Thoughts on Tune Families

Jan 21, 2014 by

In many early American churches—and some churches today—congregational singing consisted of either a preacher lining out a melody, with the congregation responding, or a cappella singing using words-only hymnals.  In either case, most folks learned the melody by ear.  Over generations and in the absence of notated music, each local church community would develop its own version of a hymn tune.  These versions form a tune family—that is, a collection of tunes that are regional or denominational variants of the same melody.  Unless we know the original melody, however, it is not always clear which tunes belong in the same family.  Another wrinkle in the story is that melodies can vary through oral transmission and also by the conscious act of an arranger or editor.  In the American folk hymn tradition, the tune and the text are rarely...

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Suffering Savior (p. 344t)

Nov 30, 2013 by

This was my response to a post by Matt Bell on the fasola-discussions list, but it deserves its own place here… The arrangement of SUFFERING SAVIOR that’s in William Hauser’s Hesperian Harp is one of my favorite songs.  It’s in the Shenandoah Harmony on p. 344t and here’s a rough recording of it: ShH 344t Suffering Savior I just love the two treble 4-sols in the middle of the piece that tie the phrases together. It’s difficult to know how to cite this tune. We referenced William Hauser’s Hesperian Harp (1848), p. 54, as the direct source, but gave Christian Lyre (1831) credit for the basic form of the tune—in this case, just the title and the Hesperian tenor is similar to the Christian Lyre.  Nikos Pappas pointed out to me that the song is related, though not...

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200 Years of Bourbon

Nov 20, 2013 by

One of the joys—and sometimes frustrations—of choosing songs for The Shenandoah Harmony   was the often overwhelming number of different shape-note arrangements available for the same song.  BOURBON (13t), which has been in print since 1814, is a classic example.  We  chose two different settings of the melody (13t BOURBON and 260t CONFLICT) plus two closely related melodies (7t SUPPLICATION and 305 THO’ DARK BE MY WAY). I’ve been fascinated by the difference in harmony between BOURBON and CONFLICT for a long time.  The song goes under several other titles, including MEDITATION, DISMISSION, and BRETHREN, PRAY. I started collecting different versions.  With the help of Nikos Pappas, I have found twelve harmonizations from the years 1814-1911 that are substantially different from each other, plus a handful that differ from these in a minor way. This post...

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Friendship (to every willing mind)...

Nov 19, 2013 by

221b FRIENDSHIP is one of the few folk melodies in A Supplement to the Kentucky Harmony that has a well known, secular source—it was written by George Frederick Handel for his 1736 opera Atalanta.  Sometime in the sixty years after its first performance, the melody acquired English words that are attributed to a “Mr. Bidwell, of Connecticut” in the American Musical Miscellany (1789).  As far as I know, the tune was first published with this text under the title THE BRITISH MUSE in a two-part arrangement in the Select Songster (1786).  Here are a few different versions I’ve collected: Chorus “Viva la face, viva l’amor!” from Atalanta, 1736.  This is probably the most interesting arrangement to sing because it’s so different from the style of the subsequent “folk” versions. I’ve transposed it down from the original key of D major...

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