Saturday, December 17, 2016

Collecting Sacred Harp quotes

Over several years I have posted quotes about Sacred Harp, as well as a few we have confiscated from other sources along the way. Here I intend to compile a list of those in one place – and to limit it to quotes about Sacred Harp and/or quotes by Sacred Harp singers. So I won’t include quotes like “When in doubt, sing loud” by American operatic tenor Robert Merrill or “People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing” by New York socialite Florence Foster Jenkins (oh, I just did!). I’ve tried to combine the quotes in some sorts of overarching categories.

Defining it
“The Sacred Harp is a song book odd in shape, with an odd name, and as some think, has odd sounding songs sung by odd people.” -- David Waldrop of Tyler, TX

“Sacred Harp is the heavy metal music of the 19th century.” -- Judy Hauff of Chicago, IL

“Sacred Harp Singing is emotional weight training.” -- Steven T. Schmidgall of Minneapolis MN

Finding it
“Sacred Harp just grabbed me, and I thought, ‘This is the music I’ve been waiting for all my life’.” -- Andrew Albers of Harrison, AR

“If some of you don’t like this music, all I’ve got to say to you is you’d better get out. If you stay here it’s going to get a-hold of you and you can’t get away.” -- Tom Denson to a singing school class, quoted by G. P. Jackson

“Sacred Harp hit all the notes that I was missing in other musical contexts.” -- Jesse Pearlman Karlsberg of Atlanta, GA

Loving it
“My favorite Sacred Harp tune is whatever I’m singing right now.” -- heard from several sources

“There are three things I like about Sacred Harp: I like the songs they sing; I like the way they sing them; and, most of all, I like the folks that sing them.” -- Curtis Owen of Dale, TX, at the 100th Anniversary of the Southwest Texas Convention

“This kind of music here, it comes out of you. There aren’t any guitars or musical instruments, it comes from within you.” -- Sam Craig of Longview, TX, President, East Texas Sacred Harp Convention

“There’s a lot of people that can beat me at singing, but there’s not a whole lot that can beat me a’ lovin’ it.” -- Chester Wootten of Ider, AL

“When I can no longer sing Sacred Harp, I hope to listen. When I can no longer hear, I want to see it. When I can no longer sing, hear, or see, please wheel me in and prop me up against some old singer so I can feel it.” -- Robert L. Vaughn of Oak Flat, TX

Singing it
“Sing it right slow so we can get the juice out of it.” -- Terry Wootten of Ider, AL

“It takes a pound of practice to get an ounce of improvement.” -- Hugh McGraw of Bremen, GA

“The cat’s in the milk and it will have to be strained over.” -- J. L. White, Atlanta, GA, to students at singing school when a song was not being sung correctly (passed on to me by Sandra Wilkinson, whose family members were students of J. L. White)

“I wouldn't cross the street to listen to Sacred Harp, but I’d travel 500 miles to sing it.” -- Hugh McGraw

“It is traditional to let leaders decide on their own way to give their lesson, without the class unnecessarily correcting or overriding them. In the Sacred Harp we are all teachers, singers, and learners and no one person can ‘know it all’ but we can all make an effort.” -- Tom Malone of Boston MA

“Musical instruments kills sacred harp singing, because there’s notes in there that ain’t on no musical instrument.” -- 89 year old Minnie Beatrice Deason Cates of Minden, TX, in “There’s Notes In There That Ain’t On No Musical Instrument” by Cheri Chapman, Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, Texas) June 26, 1976, p. D6

Writing it
“I’m not trying to write any jawbreakers; I like a good plain tune best.” -- Marcus Cagle

“The more you sing this music the more you think you might like to put together some of it yourself. Of course you are unencumbered by any kind of training in musical composition – innocent of any experience in the field – but why let little things like that stop you? After all, that’s part of the tradition too, isn’t it?” -- Ted Johnson, quoted in Public Worship, Private Faith

“You write what you feel.” -- Raymond Hamrick of Macon, GA

Sacred Harp and religion
“Anything that divides people, you leave at the door of a singing, whether you’re a Baptist, Methodist, Catholic or atheist.” -- Warren Steel of Oxford, MS

“It’s not a religion. It doesn’t favor any particular denomination. But when you're singing, it’s a religious experience.” -- John Etheridge of Baker, FL

“The music evens out differences between people, and you begin to accept people for who they are.” -- Bill Caldwell of Carterville, Missouri (“You can’t sing at the top of your lungs for six hours a day and share meals with people and then worry about arguing or anything.”)

[Q] Chuck Reese: “People seem to have no concern about one’s denomination or doctrine here. Is that a fair statement?” [A] Henry Johnson: “That’s a fair statement. We may care about it ... But we don’t discuss it at a singing.”

