In Memory of John Bayer, Jr.

Posted by on Jan 11, 2017 in All Categories, Composers, News, Songs | Comments Off on In Memory of John Bayer, Jr.

In Memory of John Bayer, Jr.

by Kelly Macklin

John Bayer, Jr. passed away on December 8, 2016 just over a year after the death of his wife, Loraine. They are survived by their children, Regina, Hans, and Jubal, and four grandchildren.

I first met John Bayer in September 1990 at the United Convention in Chicago (held for the first time out of the South!) My husband, John, and I were new singers and this was one of our first conventions. John Bayer was also a fairly new shape note singer, but I never realized that until much later, as he was a strong, vibrant and enthusiastic singer who seemed as though he had sung this music all his life. He was a bear of a man, with a beautiful, clear tenor who could be heard even in a crowd. He often slapped his book in time to encourage the class to sing out or pick up the tempo!

John singing at home, surrounded by Loraine, Hans, Jubal, and members of their singing community. Photo by Sheila Patterson.

The family were Anabaptist attending Old German Baptist Brethren Church. John was a man of strong faith and conviction. He held a belief in the frailty of people and their propensity to sin. I believe he wrestled with his dark side mightily. He expresses this in his compositions. He had strong opinions which he was not averse to share, but he also realized his sharp tongue could wound, for which he would humbly apologize. One might think we would have little in common, but in fact we did. We had long and enriching conversations about religion, philosophy, history, and morality, as well as music.

He composed numerous songs, in the shape note genre; eight (plus one arrangement) appear in The Shenandoah Harmony (2013) (the most of any modern composer) and twelve in The Missouri Harmony (2005). Judy Hauff frequently collaborated with John. She co-authored four of the nine tunes in The Shenandoah Harmony; she says in the 1990’s he flooded her with songs to harmonize or critique. He loved minor music and weighty themes. His compositions are unique and compelling, and highly singable. He found words which do not appear in other shape note books that I have used, and which are potent, arresting and well married to the music. He had an impressive knowledge of tunes, a hefty collection of songbooks and and was an invaluable source of information and advice to us when we were compiling of The Shenandoah Harmony

The songs display an amazing diversity. “Heck” is a paean to the farmer’s plight; any gardener will sympathize. “Okefenokee” is a lilting song with a powerful theme of good and evil. The very popular “Bowen” has a rousing chorus about family which always inspires a class. “Hymn of the Dunkers” is a sober, but vibrant call to prayer and praise. “Marcia” has lovely harmonies and extols the city of Jerusalem. “Harper’s Lament or Runie’s Farewell” is particularly poignant; it was written for a beloved, and warmly welcoming, elderly Southern singer who passed away. “Madness” is almost shocking in its theme, yet relevant today, though the verse was written by Isaac Watts in 1707. “Night of the Grave” is a haunting setting of James Beattie’s poem “The Hermit” (1780), which contrasts the temporary gloom of night or winter with the permanency of death. John also transcribed the powerful two-part “Symyadda” from the Sand Mountain oral tradition.

John and his family travelled to singings whenever they could get away from the duties and demands of their melon farm in Ohio. He managed to come to one of our early Northern Shenandoah Valley all day singings, a James River Convention in Richmond VA and the Keystone in Lancaster PA in 2013, in addition to many travels south and to Chicago and the Midwest. However, we often would find a way to visit John and his family at home in Ohio. My favorite memories are sitting with them all at the table and singing. All three of his children were enthusiastic and talented singers and to hear them together with familial blending was unbelievably satisfying. When The Shenandoah Harmony came out, we sang through it with them as they voiced their approval, critiqued or demanded more verses!

We will miss him mightily. He was a wonderful friend. I will think of him whenever we sing his songs, especially this; “Take your companion by the hand, and all your children in a band, and give them up at Jesus’ call to pardon, bless, and save them all.”

Kelly Macklin

Here is a playlist of John’s songs.

Did Lucius Chapin write the Amazing Grace tune?

Posted by on May 12, 2015 in All Categories, Composers, News, Songs | Comments Off on Did Lucius Chapin write the Amazing Grace tune?

The melody sung to John Newton’s 1779 hymn “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound” is, without a doubt, America’s best-loved hymn tune [1]. Unlike Lowell Mason’s “Nearer, my God, to thee,” the “Amazing grace” tune is of unknown origin. It first appeared in print in 1829 without any composer attribution, and there were thought to be no earlier surviving instances of the tune. However, an 1828 manuscript by Lucius Chapin (1760-1842), who was famous in his day as a hymn tune writer, raises the possibility that Lucius was its composer.

Lucius and his brother Amzi (1768-1835) were among the first and most influential composers to harmonize American folk hymns, using principles they had absorbed from New England and English church music, and perhaps from the oral tradition as well. They also composed hymns in a similar style. The brothers came from a large, musical Massachusetts family. Their mother was an exceptional singer, though she did not read music, and two of their brothers also became singing masters. Lucius and Amzi moved south and west as young men and taught singing schools throughout their lives. In 1828, Lucius was living in central Kentucky and Amzi in western Pennsylvania [2].

The 1828 manuscript was mentioned in passing in James Scholten’s 1972 dissertation on Lucius and Amzi Chapin. Scholten provided few details and seemed unaware of its significance. In page 87, Scholten wrote of Lucius’ son Cephas (1804-1828),

On July 25, 1828, [Cephas] died from typhus in Oxford, Ohio en route home to visit his parents. There are three tender expressions of paternal love and grief on the back of Cephas’ last letter penned there by Lucius, the tunes AMAZING GRACE and BRAINARD and a brief poem [2].

The familiar melody had a number of titles in its early publications: ST. MARY’S, GALLAHER, HARMONY GROVE (Shenandoah Harmony, p. 300), NEW BRITAIN (Sacred Harp, p. 45), and more. The one title it did not have was AMAZING GRACE, though that title was used for at least two other melodies. The tune wasn’t paired with Newton’s text until 1835. I was curious to see the manuscript, because neither John Newton’s hymn “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound” nor any of the tunes known for that text are associated with the Chapin family by modern scholars. However, the great nineteenth-century scholar W.E. Chute (1832-1900) attributed the melody to the Chapins, though his evidence is unknown.

I contacted Christine Engels of the Cincinnati Museum Center Library and Archives and she sent me a copy of the back of Cephas’ letter, reproduced here with permission. You can click on the image to see more detail. The date August 13, 1828 is visible in the lower right corner.

Music dated Aug 13, 1828 on the back of Cephas Chapin’s letter to Lucius Chapin

Since Lucius doesn’t name the tune on the left, I’m going to call it NEW BRITAIN, which is its most common name (hymn tune titles are traditionally written in capital letters). Here’s a closeup. Despite teaching shape notes for decades, Lucius never adopted them in his personal manuscripts.

The tune NEW BRITAIN written in Lucius’ hand

It is possible that NEW BRITAIN was added to the manuscript after 1828, or copied from a source that does not survive. However, the version here doesn’t exactly match any tune found, either published or in manuscript, in Nikos Pappas’ exhaustive index of over 60,000 early American hymn tunes (1700-1870) [3]. It is closest to the tune ST. MARY’S found in Shaw and Spilman’s Columbian Harmony (1829) [4]. Like Lucius, Shaw and Spilman lived in central Kentucky. More about that later.

