Being a mathematically-inclined person, I’m always interested in the stories one can tease out of data…  Now that we’ve got the book mostly mapped out, I made a chart displaying the first publication dates of the songs.  Each dot in the chart represents a song.  Given that we started with the Kentucky Harmony and its Supplement, you’d think that the most common year would be, say, 1816 or 1825.  However, the majority of the tunes Davisson published were from earlier authors.  The longest line of dots is for the year 1793, the publication of Shumway’s American Harmony and Stone’s Columbian Harmony, both of which are well represented in The Shenandoah Harmony.

It’s quite interesting to compare the song profile of The Shenandoah Harmony with a similar chart displaying songs in The Sacred Harp (1991).  (Thanks to Ian Quinn for sharing some SH data with me.)

A few interesting points…

  • The ShH represents, on average, an earlier and less diverse repertoire than the SH.  The biggest difference is in the twentieth century.  You can also see the different editions of the SH, each of which corresponds with a large spike in the data.
  • You can clearly see the effects of copyright law on the ShH (songs published before 1923 are in the public domain; with two exceptions, our copyrighted songs are by living composers)
  • Even though copyright is not an issue, neither book draws from the 1890s.  Gotta be a low point for four-shape music!

UPDATE: Here’s another side-by-side comparison, showing the major-minor distribution of both books by year (see my earlier post about the major-minor split).  Interesting to see that there seems to have been a strong interest in minor tunes in the 1936 SH.  The spike in minor tunes from the 1990s in the Shenandoah may reflect the rediscovery of the Davisson repertoire by composers such as John Bayer and Judy Hauff.



Do you notice anything else?

3 replies
  1. Al McCready
    Al McCready says:

    I haven’t read any earlier posts, but found these charts helpful in getting an insight into the differences between the books. It certainly is interesting that a majority of the post 1900 SH additions are Major tunes, where the post 1900 ShH additions are approximately equal. This is consistent with the long-term historical trend, in that the charts indicate that the ShH has always been about equal or slightly weighted to the Minor side. (I don’t have the data for a precise determination.) The SH are clearly weighted to the Major side. What fun!

    • Rachel
      Rachel says:

      … of course, the ShH doesn’t have any real “history” — it represents the preferences of a particular group of people at a particular time, whereas the Sacred Harp has been formed in a complex process by many people over the course of 168 years. It will be interesting to see how we feel about this book after we’ve had a chance to sing from it for ten years or more…

  2. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    Interesting how this conforms with recent NPR stories on how minor music has become more appealing in popular music in the last few decades.

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