an emblem of American history in twenty-first century popular media, including the Oscar-winning film Cold Mountain. Meanwhile, the advent of internet discussion boards and increasing circulation of singer-produced recordings have changed the nature of traditional transmission and sharpened debates about Sacred Harp as an "authentic" form of Southern musical expression. Blending historical scholarship with wide-ranging fieldwork, Kiri Miller presents an engagingly written study of a musical movement that some have christened 'a quintessential expression of American democracy'." -- From the University of Illinois Press web site

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The prodigal son

The prodigal son, Lk 15:11-24

Afflictions, though they seem severe;
In mercy oft are sent;
They stopped the prodigal's career,
And forced him to repent.

Although he no relentings felt
Till he had spent his store;
His stubborn heart began to melt
When famine pinched him sore.

"What have I gained by sin, he said,
But hunger, shame, and fear;
My father's house abounds with bread,
While I am starving here.

I'll go, and tell him all I've done,
And fall before his face
Unworthy to be called his son,
I'll seek a servant's place."

His father saw him coming back,
He saw, and ran, and smiled;
And threw his arms around the neck
Of his rebellious child.

"Father, I've sinned--but O forgive!"
I've heard enough, he said,
Rejoice my house, my son's alive,
For whom I mourned as dead.

Now let the fatted calf be slain,
And spread the news around;
My son was dead, but lives again,
Was lost, but now is found.

'Tis thus the Lord his love reveals,
To call poor sinners home;
More than a father's love he feels,
And welcomes all that come.

John Newton (1725-1807)
Olney Hymns, 1779.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


"Without an automobile, computer, high-speed internet, cell phone, printer, radio, TV, video projector, Jesus Film, bicycle, mass mail-outs, tract ministry or the dozen other modern missionary tools, Paul led small ministry teams in three missionary tours over about ten years planting churches in Cyprus, Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, Cenchrea, Ephesus, Berea as well as aiding and inspiring others to plant churches in Asia, Galatia, and other areas. These churches were formed, taught and established in missionary outreach after as little as one month and rarely as long as one year. Missionary Paul's main tools were the Word of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, and his tent-making bi-vocational support. He left them without a church bus, church building, multi-purpose building, salaried staff or desire to have them. Could we learn anything from a missionary like Paul?"
[From Without, by Roy Culley, The Baptist Monitor, Vol. 59, No. 11 (Nov 2007) p. 4]

I'd say we have a LOT we can learn from Paul and the methods -- not just the message -- of the New Testament. What are some things we learn?

Monday, November 26, 2007

"Death in the Sacred Harp"

I recently read Death in the Sacred Harp , a master's thesis by Jessica Tilley. It made me think of some minor thoughts on death that I recorded in my history of the East Texas Musical Convention.

A bridge to the past is constructed by identification with the adversity faced by Sacred Harp predecessors, coupled with the remembrance of the unavoidable appointment with death. In modern American society the subject of death has been sanitized in real life and trivialized in the media. The television medium can portray fictional injuries and deaths in most gruesome detail, while the real infirm, injured and aged have been transferred out of homes to hospitals and care facilities. Corpses awaiting committal have been moved from homes to funeral parlors, and the committal itself from the responsibility of the community to the funeral director. Sacred Harp provides a solemn reminder of ubiquitous nature of pain, sorrow, and death. One reviewer of a Sacred Harp recording called the music “fatalistically sad and spookily beautiful.”[1] Yet the Sacred Harp community with its built-in catharsis probably suffers less from depression than the average American. According to F. E. Abernethy, “The memento mori[2] theme is characteristic of Sacred Harp music and that separates it, as much as anything that I can think of, from modern music – church or otherwise. The only ones that keep reminding us of our eventual and inevitable trip to the grave are the insurance salesmen. As a result maybe we have lost some of the seasons of life. What makes this October so sweet and beautifully mellow is our knowing that the year is nearing the end of its time. The people of Sacred Harp know this and they sing about it…The words of the old Harp songs are often sad and mournful. The verses (many of them) were written by people who knew too much of this world’s suffering…They were not romanticizing when they wrote, ‘Time swift as an Indian arrow flies’.”[3]