Should we attribute the NEW BRITAIN tune to Lucius? Probably not. It is possible he composed it, but this isn’t like finding a Beethoven sonata written in Mozart’s handwriting, or even like finding NEW BRITAIN in Lowell Mason’s handwriting. Even if Lucius were the first to notate the tune, the concept of “authorship” in this repertoire is difficult. Composers felt free to write arrangements of popular sacred or secular melodies in oral tradition and publish them, either as unattributed tunes or with their own names attached. They also made their own versions of tunes in books or manuscripts, appropriated and rearranged European classical music, and composed music from scratch in a folk idiom [5].

Authorship as regards the Chapins is particularly difficult to pin down. The three most popular American folk hymns, TWENTY-FOURTH, NINETY-THIRD, and ROCKBRIDGE, are all ascribed to Amzi or Lucius (see The Sacred Harp, pages 47 and 31, and The Shenandoah Harmony, page 1, respectively) [3]. The brothers never published books, and the manuscripts that survive don’t clarify the situation. Lucius and Amzi most probably composed harmony parts, but we don’t know to what extent they “wrote” the tunes.

The other tune on Cephas’ letter, BRAINARD, gives some tantalizing clues to Lucius’ musical process. It is a folk hymn most often called INDIAN’S FAREWELL or PARTING FRIENDS (see page 271 of The Shenandoah Harmony). In this case, there are several published versions prior to 1828, though none match Lucius’ tune exactly [3]. What’s interesting here is the fact that Lucius appears to be making a transcription. He writes the tune twice, using two different rhythms and time signatures. He mistakenly writes “6/8” as the time signature for both versions, and the first version has an incomplete measure. In all the published sources, the first note is on the downbeat, not a pickup, as it is here. After viewing the letter in person, I believe that Lucius was also transcribing NEW BRITAIN, as there are scrape marks where he corrected mistakes.

The tune BRAINARD or BRAINERD and the text “When shall we thus meet again”

Why did Lucius write these particular tunes on the letter, presumably thinking of his son? INDIAN’S FAREWELL was usually coupled with the text “When shall we all meet again” by Anna Jane Vardill (1807). (Although Vardill wrote the poem in the persona of “Casmerian” (Kashmiri) Indian, it was spuriously associated with both Native Americans and missionaries, and perhaps Lucius’ title refers to David Brainerd, a well known missionary to the Indians.) Lucius writes a different text, however—one more tender, and one associated with the death of a child:

When shall we thus meet again (repeated)
When the dreary winter’s past,
When is hushed the northern blast,
When new verdure clothes the plain,
Then may we thus meet again.

This entire poem appears in Daniel Huntington’s 1838 memoir of his daughter Mary, who died in 1820 at the age of six. On page 43, Huntington writes that he composed the poem for her Sunday school class in 1819. It was published in the newspaper Boston Recorder in that year and somehow it made its way into Lucius’ hands. (If the beginnings of Vardill and Huntington’s texts seem familiar, it’s because they were inspired by the opening lines of Macbeth.)

What text or texts might Lucius have associated with NEW BRITAIN? Texts and tunes usually had an independent existence in this period. The two texts used in Columbian Harmony (1829) are Charles Wesley’s “Come, let us join our friends above” and Isaac Watts’ “Arise my soul, my joyful pow’rs.” Of those two, “Come, let us join” is closest thematically to “When shall we thus meet again.” It is one that Sacred Harp singers today associate with memorials, though we sing a different tune, ARNOLD, to these words:

Come, let us join our friends above,
That have obtain’d the prize;
And on the eagle’s wings of love,
To joy celestial rise.

If Lucius didn’t compose NEW BRITAIN, then who did? The basic structure of the tune is ancient. NEW BRITAIN is a folk hymn—a sacred melody that existed, in some form, in oral tradition prior to being notated. It belongs to a recognized “tune family,” or group of tunes, sacred or secular, that share enough structure and melodic phrases that they seem to be descended from a common root. Other related tunes include Amzi Chapin’s TWENTY-FOURTH (written in the 1790s) and, more distantly, the African-American spiritual “Swing low, sweet chariot” (published in 1873, but definitely older). The folk hymn CONSOLATION (attributed to the Chapins when first published in 1812) has the same contour, but is in the minor mode. Though clearly different melodies, all four tunes share the same four-phrase structure, with first phrase ending on the fifth below the tonic, the second phrase ascending to the fifth above, the third phrase descending from there down an octave, and the final phrase ascending to the third before returning to the tonic. All four of these tunes remain in print in multiple modern hymnals.

However, just because a tune is a folk hymn doesn’t mean that there wasn’t an originator for a particular variant of the tune family. There were at least ten slightly different versions of NEW BRITAIN written down from 1828 to 1840 in Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina [3]. Three of these were from central Kentucky. This argues for oral transmission, but the fact that each version differs from the others only in the amount of ornamentation notated suggests that one person, perhaps an itinerant preacher or singing master, was the “vector” that spread the tune through this area in the late 1820s to 1830s.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that Lucius’ version was closest to ST. MARY’S in Shaw and Spilman’s 1829 Columbian Harmony. There may have been a closer connection between Charles Spilman, Benjamin Shaw, and Cephas Chapin. Charles and Cephas were born within a year of each other and both were Presbyterians. In 1828, Charles and Benjamin were at Centre College in Danville, about 90 miles from the Chapin family.  Though Cephas was in Alabama prior to his death, he had previously been teaching singing school in Kentucky and stated in a letter that he had entered Centre College, although he didn’t graduate. Cephas’ letters say he participated in a revival there in 1826. Did Charles and Benjamin learn the tune from Cephas? Or vice versa? Or was this tune commonly known at Centre College?

This possible connection raises the question of whether Lucius (or Cephas) wrote the arrangement of ST. MARY’S in Columbian Harmony. There are some aspects of the harmony—the four-part setting, and the variety of chords—that are found in the Chapin arrangements. However, the static treble (top line) and bass, the narrow, high range of the treble in relation to the melody (tenor), the use of parallel thirds, and the dominant seventh chord before the final note all argue against Lucius as arranger. As for Cephas, we have no record that he composed or arranged music.

What, if anything, does this manuscript add to the story of “Amazing Grace”? It’s fascinating that there is a direct connection between America’s best-loved hymn tune and our “first family” of sacred folk song. I could speculate endlessly on where Lucius learned the melody, or whether he composed this variant of the tune family. However, the one thing certain is that he wrote the tune on the back of the last letter he ever received from his son. The tune must have had emotional significance for him, and perhaps provided some consolation. In that, he would not be alone.


Another interesting story, though tangential, is the Chapin family’s connection to the antislavery movement. If you’ve read the story of John Newton (the author of the words to “Amazing Grace”) or seen the Broadway play, you’ll know that he was the captain of a slave ship who later rejected his past and advocated against slavery. The Chapin family lived in central Kentucky and some of their neighbors owned slaves, though there weren’t large plantations in the area. However, the diary of Cephas’ sister Harriet survives, and she was profoundly antislavery, though as a woman she didn’t have power to make decisions about her household. She thanks God that her father is “an Emancipator.” I don’t know if that means that he had slaves and set them free or if he didn’t believe in slavery and never owned slaves (I think the latter). Harriet considered it her duty to educate the two young African-Americans who worked for the family, an act that would have been illegal in many states. Harriet died in 1827, just a year before Cephas—a fact that must have made Cephas’ death even more difficult for their parents.

