Old Regular Baptists carry on a tradition of singing that dates from the 16th century. Photo courtesy Elwood Cornett. This hymnody, with its elaborate, lined-out, unaccompanied singing, is not well known outside its region, cannot be heard on television or radio, and little of it has been available on recordings.
Conventionally trained singers can simply ignore the shapes, and read the score like any other, but it has certain advantages: It will also be observed that the "scale" given above is a series of tetrachords, which has advantages when singing the gapped, modal scales commonly found in Sacred Harp tunes.
Sacred Harp singing - as distinct from shape-note notation, which could be used to write down any music whatever - is named after the most popular of the collections of sacred tunes, first published inand most recently revised in The performance practice is for a leader to choose the song - usually by number or tune name, rather than by reference to the first line; the leader gives the initial pitch, and there is usually a run-through, with the note names, not the words, being sung.
Then the lyric proper is performed, and the singers move briskly on to the next tune - and I mean briskly; Alan Lomax states that "in one day [in ] a hundred songs had been performed. Occasionally, the run-through is dispensed with, if a tune is universally known; leaders can be heard specifying "just the words" on occasion.
Pictures from the same series also adorn the two Southern Journey CDs, which do not, however, acknowledge that they are from a different place and time than the recordings. Needless to say, the photographs in these two booklets are also spattered with the masturbatory white text that has so disfigured this otherwise exceptional series.
The recordings seem to have been very important in American musical life. The male singers in the illustrations almost all wear suit and tie, and the woman are members of the hat-wearing tendency, but I hope the metaphor may be forgiven. What does go back to 18th Century British practice is the writing of the tune in the tenor part.
In practice, as Shirley observes, tenors often double the soprano parts at the octave, and vice versa, which helps create that massive Sacred Harp sound.
Shirley classifies Sacred Harp tunes as either hymns strophic or anthems through-composed ; the hymns may or may not incorporate simple imitative counterpoint fuging.
They also show what a difference technological advances made to the recording of this music. Superb and important though the music on CD is, the advent of stereo, of magnetic tape, and of inherently superior recording equipment means that the aural experience of listening to the recordings is a far more exciting, compelling and involving one.
For the listener who wants a taste of Sacred Harp, rather than to study it in depth, one or other of the CDs is to be preferred. From that disc, here is the rehearsal of A Cross For Medescribed as one of the most popular songs in the Sacred Harp sound clip.
It illustrates a number of things: Kinship and fellowship are important components in Sacred Harp singing.
Members of the Denson, Cagle and McGraw families are famous in the movement as composers, revisers, teachers and singers. Present Joyssung on CDwas composed in by A Marcus Cagle, who was present in to testify that "I love the Sacred Harp because the thoughts, the sentiments of these words gets down into your soul.
It stirs your heart, and makes your soul happy, and it makes you love everybody. It makes you love your enemies.
It makes you love the old-time religion, and this is what we stand for. Just like a song, the older it gets, the better it gets. Sacred Harp singing is a get-together - often an "all-day singing with dinner [potluck] on the grounds" Shirleyand the picnic lunch served at Fyffe in seems to have been almost as memorable as the singing.
He concludes, "We recommend that a lesson be sung in their memory, and that this report be made a part of the minute of this convention. This is signed by [he gives various names].
The hymns of the Old Regular Baptists sound very different, and their social nature seems to be different, too. In the notes to the CD under review, Elwood Cornett contributes a moving account of what membership of the denomination means.
John Wallhausser writes about history and doctrine, and Jeff Titon on the music. Other important parts of the service are handshaking - "almost a sacramental act" according to Wallhausser - and foot washing, which is a sacrament proper, on the same level as communion. This is the very antithesis of briskness.
They take four and a half minutes to sing three verses; the Alabama singers of get through a rehearsal and three verses in two and a half minutes!
Where Sacred Harp has rhythm, and often lively rhythm at that, this music has a pulse; its very slow tempos are like breathing, or the circulation of the blood around the body.
As Titon points out, this is not a result of trying and failing to sing with precision: The Old Regular Baptists were using these tunes well before they were written down, and most of their melodies come from folk tradition. The lining-out which is the most striking feature of Old Regular singing descends from 16th Century English parish church practice; by the end of the next century, it was the customary way of hymn singing in the Protestant churches of both Britain and her American colonies, where it was also adopted by, and still survives among, African-American worshippers.
In Britain, lining-out is now confined to the Gaelic-speaking areas of Scotland and Ireland [and Caribbean congregations in England - see our Article. It should be unnecessary to say that the music of the Old Regular Baptists, like that of the Sacred Harp singers, is a magnificent and moving experience, but in case there should be any doubt, I will say it anyway.The oldest English-language religious music in oral tradition in North America, the lined-out, congregational hymnody of the Old Regular Baptists, is heard in the heart of the coal-mining country of the Southern Appalachian Mountains.
Cornett states that Old Regular Baptist church building are “adorned in simplicity”. Describing their worship, he writes, “A custom that marks Old Regular Baptists is the once a month meetings.
Some churches meet on the first weekend, some on the second, some on the third, and some on the fourth weekend of every month.
Old Regular Baptists form a close-knit community. They are concentrated within their central Appalachian region in the upper South, and in certain Kentucky counties - Letcher, Knott, Perry - there are more Old Regular Baptists than members of any other Protestant denomination.
The lined-out hymns of the Old Regular Baptists are published in songbooks, but the tunes are learned and transmitted orally, and as . Oct 15, · Hidden deep in the hills of Appalachia, there's a tradition of worship music that has not changed since the 18th century.
The hymnody is still practiced by congregations of the Old Regular Baptist. Most Old Regular Baptists and Eastern Kentucky Regular Primitive Baptist can be traced back to the New Salem Association of United Baptists organized in and her mother the Burning Springs which originated in eastern Kentucky in