Barring It All, Part 1

Feb 18, 2014 by

Thanks to some perceptive comments on fasola-songwriters and elsewhere, I’m going to revisit my previous post on rhythm and meter.  Two comments that intrigued me were Leah Velleman’s idea that there might be a generative theory of rhythm that applies to shape-note hymnody and Tarik Wareh’s observation that rhythm and the placement of bar lines are not independent phenomena.  Another suggestion, emailed by a friend, was to look at higher-level accents. I hope you’re not sick of LOUISIANA (SH 207), because I’d like to start there again.  I had classified settings of the text as “even” if their accented syllables were evenly spaced.  However, as Leah and others pointed out, I allowed some fudging at the end of lines, so my “even” rhythms weren’t strictly even.  Here’s a rhythmic setting of “Come, little children”...

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Meter, Rhythm, and the Most Awkward Farewell...

Feb 7, 2014 by

Here’s a sequel to my previous post on tune families.  After reading Charles Seeger’s article ”Versions and variants of the tunes of ‘Barbara Allen,'” I was intrigued by the idea of adding rhythm to my analysis of tune families.  In this post, I’m going to explore the contribution of rhythm to a tune’s identity.  Since settings of the same tune family can vary in four dimensions—pitch, time, text, and harmony—I’d like to incorporate rhythm into the study of tune families and also consider the existence of “rhythm families.” First of all, let’s distinguish between meter and rhythm.  Meter, in this context, is the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in the poetry.  It is unaffected by how the text is set to music.  Rhythm, on the other hand, is the pattern of musical note durations...

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Committee picks, part 4: Kelly

Mar 21, 2013 by

  After finally getting to peruse the book in hand, I have renewed my acquaintance with songs we sang months ago. I second many previous picks including 184 Sinai (my favorite fugue), 334 Gethsemane (we opened with this stark, minor Abraham Wood composition for an Easter Sunrise service one year), and 22b Psalm 30 (possibly my favorite song in the book). -Kelly   I also recommend the following: 344 Springfield – this Supplement to the Kentucky Harmony  song by Babcock combines powerful and moving poetry with strong composition and a well-constructed time change. 274 Zion – another fine composition from Daniel Read that we found in the Kentucky Harmony; the words are a powerful part of the experience. 18t Canaan  – this three-part major song is a cheerful, melodic tune from Johnson’s Tennessee Harmony. 130 Absent Love – a stark,...

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Singing Judith Brock and Polly Gould...

Aug 5, 2012 by

A wonderful anecdote in this 1902 History of Newbury, Vermont (see embedded text below) gives the background on Jeremiah Ingalls’ song LAMENTATION (ShH 258), written for the death of young Judith Brock. [BROCK], JUDITH, b. Aug 6, 1783; d. Jan 26, 1797. (The Abbott register says 1802). She was long remembered in Newbury. The editor well recollects hearing his grandfather, John Wells, ask one of his music loving associates, “Can you sing Judith Brock?” “No.” was the reply. “I can sing Polly Gould, but I can’t sing Judith Brock.” This enigmatical reply deserves elucidation. A hymn of eighteen stanzas was composed and sung at her funeral, in the old meeting-house. This extraordinary production begins: “Death loud alarms, we feel the shock Louder than thunder’s roar, With grief we learn that Judith Brock, Is known...

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“One of the most beautiful of those old minors”...

Jul 6, 2012 by

In the early stages of working on The Shenandoah Harmony, we jokingly titled the project The Mostly Minor Melodeon because, try as we might, we couldn’t escape the fact that the songs we had chosen were overwhelmingly minor! The editions of The Kentucky Harmony and The Tennessee Harmony are roughly 60% minor; even the early editions of The Easy Instructor are over 50% minor. As our book has evolved, we’ve added songs from other sources; the finished book will have about 52% minor songs. For comparison, The Sacred Harp (1991) is only 28% minor, though I’ve heard that the actual balance of songs called in singings is less heavily skewed. In addition to these statistics, there is plenty of evidence that minor songs were all the rage in the early nineteenth century. Here’s a...

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Editing songs in the ShH

May 1, 2012 by

Now that our preview packet is out, we’ve received several questions and comments about our editorial policy.  As the “resident academic” on the music committee, I thought I’d try to explain our process for everyone.  This is the result of an ongoing conversation—so I’m sure I’ll be editing this post plenty in the coming months!   –Rachel General policy.  The Shenandoah Harmony  is a book for singers.  Successful singing books such as The Sacred Harp  have undergone substantial revisions in their history, with the general goal of making songs more satisfying to sing and lead in the context of a practice or all-day singing.  However, changes must be made with extreme caution.  Often harmonic or rhythmic irregularities—both features that make a song tricky to sing—are what gives a song its life.  Eliminating them all can...

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