In general, the early revivals in Kentucky were far more democratic than were churches later in the 19th century. Both white women and African-Americans—even slaves—were called on to testify and even preach, and everyone participated in group singing, which was one of the hallmarks of these revivals. So the fact that this particular tune, whoever wrote it, is often associated with black spirituals and related to “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” is not surprising, as it was first popular in a mixed environment.


I found a poem about Cephas’ death and obituary online.


I would like to thank Christine Engels of the Cincinnati Museum Center Library and Archives for her assistance in locating the Chapin letter, the Museum Center for permission to post images, and Nikos Pappas of the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa for his willingness to share his invaluable research in documenting American sacred music.


[1] Steve Turner, Amazing Grace: The Story of America’s Most Beloved Song (New York: Harper Collins, 2002).

[2] James Scholten, “The Chapins; a study of men and sacred music west of the Alleghenies, 1795-1842” (PhD diss., University of Michigan, 1972).

[3] Nikos Pappas, Southern and Western American Sacred Music and Influential Sources (1700-1870). Database, 2015.

[4] Benjamin Shaw and Charles H. Spilman, Columbian Harmony, or, Pilgrim’s Musical Companion (Cincinnati: Lodge, L’Hommedieu & Hammond, 1829).

[5] Nikos Pappas, “Patterns in the Sacred Music Culture of the American South and West (1700-1820)” (PhD diss., University of Kentucky, 2013).


Download the demo Shenandoah packet

Posted by on Apr 29, 2012 in All Categories, Downloads, News, Songs | 5 comments

Here is our 84-page preview of the Shenandoah Harmony.  We sang from it at the NSV All-Day Singing in Millwood, Virginia, June 3, 2012.

You are welcome to make multiple paper copies of this packet.  However, please do not post it on a web site.

Questions?  Please read my post explaining our editorial policy.

If you’re planning to view this on a tablet or phone, you’ll probably prefer the ebook version.

Download (ShenandoahHarmonyPreview.pdf, PDF, 4.66MB)

Baltimore-Washington All-Day 2016 Recordings

Posted by on Jan 22, 2018 in Downloads, Recordings, Songs | Comments Off on Baltimore-Washington All-Day 2016 Recordings



Holyoke Range All-Day 2014 Recordings

Posted by on May 12, 2014 in All Categories, Downloads, News, Recordings | Comments Off on Holyoke Range All-Day 2014 Recordings

We had a wonderful time singing in Massachusetts on Saturday, May 3.  Thanks to everyone involved, and, in particular, Cheri Hardy for chairing the singing and the Western Massachusetts community for your warm hospitality! Minutes for the singing are on our Minutes page.

Some of these tracks are rough, but we’re including them for study purposes. The first and last sessions are the strongest.



Questioning the Unanswered Cadence

Posted by on Mar 29, 2014 in All Categories, Songs, Sources | 3 comments

There’s sometimes an audible gasp from the class after singing REDEEMING GRACE (page 218t), THE HUMBLE PENITENT (399), or Allison Blake Steel’s arrangement of HICKS’ FAREWELL (403). Why the surprise? A lifetime of listening and performing music conditions us to expect that a song will end on its tonic chord—the chord that functions as a “home” for that song’s major or minor key.  In 218t, 399, and 403, the bass ends on the expected tonic (1-fa in major or 1-la in minor), but a note sung by some other part creates a chord other than the home chord.  We are left with an unanswered expectation of return.

I don’t have polished recordings of these songs, but here’s somewhere to start. Scores for the songs are later in the post.
PLAY ShH 218t Redeeming Grace
PLAY ShH 399 The Humble Penitent
PLAY ShH 403 Hicks’ Farewell

A little music theory: the tonic triad is created from the first, third, and fifth degrees of the scale—typically, the notes sounded by the keyer.  In major, the tonic triad is 1-fa, 3-la, and 5-sol, while in minor the tonic triad is 1-la, 3-fa, and 5-la.  When the bass sings the first degree of the scale, a tonic triad is in root position.  Many, many shape note songs don’t end with a tonic triad, however.  Most minor songs end with just the first and fifth degrees of the scale.  And not every major song ends with a complete major triad.  So I’ll refer to the “home chord” as the chord with the bass on 1 and the other voices on 1, 3, or 5, though not all three notes need be represented.  The home chord is the most stable harmony that we expect to hear.

With the exception of 218t, 399, and 403, all the songs in The Shenandoah Harmony end on their home chord, as do all of the songs in The Sacred Harp.  (A few songs shift into another key entirely, or modulate, as in ADMIRATION on page 160, but these also end in the home chord of their new key.)  In contrast, REDEEMING GRACE and THE HUMBLE PENITENT, both “major,” end on 1-fa and 6-la, with the bass on 1, while HICKS’ FAREWELL (“minor”) ends on 1-la and 4-sol, with the bass choosing between those two.  The final chord is neither the tonic chord nor any chord in root position.  Since a sequence of harmonies that ends a musical phrase is called a cadence, I’ve dubbed this ending an unanswered cadence.  Of course, every shape-note song repeats at least once, because we sing both shapes and words, with more repeats if more verses are sung.  So the unanswered cadence is “answered” by a return to the beginning of the piece.


Does the unanswered cadence even properly exist?  Early shape note books were plagued by typographical errors.  A very common mistake is to have a shape incorrectly placed on the staff.  Judging by subsequent printings and purely musical clues, the shape is more likely to be correct than its placement. It’s possible that the 6-la in REDEEMING GRACE and other songs was originally intended to be a 3-la, which would be a member of the home chord.  It’s also possible that a 5-sol is intended, rather than a 6-la. As I mention below, there’s at least one shape-note song where I think the final chord contains an error, rather than an intentional unanswered cadence.  In addition, unanswered cadences were sometimes edited out of later arrangements.  However, as a lover of the “unreformed” shape-note style, I don’t find the actions of late nineteenth century reformers particularly significant.

The best argument for the existence of unanswered cadence is the fact that REDEEMING GRACE retains its final unanswered chord in some books throughout its 200-year publication history, even while other notes in the song were changed.  However, as far as I know, it’s the only such song that has an unbroken singing tradition to the present day (through The Christian Harmony and The Southern Harmony).  I’ll start with versions of REDEEMING GRACE, then look at other songs that have unanswered cadences and speculate on how the unanswered cadence contributes to our understanding of shape-note music.


REDEEMING GRACE appears in The Southern Harmony, The Christian HarmonyHarmonia Sacra, The Hesperian Harp, and elsewhere.  The earliest printed version comes from Wyeth’s Repository, Part Second (1813), page 79. The chooser notes in the tenor on the first phrase of the melody are unique to Wyeth’s.

Here’s the arrangement in our book, which matches The Southern Harmony, page 56 (1835), except that we have added the alto from The Hesperian Harp.

Here’s The Hesperian Harp, page 262 (1848), which is the most mysterious arrangement of all.

The things to notice in all of these arrangements are the cadences—the endings of the first two phrases and the endings of the piece.  The Hesperian Harp presents the class with an array of choices for the chord that ends the A part (this is an AABA song with a D.C. repeat, so this chord ends three of the four phrases in the tune, including the final phrase).  If at least one bass singer chooses the 6-la for the final note, the piece ends on a complete minor triad, and, following the “rule” that the key is the final note in the bass, the song is in E minor—that is, 6-la in major becomes 1-la in minor.  However, it’s unusual to end with the tenor on the third degree of the minor scale—I can’t think of another song that ends this way.  If all the basses choose 1-fa and some of the trebles or tenors choose 6-la, we have an unanswered cadence.  If all  the basses and tenors choose 1-fa and all  the trebles choose 3-la, however, the song ends on the home chord of G major.  Note that The Hesperian Harp is the only source to give the class a choice on the final chord.

