Tuesday, June 02, 2020

The New Sacred Harp and Its Sources

The New Sacred Harp was published in 1884 by brothers J. L. White and B. F. White Jr., sons of B. F. White, Sr., the compiler of The Sacred Harp. The concept may have been to print a book that could be used as a supplement to The Sacred Harp, as well as avail themselves of the growing popularity of the seven-shape gospel songs. The preface of The New Sacred Harp is brief and does not mention any sources. There is a brief reference to “our best composers” and also to the intent to keep The Sacred Harp available. Some song attributions are “by permission” Many of the songs in The New Sacred Harp reflect the emerging gospel style that was increasing in popularity.

Sources of songs fall into at least four categories.

Songs written by J. L. White and composers with whom he was acquainted. (There are no songs in The New Sacred Harp written by B. F. White, Jr., but he was probably also acquainted with some of the composers). These include men associated with Sacred Harp and other musical conventions in Atlanta and the surrounding area: S. M. Denson, T. J. Denson, Absalom Ogletree, J. N. Pitman, and J. P. Reese (as well as their nephew C. J. White). Eighteen songs by A. J. Showalter are labeled “by permission.” This may suggest that he wrote them for The New Sacred Harp. I have not found them thus far in any other of his books. Showalter had one tune titled White. We cannot be sure it is named for the White brothers (J. L. & B. F.), but one might think so since he is collaborating with them on their book. We know A. J. Showalter and J. L. White were acquainted. Other composers probably acquainted with the Whites were James A. Buchanan, A. R. Churchill, and R. J. Robbins. Each of these three men had compositions in J. L. White’s later revision of The Sacred Harp, 1909-1911.

Songs from The Sacred Harp. Some of the songs in The New Sacred Harp by the White brothers were previously in The Sacred Harp by White and King – songs such as Columbiana, Coronation, Idumea, Lena, Reverential Anthem, and Windham are included. Some, if not all, were re-arranged. Those that did not have alto had an alto part added.

Songs from the reform music tradition of Lowell Mason and his collaborators. Many songs such as these (e.g., Bethany, Dennis, Rest, Retreat, Siloam, and Ware) were popular church tunes. Such composers include William B. Bradbury, Thomas Hastings, and Isaac B. Woodbury.

Songs from currently popular tune books.[i] Different song attributions credit at least five songbooks as sources used by the Whites. These books were no more than seven years old at the time The New Sacred Harp was published in 1884 (with the possible exception of The Surprise, whose exact publication date is unknown).

[i] The abbreviations “Bost.” and “Laur.” probably stand for songbook collections.

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