Pen - Triangles - n A,YJr-e‘i “i Pen Ron 1997...

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Unformatted text preview: _ n. A ,YJr-e‘i “i Pen, Ron. 1997. “Triangles, Squares, Circles and Diamonds: The ‘liasoia’ Folk and their Singing Tradition,” Musics of Multicultural America: A Study of Twelve Musical Communities. New York: Schirmer Books, 209—232. PTER 9 Triangles) Squares} Circles} ancl Diamonds The: “Fascia Folk” anci Their Singing Traciition Ron Pen in his chapter on the “fasola folk,” music professor and Sacred Harp singer and teacher Ron Pen narrates the history and contemporary life of an American singing tradition that may be characterized as the quintessential expression of white, Anglo-Celtic ethnicity. Prior to American independence, immigrant colonists developeda musical performance practice for religious worship that was distinctly difierent from thatiof their European forebears. Pen traces the develop- ment-ofpsalm singing fi'om its first manifestations in New England through the migration of singing schools to the South, the rise. of white spirituals, gospel hymnocly at camp meetings, and the evolution of rerivalism and traditionalism ~ in shape—note singing today. These distinct singing styles and their respective communities of performers are bound to two volumes of sacred-harp music: The Southern Harmony and The Sacred Harp. During each historical stage, the musical tradition has been marked by a particular repertoire of sacred music, an approach to teaching and performing that repertoire, and a uniquely American version of music theory and performance practice, In his analysis of two tribu— taries of the same stream, Pen points to the continuitz of thelfamilz- and com— munity— perpetuated ftraclition of'I‘he Southern Harmony, in which the “authen— W W ‘ticity of practice” is surely, if tenuously, guaranteed by the fragile line of oral transmission dating at least hack to 1884. The practiceof The Sacred Harp, on the other hand, is a Wusiwfl America, whose proponents may have little or no connection to the amil , com« munity, and religious genetics of the authentic tradition. Contemporary Sacred Awwwuflfl Harp sings, which are held regularly throughout the nation, hold attraction for 210 | Musics of Multiculturai America Americans because of the powerful sound and experience of The Sacred Harp and the creation ofa community through musical performance. fifllfi BIG SINGENG DAY iN KENTUCKY The day dawns bright and beautiful this fourth Sunday in May in the cozy town of Benton, Kentucky. Located in the far western part of the state in a remote and rural area known as the Jackson Purchase, Benton, with a popu- lation of 3,899, is the seat of Marshall County and home to the venerable Big Singing Day. As you stroll along the quiet, tree-shaded street on the way to the courthouse, you glance at the bronze marker stating, “The Big Singing in Benton is the oldest musical tradition in the United States.” Then you enter the redwbrick courthouse and ciinab the stairs to the spacious main court— room where you see generations of friends, family, and visitors miliing about in animated conversation—ma scene that has been reenacted every year since 1884. At ten-thirty in the morning, with his well—worn copy of the Southern Harmony and Musical Companion grasped firmly in hand, Frank Nichols strides purposefully to the front of the judges’ bench and calls out “Number 203, Holy Manna.” Nichols is president of the Bank of Benton and a member of an extended family that has been intertwined with the singing for genera— tions. His warmly resonant voice sings out the introductory fawlafso—la-fa syl— lables that provide the singers with the pitch of the opening chord. Slowly gathering vocal steam, like a train rolling out of the station, the assembled singers join in, the words resounding round the old courthouse like distant _ thunder. “Brethren we have rnet to worship, and adore the Lord our God. Wili you pray with all your power, while we try to preach the word.” It is “Big Singing Day” again in Benton, Kentuckyand compliant with the 113~year tradition, the “fasola folk” have met to sing the shape-note hymns whose roots stretch back to the earliest days of the American colonies. KENTUCKY SACRED HARP CONVENHON IN WOODFORD COUNTY The day dawns bright and beautiful this Saturday in May at the Academy Building of Pisgah Presbyterian Church in the rolling countryside of Woodford County, Kentucky. Located in the central Bluegrass region, Pisgah Church, built in 1784, is the home of the Kentucky