What are we to make of the choosing notes in these three versions?  The rudiments of The Southern Harmony (1835) and The Hesperian Harp (1848) instruct us that if there is more than one singer, both notes may be sung, and this practice is followed by modern day singers.  I’m not sure that we should extrapolate backwards in time to Wyeth’s (1813), which does not mention choosing notes.  The tenor is supposed to be “the” melody. Is the melody, in fact, a matter of choice? It’s likely that the song was in oral tradition before 1813. Could there have been some disagreement among singers about the notes in the melody?  The two choices may even represent first and second endings for the repeated phrase at the beginning of the song; the class could sing the 6-la on the first pass and the 1-fa on the second, or vice versa.


As I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog, the late 1800s saw a shift towards a more conventional harmonic and rhythmic style (that is, the style of European-influenced common practice music) and the use of seven-shape or round-note notation. In addition, minor sonorities, often conflated with four-shape notation, fell out of favor and triadic harmony was preferred to dyadic harmony (a dyad is a chord with only two different notes; some dyads are ambiguous in that they belong to more than one triad).  Although REDEEMING GRACE still has the unanswered cadence in Walker’s The Christian Harmony (1866), page 329, his alto lingers on the 3-la (mi in seven shapes), which completes a minor triad at the A-phrase endings (thanks to Calum Woods for pointing this out).  Others have “reformed” the song radically.  Here is Hauser’s re-arrangement of REDEEMING GRACE on page 362 of The Olive Leaf (1878).  Again, pay attention to the cadences… NOTE: the malformed shapes on F# in the second system, bass, are clearly typos. G (do in 7 shapes) is intended.
OL362_RedeemingGraceThe unanswered cadence and indeterminacy of the choosing notes are gone, as is every single minor chord in the piece.  Whereas earlier versions had numerous dyads and a few dissonant chords, the chording here is 100% triadic.  Hauser liberally uses 4-fa in the bass to substitute major IV chords for minor vi chords and ends squarely on the home chord of G major.

The Harmonia Sacra is a book that had extensive revision with the adoption of seven shapes in the late nineteenth century.  Here’s the arrangement from page 242 (image used by permission of

HS242_RedeemingGraceI feel slightly disloyal to the Shenandoah writing this, but this is my favorite arrangement of the song—thanks to Dan Hunter for pointing it out.  Although the unanswered cadence is gone, the arranger (who?) preserves many of the minor chords, and adds an exquisite vi6 chord—a triadic completion of the dyad that ends the piece in the earlier four-shape arrangements—at the end of the B part.  The use of IV chords creates a more modern sound, but the vi chords hark back to the old four-shape arrangements.  NOTE: I’m still following up on the history of Harmonia Sacra revisions and will add more when I know the date for this arrangement.


Devotion.  The other well known song that sometimes has an unanswered cadence is DEVOTION, as in page 48t of The Sacred Harp.  Here’s the first published setting, which comes from Johnson’s Tennessee Harmony (1818) and is reprinted in The Southern Harmony (1835), page 13b.  This treble line, ending on the 6-la, is one of the loveliest I know.

Here’s a recording I made of Johnson’s tenor and treble, then one with all three parts, and finally a version with a bass I wrote to emphasize the minor chords. The tenor is in the right channel and the treble is in the left, so you can experiment with hearing just one part at a time.
PLAY Devotion Tenor and Treble
PLAY Devotion all parts
PLAY Devotion bass altered

Johnson “corrected” this arrangement in his second edition (1821), but the 6-la ending in the treble persists in later sources, and also appears in a different arrangement by Davisson in A Supplement to the Kentucky Harmony, ed.2, c.1822; like Johnson, Davisson removes the unanswered cadence in the 1826 edition of SKH.

The Humble Penitent and Conformity.  This song too has a history of revision by Davisson and others.  Our Shenandoah version is mostly from the third edition of SKH, but borrows one feature from the second edition.  Here’s HUMBLE PENITENT, page 13 of SKH ed.2, c.1822.


Here’s HUMBLE PENITENT, page 14 of SKH, ed.3, 1826.  In the reverse of the normal course of things, the unanswered cadence was added by Davisson a few years later.  He also extensively re-arranged the song.  I don’t attribute this ending to error; the 6-la appears in two parts and both lines are directed towards it.  We changed one note in The Shenandoah Harmony, giving the alto a 6-la in the middle of the piece to create the  open 6-3 dyad that’s in the SKH ed.2 version.

CONFORMITY in the Harmonia Sacra has a similar melody, but different text and arrangement.  It does not have an unanswered cadence.  Here’s the version in the modern book from; the earliest setting (1832?) lacked an alto and had two bass choosers: a choosing 5-sol above the 1-fa on the first note and a choosing 1-fa below the 6-la on the third note before the end, creating a vi6 triad again!
Friendship (to every willing mind). The version of this song in A Supplement to the Kentucky Harmony has an unanswered cadence created by a 6-la in the alto.  The tune is a variant of a melody by Handel; I’ve discussed it extensively HERE.  It’s in our book on 221b with a different arrangement.  There’s another version in The Christian Harmony.  I believe that the unanswered cadence in SKH is a mistake, and Hauser seems to agree—the alto note is changed to a 5-sol in The Hesperian Harp.

Angels Songs.  This setting of a British Isles folk tune is part of James P. Carrell’s recently discovered Songs of Zion (1821).  The alto 6-la is preserved in The Hesperian Harp (see HERE).   As in Friendship, the parallel phrase ends on 5-sol for the alto.  I’m somewhat less inclined to see this as a typo, because the song frequently cadences on the vi chord already, and because Hauser doesn’t change it.

Hicks’ Farewell.  Allison Blake Steel’s arrangement of HICKS’ FAREWELL, a William Walker melody from The Southern Harmony, ends (in minor) with the bass on a choosing 1-la and the 4-sol above it, while the other voices take 1-la or 4-sol.  It’s a delicious chord—reminds me of the second phrase ending in 344t SUFFERING SAVIOR. It is also a great example of how a composer can use old techniques to create something entirely new.

ShH403_HicksFarewellThere are additional songs in the late nineteenth century seven-shape repertoire that don’t end on their home chord, but I’ll leave them out, as the musical style had changed considerably by then.


It seems appropriate to end this post, like these songs, with questions.  What does the existence, and persistence, of the unanswered cadence in REDEEMING GRACE tell us?  Why did Davisson revise his HUMBLE PENITENT arrangement to add more ambiguity rather than less?  How are we to accept that the lovely treble line of DEVOTION ends on the “wrong” note?  Of course, we can never know why any of these songs are the way they are, since we have little or no information from the composers and arrangers themselves.  However, tunebook compilers of the period felt free to change songs copied from other books, so both the survival of the unanswered cadence in some books and its”correction” in others are telling.