[1] Ratliff, Ben, “Faces of Jazz: Late Greats, Rare Gospel, Cool Caribbean”, New York Times, Sunday October 31, 2004).
[Accessed Mon Nov 1 5:59:03 am US/Central 2004]
[2] Reminder of death
[3] Abernethy, F. E., “History of Sacred Harp”, Sacred Harp Preservation Symposium

-- copied from Approaching 150: A Brief History of the East Texas Musical Convention and Sacred Harp in East Texas, page 58

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Longing for the house of God

Psalm LXXXIV (84), Particular Meter (Hallelujah Meter

1. Lord of the worlds above,
How pleasant and how fair
The dwellings of Thy love,
Thine earthly temples are!
To Thine abode
My heart aspires
With warm desires,
To see my God.

2. The sparrow for her young
With pleasure seeks a nest,
And wand’ring swallows long
To find their wonted rest:
My spirit faints
With equal zeal
To rise and dwell
Among thy saints.

3. O happy souls that pray,
Where God appoints to hear!
O happy men that pay
Their constant service there!
They praise Thee still;
And happy they
That love the way
To Zion’s hill!

4. They go from strength to strength,
Through this dark vale of tears,
Till each arrives at length,
Till each in heav'n appears:
O glorious seat,
When God, our King
Shall thither bring
Our willing feet!


5. To spend one sacred day
Where God and saints abide,
Affords diviner joy
Than thousand days beside:
Where God resorts,
I love it more
To keep the door
Than shine in courts.

6. God is our Sun and Shield,
Our Light and our defence;
With gifts His hands are fill'd,
We draw our blessings thence:
He shall bestow
On Jacob’s race
Peculiar grace
And glory too.

7. The Lord his people loves;
His hand no good withholds
From those his heart approves,
From pure and pious souls:
Thrice happy he,
O God of hosts,
Whose spirit trusts
Alone in Thee.

Isaac Watts, The Psalms of David, 1719 [Copied from Watts' The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, and applied to the Christian state and worship, from an online edition that was "hard-published" in 1801 by Hudson and Goodwin Company]

A fine minor tune set with this hymn is found in The B. F. Sacred Harp (2006 edition, popularly known as "the Cooper Book") on page 315. Across the page on 314 is a tune written in major.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Just a little more

Reporter: “How much money is enough?"

John D. Rockefeller: “Just a little bit more.”

"The Backlash against Tithing"

Russell Earl Kelly sent me a link to an interesting article on tithing from the Online Wall Street Journal -- The Backlash Against Tithing by Suzanne Sataline.

Excerpt: "The backlash comes as some churches step up their efforts to encourage tithing. Some are setting up 'giving kiosks' that allow congregants to donate using their debit cards when they attend services." Perhaps it is not just the
televangelists folks are getting tired of!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms (Psalm 95: 2).

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name (Ps 100:4).

Being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God (2 Cor. 9:11).

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God (Philp. 4:6).

Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving (Col 4:2).

Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen (Rev. 7:12).

"Die Felder Wir Pflügen und Streuen."

We plow the fields and scatter
The good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered
By God's Almighty hand,
He sends the snow in winter,
The warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes, and the sunshine
And soft, refreshing rain,
All, all good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord
For all His love!

-- Matthias Claudius (1770 -1815), translated by Miss Jane Montgomery Campbell

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Word of the day

Bloviation -- pompous speech

"I have no desire to continue...taxing the patience of those who might actually read our bloviations."
-- Mike McInnis in (e-mail) The distance between "Absolutists" and Situation Ethnics philosophies of the twentieth century, Wed 14 Nov 2007

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Some Dog Peeves About Humans

Yelling at me for barking.. I'M A DOG, YOU NUMBSKULL!

Taking me for a walk, then not letting me check stuff out. Exactly whose walk is this anyway?

Any trick that involves balancing food on my nose... Stop it!

Any haircut that involves bows or ribbons. Now you know why we chew your stuff up when you're not home.

The sleight of hand, fake fetch throw. You fooled a dog! Woooo-Hooooooo! Oh, what a proud moment for the top of the food chain.

Dog sweaters. Hello??? Haven't you noticed the fur?

-- Excerpts from an e-mail from Chuck at saltandlight@comcast, 25 December 2006