Its shaped notes
“It has shaped notes – helpful for those that need them, unobtrusive to those who don’t.” -- David ‘still learning’ (in Eastern USA)

“I’ve known all along that I’m exactly the guy that William Little and William Smith invented the shapes for.” -- Robert McKay of Albuquerque, NM

Its words and meaning
“I like the old style of singing and the words are so scriptural.” -- Kevin Eddins of Wicksburg, AL

“By today’s standards, the lyrics [of Sacred Harp songs] are like fire and feel better after singing this, cleansed.” -- Gary Hamilton of Crockett, TX

“...the powerful and sometimes sorrowful old sounds of Sacred Harp are alien to modern progress and prosperity which does its best to ignore the harsher aspects of life and death...” -- F. E. Abernethy of Nacogdoches, TX

“The [Sacred Harp] verses don’t spare the dark side of living. Most look forward to happiness in a future heaven and a rough road on the way.” -- Cheri Chapman in “There’s Notes In There That Ain’t On No Musical Instrument,” Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, Texas) June 26, 1976, p. D6

Its past and future
“Sacred harp singing is from away back yonder.” -- Minnie Beatrice Deason Cates, Valley Morning Star

“Singing is the understanding, but really and truly, we sing the way it was sung back ... years ago.” -- Dewey Williams of Ozark, AL

“Sacred Harp music is defiantly old-school.” -- Unknown

“In a cultural sense, this is the last outpost of the Old South.” -- Bill Giesenschlag of Snook, TX

“We disagree with the prediction that Sacred Harp music is fast disappearing.” -- J. W. Bassett, Letter to the editor of Birmingham News Monthly Magazine, 1954

“A living tradition changes. If it stopped changing, it would be because it died.” -- David Lee of Hoboken, GA

“I have seen this music go from a national curiosity to a cool pursuit. Keep it healthy by singing it, loving it, and contributing to its future.” -- Martha Beverly of Kalamazoo, MI

“Surely man will not degrade himself below the insects and birds, in thus letting one of his noblest faculties [singing] lie dormant.” -- G. H. Perdue in The Organ, 1855

“It never will wear out. The more you sing it, the better you like it. That’s what we think about The Sacred Harp and the Sacred Harp music.” -- Paine Denson of Cullman, AL (excerpt from an interview by Alan Lomax in Birmingham, Ala., August 1942)

“If God didn’t want this, he would have cut it off way back then.” -- Dewey Williams

Reminiscences and Memories
“Today I seldom hear this music, but when I do, I close my eyes and recall a time when, as far as I knew, the entire world was no bigger and no more complex than our backwoods county. Life was simple, defined by daily chores and lived in rhythm with the seasons.” -- Bob Lively in the Austin American-Statesman, Saturday, February 11, 2006

“The tradition was to sing all morning, have dinner on the grounds, then sing all afternoon. Sing all day long, sitting on a hard wooden bench, in an un-air-conditioned church, in August, with nothing but a cardboard picture of Jesus on a stick between yourself and a heatstroke…If I had been used to spending my Saturdays behind a plow instead of in front of a television, a day of singing ‘fa, so, la’ might have seemed like fun…” -- Karla DeLuca of Nacogdoches, TX in the Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel

“There’s a song in this book for every human idea.” -- T. C. Bailey of Arab, AL, 1959

“God Himself, in the beginning, set all things to music, even before man was made...” -- J. S. James in The History of the Sacred Harp, 1904

“It’s called harp even though there ain’t no harp because the songs has a Bible platform.” -- Minnie Beatrice Deason Cates, Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, Texas) June 26, 1976, p. D6

“What a beautiful ramshackle racket. Needs to be heard loud.” -- Paul in Nottingham, England

“Nothing is weirder than Sacred Harp. Its favored subject matter--the pilgrim, the grave, Christ’s blood--is stark; its style--severe fourths and otherworldly open fifths--has been obsolete for more than a century. Its notation, in which triangles, circles and squares indicate pitch, looks like cuneiform. Yet it exudes power and integrity. Five people sound like a choir; a dozen like a hundred.” -- From “Give Me That Old-Time Singing”

“It’s different from mainstream church music. It’s primitive, enticing and ethereal, all at the same time. It’s a very powerful form of worship.” -- Renè Greene of Glencoe

“It almost seemed you could stand up and walk on it.” -- Buell Cobb of Birmingham, AL

“These were not professional singers, just bold ones. And my goodness, were they loud!” -- Jim Grey

“The sound is always better than the sum of its parts.” -- Jim Grey

“If one can sing at all, it is possible to sing this music. Indeed, if one cannot sing at all, one can sing this music; the resulting wrong notes will easily be absorbed in the enthusiastic tumult of everything else that is going on.” -- Neely Bruce of Middletown, CT

“The weird harmonic overtones and dour lyrics of sacred harp singing make it a unique musical form.” -- Cheri Chapman in "There’s Notes In There That Ain’t On No Musical Instrument", Valley Morning Star 

“As for the sound of the booming ‘fa- sol- la's’, I always associated that with the sad notes of the exiled Children of Israel, when they ‘hung their harps on a willow tree’.” -- Sara Jane Overstreet

“Get enough people singing weird harmonies at the top of their voices and you start feeling a little sorry for the devil.” -- Joe Dempsey

“Why leave us longer in a three-cornered state of affairs, but come together as a family whose chain is now broken and give us the privilege of working under one vine and fig tree?” -- C. J. Griggs, 1936, A Sketch or Brief History of the Sacred Harp Song Book

[Q] Ron Pen: Why are Sacred Harp books shaped oblong? [A] Hugh McGaw: “Why, Ron, it fits into your lap that way.”

And when attending a singing:
“Be sure and bring your books that open the long way!” -- From a singing announcement in the Corsicana Semi-Weekly Light (Corsicana, Texas) Tuesday, August 16, 1927, p. 5

[Note: my apologies for quoting myself, but since it was used on the Bremen Sacred Harp web site, I decided to use it.]

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