The most obvious hearing is a deliberate confounding of our expectations for the home chord.  In common practice music, this kind of fakeout is a type of deceptive cadence.  Perhaps this interpretation is too modern, however.  I’m not convinced that shape-note composers of this era thought in terms of chord progressions, though in their rudiments the home triad is mentioned as the most stable sonority.  I’m inclined to say that we have an ending “destabilization” rather than a chord progression.  (Just for kicks, I did some research on “unstable” endings in modern pop music.  I couldn’t find information about ending on iv6, but ending on the IV chord is popular enough in contemporary Christian music that one blogger, Greg Howlett, rails against it as a gimmick.  Springsteen’s “Lonesome Day” also ends on IV.  In fact, some iconoclastic alto could complete the ambiguous 6-1 dyad ending of REDEEMING GRACE, DEVOTION, and HUMBLE PENITENT to a IV64 triad, which has 1-fa in the bass, with the other voices taking 4-fa and 6-la.  David Temperley’s “The Cadential IV in Rock” mentions the use of IV to loop back to I, just as our unanswered cadence is followed by a return to the beginning of the music in the next verse.  If the unanswered cadence is a “gimmick” of the 1820s, however, it didn’t catch on; as far as I know, no new unanswered cadences were added between 1826 and Steel’s 2007 HICKS’ FAREWELL.)

Alternately, an unanswered cadence may be a way of pointing out a modal ambiguity in the melody itself.  Despite the firm differentiation between major and minor in the rudiments of shape-note books, the line between the two is blurred in the songs themselves, and, of course, the distinction had only became important when people started to notate music that had been in the oral tradition.  Many shape-note tunes are “modally restless” in that they share phrases with tunes that are in a different mode, and even may belong to tune families that have both “major” and “minor” members.  For example, HUMBLE PENITENT has some melodic similarity to BOURBON, which is minor; 2 RHODE ISLAND (minor) and 82 INDIAN PHILOSOPHER (major) are another such pair.  John G. McCurry commented in the rudiments of The Social Harp (1855), “There are some tunes that no man can tell whether they are major or minor keyed; e.g. refer to “Minister’s Farewell,” “Rhode Island,” “Antioch,” “Desire for Piety,” that the keys are in conflict all the way through.”  Although we don’t know whether modal ambiguity was a well known issue, McCurry, at least, had noticed it.  REDEEMING GRACE, HUMBLE PENITENT, DEVOTION, and ANGELS’ SONGS are all major songs that have prominent uses of 6-la, and the ending cadence reinforces the sense of being in major and minor at the same time. In HUMBLE PENITENT, especially, the final cadence says to me “no one knows what key we’re in.”

Another way I hear the unanswered cadence stems from my belief that shape-note music of the early 1800s is primarily melodically, rather than harmonically, driven.  Each voice part pursues its own melodic destiny.   In the rudiments of The Hesperian Harp, page xviii, Hauser encourages composers to “make each part so good a melody that it will charm even when sung by itself,” although he also stipulates that “[the fifth] should be the last note but one in every bass.” Though the voices are not meant to clash repeatedly, they don’t have to satisfy any particular harmonic expectations (Hauser notes that even the “rule” that the bass should end on 5-1 is sometimes broken).  Perhaps the unanswered cadence is nothing more than one part ending in major on 1-fa while another part ends in the relative minor on 1-la.  Or perhaps the situation is that, just as a tune that is centered on 1-fa can end on 5-sol, as does HALLELUJAH (SH 146), such a tune can end on 6-la—this is the idea of modal restlessness again—and the same goes for any individual voice part.

Spoiler alert—my next blog post will be on modally restless tunes…


Barring It All, Part 1

Posted by on Feb 18, 2014 in All Categories, Songs, Texts | 4 comments

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” that is completely even.  Each accented syllable starts a bar, with the unaccented syllable or syllables following it.  The slurs indicate the structure of the poetry.

Example 1: Strictly even rhythm.

But this seems all wrong.  There’s nowhere for the singers to breathe between phrases.  Moreover, 2/4 is the only common choice of barring that preserves the musical symmetry we expect between the parallel two-line phrases of text.  Here’s what happens if we bar in 4/4:

Example 2: Barring Example 1 in 4/4.

However, if we add a little time in the middle of the verse, order is restored:

Example 3: Adding some time in the middle of the verse.

This rhythm, though no longer “even” in terms of the pattern of accented syllables, may be grouped into higher-level units of two, four, or eight measures.  Lengthening “morsel” (and “postle”) more or less gives a second accented syllable to that line, balancing the first line:

Come, LIT-tle CHIL-dren, NOW we MAY

The “swung” version of this pattern, barred in 6/4, with each two-note grouping replaced by a half note followed by a quarter note, is exactly the rhythm of the first four lines of Walker’s BABE OF BETHLEHEM (ShH 103).

Example 4: ShH 103 BABE OF BETHLEHEM.

However, the rhythm in Example 3 is not actually the rhythm of LOUISIANA, which goes like this:

Example 5: Text setting of LOUISIANA in The Sacred Harp, p. 207.

What I take from this is that giving more breathing space between lines (or at least pairs of lines) can take precedence over the binary symmetry of Examples 3 and 4—that is, it is acceptable and often desirable to have five-measure phrases.   After all, we’re singing, not dancing.  Moreover, making “Come” a half note creates a much easier entrance for the class and the leader.

Let’s turn now to the long-short-short-long rhythm of THE CHURCH’S DESOLATION (SH 89).  I called this pattern “uneven,” but it’s actually uneven in a specific way: the distance between successive accented syllables alternates between two beats and four beats.  I’ve put dotted lines before each accented syllable.

Example 6: THE CHURCH’S DESOLATION rhythm.

There is no obvious way to bar this rhythm.  If I were not familiar with the song, I would bar it in 3/2, which emphasizes the parallel long-short-short-long rhythmic patterns and divides each line of poetry in half–a division that is also present in the poetry of the first and third lines.

Example 7: Barring THE CHURCH’S DESOLATION rhythm in 3/2.

As you know if you’ve looked at the song, this is not the way this rhythm is actually barred:

Example 8: Actual barring of THE CHURCH’S DESOLATION rhythm.

Is the rhythm, then, misbarred in The Sacred Harp?  The “misbarring” football has been kicked around on fasola-discussions and elsewhere. And in fact, when arrangers “reform” earlier settings of a tune that has the long-short-short-long rhythm, they often change a 4/4 or 2/2 barring, which is typical in early shape-note sources, to a 3/2 barring—see my discussion of the history of BOURBON.  An opposite phenomenon happens when a 3/2, reformed-harmony song like Lowell Mason’s GRAVITY (CB 266t / ShH 4b) or BOYLSTON (CB 447t) enters the shape-note world and is barred in duple time.  Although it’s true that the accents of the poetry don’t line up as well with the text, Example 8 has more life in it than Example 7.  There’s a polyrhythm—a rhythm produced when the same unit of time is simultaneously divided in two different ways—between the duple-time pattern of the barring and the triple-time pattern of the note values and text that is just soooo satisfying.  And since Sacred Harp singers “beat time” with their arms while singing, the duple-time rhythm is embodied, as well (see this video, starting at 2:00).  So I wouldn’t say the rhythm is mis-anything, any more than I would say that shape-note harmonies are “incorrect.”*

I can see that I’ll have more to say on the subject.  I still haven’t addressed Tarik’s question of why I consider the settings of THE DYING CALIFORNIAN in the Denson and Cooper Sacred Harps to be fundamentally different.  And I wanted to look at different meters and songs that have more complex interactions between musical and textual rhythms, though let’s not say “misbarring.” I’d love to discuss songs like Walker’s TENDER-HEARTED CHRISTIAN (ShH 270) as well.  Let’s call this post “Part 1.”

