Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Lon Smith's reminiscences

Lon A. Smith (1869 - 1947) was raised in the New Prospect community of Rusk County, Texas. New Prospect was an old Sacred Harp stronghold. Smith served as clerk of the Mt. Zion Baptist Association for several years (1894-1900). He became Railroad Commissioner of the state of Texas and was so in 1931 when in the Sacred Harp Journal Smith reveled in his memories of the way things were.

I see a picture, vivid, abiding as it hangs in the choicest nook of memory's cloister...Another picture in kaleidoscope procession comes to enchant. The people have come from a dozen different counties for a three days convention of singers - Friday, Saturday, Sunday. The leader stands before his class, tuning fork in hand. He strikes a table, pulpit, or post with this simple instrument, places it to his ear, and calls to his class to "sound your parts." Proper volume is given to the three major parts; bass, treble, tenor, according to the Sacred Harp, and the class of singers proceed. Methinks I hear the reviberations of these soul inspiring songs floating among the top-most boughs of the tall pines as notes of harmony play in the breezes. The notes fa, me, sol, la are sung first and then the "poetry". The very quintessence of the gospel of the Son of Peace reposes in these songs of assurance, comfort, atonement, faith, consecration, confession, grace, love and repentance; Antioch; Broad is the Road, Midleton, David's Lamentation, Murello's Lesson, Prospect, Coronation, Portuguese Hymn, Holy Manna, Pisgah, Happy Day, Zion, Windham, Pleyel's Hymn. I pen them from memory. The leader holds the class for a half dozen selections, perhaps, when the class follows for thirty minutes a new leader. For three days, the Convention lasts. Voices never grow hoarse; provisions never give out. Church[es], as a rule in East Texas, were located near a gurgling spring of crystal clear water where man and horse could drink. The culinary art reached its highest perfection in the countryside. No recipe, formula, cook book or demonstrators were ever referred to by an East Texas housewife, and no dietition was consulted by those who ate the wholesome food. Spoonfuls, cupfuls, handfuls, were the measure for sugar, lard, flour, butter, eggs and other ingredients that went most unstintingly into the viands spread for these ‘dinner on the ground’ occasions. -- Smith, Lon A. “From Lon Smith, Railroad Commissioner of Texas”, Sacred Harp Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1, August 1931, reprinted in the National Sacred Harp Newsletter, October 1987, p. 2
This interesting writing reveals several things. The memories seem to go back to the early 20th century or late 19th, when most of The Sacred Harp songs did not have alto. Select leaders were given ample time to give their lesson to the class. They might discover the pitch with a tuning fork, and called on all the parts to sound their pitch before beginning. His list indicates some songs that were popular in East Texas in that period. He also shines the light on old East Texas cooks, who prepared in large quantities, consulting only tradition and skill rather than a cookbook.

Some things about Lon A. Smith: School teacher in Rusk County circa 1886-1902; County Clerk, Rusk County 1902-1914; Texas State Senator 1914-1920; Comptroller 1920-1924; Railroad Commissioner 1924-1940; Baptist Deacon 1900-1947; he married Kate Montgomery (1876 - 1962)

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