*My preference for the barring in Example 8 raises the question of whether it is appropriate for a hymn to have “life,” at least in this obviously rhythmic way.  If sung quickly, the rhythm of THE CHURCH’S DESOLATION does, I think, clash with the gravity of the words.  The nineteenth-century reformers sought to make church music more reverential.  One of the ways they did was to slow tempos and regularize rhythms and harmonies.  “Unreformed” shape-note music is, mostly, not part of church worship.

Meter, Rhythm, and the Most Awkward Farewell

Posted by on Feb 7, 2014 in All Categories, Songs, Texts | Comments Off on Meter, Rhythm, and the Most Awkward Farewell

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 in a tune.  Normally, there is a relationship between the meter of a text and the rhythm of the tune chosen for that text.  However, the same meter may be expressed in several different rhythms in different songs, or even within the same song.


LOUISIANA, page 207 in The Sacred Harp, 1991 (SH), is a good illustration of how rhythm is incorporated into the identity of a tune.  Its meter is 8, 7 D. iambic, meaning eight lines of iambic feet, alternating eight and seven syllables, with this stress pattern:

Come, LIT-tle CHILD-ren, NOW we MAY
Par-TAKE a LIT-tle MOR-sel.

My reduction of the song is below.  To make a cleaner picture, I’ve used only one note per syllable.  Often different instances of the same rhythm are barred differently, so I’ve chosen not to show a time signature or bar lines.  The dark bars indicate phrase endings, which often do not correspond to musical barring.  It’s common for lines of poetry to occupy the same amount of musical time, even if they do not have the same number of syllables.  However, in order to set the song in a familiar time signature—not something like 9/4, as this appears to be—rests are normally added between phrases, as in The Sacred Harp’s setting of LOUISIANA.  Since I don’t find the rests an essential part of the story, I’ve left them out.

I’ll call this example “even” because the syllables are set more or less evenly, with some correction at the ends and beginnings of phrases.  Other 8, 7 iambic songs with almost the same rhythm are MECKLINBURG, Shenandoah p. 259, and LOOK OUT, SH p. 90.

Rhythm 1: Even.Reduction_Louisiana

Now let’s experiment with changing the rhythm, while keeping the notes of the tune intact.  Here, I use the rhythm of BABE OF BETHLEHEM, page 103 in The Shenandoah Harmony (ShH).

Rhythm 2: Even, with swing.Reduction_Louisiana_BabeOfBethlehem

This rhythm is derived by “swinging” the original—that is, two equal notes are replaced by a long-short pair, with the long note falling on an accented syllable. It doesn’t take much to convince me that, in this form, LOUISIANA is almost identical to ZION’S CALL (ShH p. 131).

These two rhythmic patterns, or variations of them, seem to be the most common for 8, 7 iambic poetry.  However, they are not the only choices.  Let’s try LOUISIANA with the rhythm of THE CHURCH’S DESOLATION, page 89 in The Sacred Harp.  If we think of an accented syllable followed by an unaccented one as being a “unit” (a trochaic foot—the pattern that typically functions as a unit in musical settings), the lengths of units are uneven, though the pattern is quite predictable.

Rhythm 3: Uneven (long-short-short-long).Reduction_Louisiana_ChurchsDesolation

In fact, LOUISIANA is a relative of THE CHURCH’S DESOLATION.  You can especially hear this in the B part of the music.  There’s even a LOUISIANA in The Hesperian Harp that uses this long-short-short-long rhythm.    Although this pattern seems syncopated when sung quickly, it has a long history in church music, going back at least to the mid-eighteenth century.  Note that the words “morsel,” “union,” and “communion” have what’s called a “Scotch snap,” meaning a short-long rhythm where the shorter note gets the accented syllable.  I’ll call that pattern a snap.

Whether I hear the same sequence of notes as more like LOUISIANA, ZION’S CALL, or CHURCH’S DESOLATION depends on which of these rhythms I choose.  There is an additional rhythm for 8, 7 iambic that I’ve not seen with a LOUISIANA relative, though perhaps someone else will find one.  CHRISTIAN’S DELIGHT (ShH p. 359) uses essentially this pattern.  It is a swung version of Rhythm 3, with the two long notes replaced by a long-short pair.  There are snaps in the same places as Rhythm 3.  JESUS DIED FOR ME, page 511b in the Cooper edition of The Sacred Harp, has the same rhythm.

Rhythm 4: Uneven, with swing.Reduction_Louisiana_ChristiansDelight

Oddly enough, Rhythm 4 is very common in Seeger’s transcriptions of “Barbara Allen,” while Rhythm 3 is not found in the oral recordings.  Perhaps the need to write the song in musical notation, coupled with the preference for duple time signatures like 4/4 and 2/4 rather than triple time signatures like 3/2, meant that Rhythm 3 was preferred to Rhythm 4 in shape-note books (Rhythm 4 must be set in triple meter, while Rhythm 3 can be duple or triple).  For example, contrast the Cooper Sacred Harp‘s 1902 setting of WAYFARING STRANGER in duple meter, using an analog of Rhythm 3, to the Denson Sacred Harp‘s 1935 setting of the same tune in triple meter, this time with a pattern like Rhythm 4.

The four rhythms above and their close variants exhaust the possibilities I’ve seen for 8, 7 iambic in the Denson and Cooper editions of The Sacred Harp and The Shenandoah Harmony.  There is a metrical index for The Sacred Harp, 1991 HERE and for the Cooper book HERE.  Our eBook has a metrical index as well.

A side note—George Pullen Jackson and others have traced the LOUISIANA group of tunes, including also THE FLOWER (ShH 41) to a Scottish song Wae’s me for Prince Charlie (also HERE), which in turn is related to a 1615 tune, Lady Cassille’s Lilt.  See Bronson, The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads, 1959, vol. III, page 198 ff.

TROCHAIC 8s & 7s.

It seems that we might be able to describe “rhythmic families,” meaning collections of rhythm patterns that have similar characteristics, in the same way that we can attempt to classify tune families.  Let’s turn now to the 8, 7 trochaic family, a larger grouping that includes the “Come, thou fount” text that I discussed HERE.  The trochaic foot is a stressed-unstressed pattern: “COME thou / FOUNT of / EVE-ry / BLESS-ing.”

Example 1: Even. 
ShH 380 AUTUMN, 1787.


Example 1 is the most common rhythmic setting of 8, 7 trochaic.  I found the following in The Shenandoah Harmony: 248b TRIUMPH, 76b MOUNT WATSON, 432t NEW MONMOUTH, 264t ANIMATION, 244 CONCERT, 334 GETHSEMANE, and 36 OUR JOURNEY HOME.  Examples in The Sacred Harp are 56t, 59, 80t, 117, 145t, 148, 166, 312b, 333, and 458.

Example 2a: Even, with swing. 
ShH 55 BALL HILL, 1844.


Other examples of 2a are also ShH 226 THORNY DESERT (A part), ShH 118 LOCHLEVEN, and SH 370 MONROE.

Example 2b: Even, mixed swing and straight. 
ShH 246t PALMS OF VICTORY, 1854.

The “swung notes” can be other places in the tune—see ShH 293 CELESTIAL WATERING.  This is also a popular choice.  Instances of Example 2b in The Sacred Harp  are 30t, 54, 135, 144, 145b, 323t, 332, and 385b.

Example 2c: Even, with swing and snaps. 
226 THORNY DESERT (B part), 1835.


Snaps normally come at the end of a line of text.  ShH 241t SINNER, CAN YOU HATE THE SAVIOR is similar.  VILLULIA, 56b in The Sacred Harp, has an additional snap in the middle of the first line.  Other settings like Example 2c in The Sacred Harp are 52b, 118, and 154.

Example 3: Uneven (short-short-long-long).  

Rhythm_MyNativeLand See also ShH 340t PRINCETON and SH 335 RETURN AGAIN.

Example 4: Uneven, with swing (almost).  
SH 410t THE DYING CALIFORNIAN, arr. Howard Denson, 1935.


Example 4 is Howard Denson’s 1935 arrangement of the song, which is now in The Sacred Harp, 1991.  The rhythm is close to regular, but doesn’t fit the “uneven, with swing” pattern perfectly because the phrase “limbs are” is not swung.  Another example of the “uneven, with swing” rhythm—this time, a perfect match—comes from the 1927 song SHE IS SLEEPING, p. 540 in The Sacred Harp, Revised Cooper Edition, 2012.

The original 1859 version of DYING CALIFORNIAN is in the Cooper book (CB) and on page 410 in The Original Sacred Harp, 1911:

Example 5: Mixed even and uneven.


 I would classify the first phrase as even and the second as uneven.  I wonder whether Denson regularized the rhythm in 1935 to match how people actually sung DYING CALIFORNIAN, or if he was imposing his own idea of how the song “ought” to be.

In another category are three songs from the Cooper book: 449 BEAUTIFUL RIVER (1864), 454 THE BLESSED LAMB (arr. 1902?), and 483 WHERE THE SAINTS ARE PASSING OVER (1882).  The composers  draw out the phrase expressively in some places and compress it in others, in a way that seems to me more typical of gospel music than earlier shape-note repertoire.  Example 6 is a phrase from BEAUTIFUL RIVER.  The first line has the same rhythm as “I’ve been working on the railroad,” a glee from the 1890s.

Example 6: Expressive, regular.

Rhythm_BeautifulRiver2There is one additional song that doesn’t fit any of these models.

Example 7: Expressive, irregular.

See the Original Sacred Harp, 1911, page 460, for this tune from 1869.  The fact that THE BRIDE’S FAREWELL is one of the fifteen least popular songs chosen (out of 557) by Sacred Harp singers is, I’m sure, partly due to its maudlin text and angular melody, but the awkward rhythm doesn’t help either.

The alert reader may have noticed that I omitted text settings from fuges or part songs.  There are three, all from the twentieth century: SM Denson, TJ Denson, and JS James’ THE GREAT ROLL CALL (1909), CB 229, Paine Denson’s PEACE AND JOY (1959), SH 532, and Hal Kunkel’s TEN THOUSAND CHARMS (1996), ShH 140b. These songs are all popular in their respective books.  I won’t analyze them here, but it is informative to study how each composer effectively varies the “traditional” rhythmic patterns for this meter.


The classification system I have developed for 8s & 7s—even, uneven, swing, straight, snap—can be applied to different meters.  What other terminology is necessary to describe the full catalog of meters?  Certainly there are circumstances we have not encountered yet, such as “units” of stressed-unstressed-unstressed (dactyls) that occur in meters like 11s.  Do the vast majority of plain tunes fall under the same general categories?

The rhythms I classified as “expressive” in that the durations of individual notes vary widely are associated with the gospel era (late 1800s and early 1900s).  It also seems that the “uneven, with swing” rhythm appears relatively late.  What is the chronology of rhythms?  I find it particularly interesting that the rhythms of several songs in The Sacred Harp have been changed in the early twentieth century.

Finally, how have shape-note composers of the past set text rhythmically in fuges and part songs?  Have they more or less stuck to established models, or have they made innovations?  What can modern-day composers learn from this?


Another 8, 7 “farewell” song with irregular timing, arranged by William Walker in 1854:

Southern Harmony 328 MISSIONARY FAREWELL, 1854.Rhythm_MissionaryFarewell_SouH

The song appears in The Christian Harmony, 1866 with the same rhythm.  The editors of the Deason-Parris revision of The Christian Harmony (1958) “corrected” the rhythm by using a rhythm similar to the pattern chosen by William Hauser in his 1848 setting of the tune.  The Shenandoah setting (p. 14) by Dan Hunter is  based on Hauser’s arrangement.

Thoughts on Tune Families

Posted by on Jan 21, 2014 in All Categories, Songs | Comments Off on Thoughts on Tune Families

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 “married” to one another; one text can be substituted for another when they share the same poetic meter.  Therefore, I will disregard the text for the moment.

BOURBON (page 13t) and its variants CONFLICT (260t), DISMISSION, MEDITATION, etc. belong to the same tune family.  In my discussion of BOURBON, I mentioned that I consider it to be more distantly related to THO’ DARK BE MY WAY (305), which Hauser originally titled BEGONE UNBELIEF.

Here are my questions on tune families…

    1. I’ve described a tune family as a collection of tunes that “seem to be” variations of a single, original melody, which may be unknown.  Can we make this more precise?  How different can two melodies be, while belonging to the same tune family?
    2. Can we quantify some sort of “melodic distance” so that any two melodies that are in the same tune family are “close” according to this distance?
    3. Supposing we have a way of calculating distance between two melodies.  Can we use that to identify melodies that are more distantly related, but still descended from a common ancestor—that is, to find melodic cousins, in addition to siblings.
    4. Can we make a “tune family tree” and recover the original, ancestral melody?

I’m certainly not the first person to ask these questions.  Question 1 is difficult to answer. Students of American folk hymns such as George Pullen Jackson and Nikos Pappas have relied on their own intuitions—good though those intuitions are—rather than giving precise instructions for identifying a tune family.  Question 2 interests me greatly, and may help us answer Question 1.  There have been several theoretical measures of melodic similarity developed that seem reasonable in this context and have withstood empirical testing.  However, I think we can do better, in this case, because the category of American folk hymns is quite narrow.  In this repertoire, we have extra information—the poetic meter of the hymn text—that parses each melody into phrases (most commonly, into four or eight phrases).  The poetic meter also tells us which musical notes correspond to accented syllables in the text.  Question 3 is especially relevant to large databases of hymn tunes such as Temperley’s Hymn Tune Index and Pappas’ SWASMIS.  At the moment, these are searchable by exact melodic matches, but not by near matches.  The answer to Question 4 is probably “no,” but why not try?  There are some tunes, like Billings’ SAVANNAH, that crossed into the folk hymn repertoire, so we can even get a sense of how fast melodies “mutate”—perhaps we can tell how old a tune family is by the amount of variation it has?

Here are some thoughts on identifying tune families and quantifying musical distance in general.  Please understand that I am not claiming that any of these songs are “the same,” any more than I would think that two siblings are the same person.  Moreover, my concept of relatedness is based on notes of the melody, and ignores aspects such as text, harmonization, history, etc.

CONTOUR SIMILARITY.  I’m going to start with a simplified case: suppose we have a four-line hymn, where there are four iambic feet per line.  Poetry that follows this pattern, including all the texts for the BOURBON tune family, is said to be in long meter (L. M.).  Common meter (C. M.) songs like “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound” have four lines, alternating four and three iambs per line.

My first thought is to reduce each tune to a “skeleton” representing the notes that fall on syllables of poetry.  Here’s a reduction of Lewis’ BOURBON, using open notes for accented syllables and filled notes for unaccented syllables.  The small notes to the left of the key signature are the ambitus, representing the span of the highest and lowest notes in the song.


This reduction has the advantage that we no longer have to worry about the rhythmic irregularities of a particular setting of the song (those are interesting, but we’re doing a reduction here).  So the fact that Davisson added rests in the middle of his setting from c.1822 doesn’t change the basic skeleton of the melody.

Here’s DISMISSION.  You can see how similar they are at this level.


George Pullen Jackson indexed songs by their first few notes, as he explained on page 132 of his White Spirituals of the Southern Uplands (1933).  Among his “eighty most popular tunes, ” pages 133-150, he lists SUPPLICATION, BOURBON, and CONSOLATION as one tune and  DISMISSION as another.  For reference, here is SUPPLICATION


and here’s CONSOLATIONconsolation_reduction

A good case can be made that these two tunes are closely related to each other, though SUPPLICATION is long meter and CONSOLATION is common meter.  Note the similar ambitus and contour.  Clearly, though, BOURBON is closer to DISMISSION than it is to either of these.  To be fair, Jackson comments,  ”Tune indexing is still an infant endeavor,” (page 132) and he remarks elsewhere on the similarity of BOURBON and DISMISSION.

Let’s revisit BEGONE UNBELIEF (305) and also look at RESTORATION (312b or 268t in The Sacred Harp, depending on which revision you use).  Although neither song is in long meter, both consist of four lines with four accented syllables each.  RESTORATION is in the “8s & 7s” meter, meaning alternating eight- and seven-syllable lines, usually with this accent pattern:


COME thou FOUNT of EVE-ry BLESS-ing

There are exotic meters, like 10s, 11s, or even 12s, that follow the same pattern of four accented syllables per line.

BEGONE UNBELIEF.  10, 10, 11, 11.

Be-GONE un-be-LIEF my SAV-ior is NEAR …
By PRAY’R let me WREST-le and HE will per-FORM

In these cases, it’s harder to “map” one tune to another because the unaccented syllables are associated with the accented ones in different ways.  A naive fix for this would be to just look at accented syllables.  Here are BOURBON, DISMISSION, BEGONE UNBELIEF, and RESTORATION.

BOURBON. L. M.  (ShH 13t)

DISMISSION. L. M. (MH 145)Dismission_reduction

BEGONE UNBELIEF.  10, 10, 11, 11.  (ShH 305)
Tho’ Dark Be My WayBegoneUnbelief_reduction

RESTORATION.  8, 7. (SH 312b, CB 268t)Restoration_reduction

The resemblance is not nearly as close as between BOURBON and DISMISSION, but there does seem to be a relationship, and it also seems reasonable to attempt to quantify how close the skeletal melodies are to each other.  The simplest measure is to count the number of places where the melodic reductions differ, so that the “distance” between BOURBON and DISMISSION is 2, while the distance between BEGONE UNBELIEF and RESTORATION is 8—half the maximum distance of 16.  A natural refinement is to count the number of scale-steps difference, rather than just treating any difference equally.  This approach favors similarities of contour without requiring actual pitch matching.  Of course, we can throw  other information into our calculations–the ambitus, perhaps.

Here is another group of tunes that have similar melodic contours, this time alternating 4 and 3 accented syllables per line.

NEW BRITAIN / HARMONY GROVE.  C. M. (SH 45t, ShH 300t)NewBritain_reduction

PRIMROSE.  C. M. (SH 47t)

YE OBJECTS OF SENSE.  11, 8.  (ShH 444t)YeObjects_reduction

CARRADOC PLAINS.  11, 8. (Olive Leaf; also arr. J.P. Karlsberg)

OTHER SIMILARITIES. Contour seems, to me, the most promising way to study tune similarities.  However, there are other approaches.  For example, notice that all the members of the BOURBON family end with “fa-sol-la” (3-4-5) at the end of the second phrase of the melody.  Is it possible that all or most tunes with this motif are related?   IDUMEA (SH 47b) is an example, as is TENDER THOUGHT (ShH 21) and HUMBLE PENITENT (ShH 399).  Another consideration is phrase structure—see the comments here.

If contour is the main marker of tune family, perhaps a tune family can contain both minor and major melodies…. Here’s a thought—does anyone else think of IDUMEA (SH 47b) and PSALM 30 (ShH 22b) as variants of each other?  Of course, the fact that they share a text helps.  Again, phrase structure is telling.  I would describe both songs as ABB-A, where B- is a prolongation of the B phrase.

MORE COMMENTS.  I’ve received several thoughtful responses to this post on fasola-discussions and Facebook.  Jason’s comment about developing a generative theory of hymn tune melodies reminded me of George Pullen Jackson’s overlay of the melodies of PISGAH (SH 58) with Ruth Crawford Seeger’s transcription of the singing of Jesse Allison and his group, recorded here.*  Here’s a reduction of PISGAH as in the Sacred Harp, plus my reduction of the Allison recording.  I’ve kept in the unaccented syllables, but of course you can ignore them.

PISGAH.  C. M. (SH 58)Pisgah_reduction

AMAZING GRACE.  C. M. (transcr. R. C. Seeger from Jesse Allison)AmazingGrace_Allison

*George Pullen Jackson, White and Negro Spirituals, New York: J. J. Augustin, 1943, p. 350-1.

In Bethlehem City Christmas CD

Posted by on Dec 13, 2013 in All Categories, Downloads, News, Recordings | Comments Off on In Bethlehem City Christmas CD

bethlehemcityWe had a wonderful weekend at the Lehigh Valley All-Day Shenandoah Singing!  Not surprisingly, a lot of the Christmas songs in our book—in fact, almost all of them—were sung at some point during the weekend.  I’ve put together a Christmas playlist and downloadable CD, “In Bethlehem City.”  Enjoy!  You are welcome to burn CDs for yourself and others.

These tracks are a combination of the large group singing on Saturday and the brunch singing at Dan’s farm on Sunday.  Due to travel plans and the snow and ice storm that struck Sunday afternoon, our numbers dwindled down to five singers by the end of the day.  I’ve added a few Christmas songs from previous singings, plus a solo recording of Tollie Lee from his NSV workshop earlier in the year.  There’s also a special treat—the first ever recording of James P. Carrell’s CHRISTMAS ANTHEM from Songs of Zion, which I discovered earlier this year.

We’d like to thank all the singers who participated in these singings and the folks who organized the weekend and kept us all warm, happy, and well fed.  We’d also like to remember all our friends who were with us in spirit only.  We miss you.

We’d also like to recognize the following composers and arrangers of songs in this playlist:

  • John Brode for his arrangement of the traditional West Gallery SHEPHERDS ARISE (2012)
  • Bruce Randall for FREWSBURGH (2011)
  • The Glen Rock Carolers of Glen Rock, Pa. for letting us use their traditional English-American version of HARK, HARK (© 2012 but dates to the 1840s or earlier)
  • James P. Page for WABASH (1988), his arrangement of an air from Commuck’s Indian Melodies (1845), set to a text by Samuel Longfellow (1864).

Printable Track List for CD: In Bethlehem City

[wpdm_package id=2216]

Burning to an audio CD:  First, unpack the ZIP file—this should happen automatically when you try to open it.  If you have iTunes, drag the mp3s to your iTunes.  Then select the album in the player, make sure it is ordered by track number, and choose “Burn to Disk.”  In iTunes, you’re asked if you want an audio CD.  I don’t have Windows Media Player but I imagine it’s similar—I’ll try to find instructions.

STREAMING PLAYLIST (or use SoundCloud)

[mp3-jplayer tracks=”FEED:/mp3/InBethlehemCity” captions=”In Bethlehem City” width=”60″ dload=”y”]