State Sacred Harp Convention hosted by the Appalachian Association of Sacred Harp Singers. As you drive up the country lane to the church you pass the oak—shaded old Triangles, Squares, Circles, and Diamonds 211 graveyard where Revolutionary War soidiers, farmers, and former governors alike now rest. Carrying your copy of the Sacred Harp and a covered dish for the noontime “dinner on the grounds,” you enter the old stone academy building and see friends and visitors milling about in animated conversa— tionwa scene that has been reenacted every Saturday before the second Sunday in May since 1980. At nine o’clock, with his well—worn copy of the Sacred Harp grasped firmly in hand, the author strode to the middle of the hollow square, wei— comed the fifty singers gathered in the resonant meeting bail, and calied out “Number 58, Pisgah, in honor of this iovely church where we are meeting today.” After pitching the song with the traditional fn—so-la, the singers join in with the syilables indicated by the triangle, square, circle, and diamond shapes of the notes. Like the loud rush of a Kentucky mountain stream, the heartfelt words of the hymn gain force and tumble throughout the old hall, “lesus, thou art the sinner’s friend, As such I iook to thee.” The Kentucky Sacred Harp Convention is meeting again at Pisgah Church, and compliant with tradition, the “i'asola folk” have gathered to sing the shape-note hymns whose roots stretch back to the earliest days of the American colonies. COLONlAL AMERICAN ROOTS Musical culture in the New Engiand colonies was heaviiy infiuenced by Protestant Calvinist theology, which considered the 150 Biblical psairns of David the only pmper music for worship. These psalms were intended to be sung simply, in unison with every'voice on the same melody, and without instrumental accompaniment so that the words were cleariy understood. Because of the general illiteracy and scarcity of books in eighteenth-century America, however, colonists adopted a performance technique called lining out, in which communities sang in a call—and—response manner. The leader, or deacon, would call out a line of the text, for example, “When I can read my title clear to mansions in the skies,” and the congregation would then slowly echo the line by singing it as a group. Even though the congregation was sup— posedly singing a single unaccompanied version of the meiody, individuals personally ornamentedand varied the melody in a musical texture known as heterophony After years of such alteration, the psalm tempos became incred~ ibly slow and melodies were transformed by quantities of added notes. Consequentiy, psalms took ten times as long to sing as they had formerly and ' the original tunes were distorted beyond recognition. Thomas Waiter, a con— temporary writer, described the process as follows: “For much time is taken up in shaking out these turns and quavers, and besides, no two men in the congregation quaver alike, or together; which sounds in the ears of a good judge, like five hundred different tunes roared out at the same time” (Walter 1721, 4M5). 212 Musics of Multicultural America Harvardcducated clerics who were greatiy upset by the style of this singing called it “a horrid mediey of confused and disorderly noises” and “the uncouth noise of untuned ears.” Writers such as Thomas Symmes called for an end of lined out singing and a return to “reguiar” singing through a return to reading music notation. As a result, in 1721 Boston witnessed the first - singing school devoted to teaching members of a community how to read music and sing in harmony. Popular as both an educational and recreational experience, singing schools soon spread throughout New England. By the end of the century, singing schools had traveled down through Pennsylvania and west along the Shenandoah Valiey into the southern frontiers of Virginia and Kentucky. SENGING SCHOOLS Singing schools were taught by a traveling singing school master who settled in a community for a period of two or three weeks. Singing masters seldom had any formal musical training, instead they generaily apprenticed through par— ticipation in singing schools themselvesmall that was required was a keen ear, a strong voice, and a burning desire to travel in order to spread this music. In compensation for his instruction, the teacher would customarily be provided with meals and lodging and given a small fee for each student. Arnzi Chapin {l768-1835), a singing schoolmaster working in Kentucky, had the following agreement: “We the subscribers do promise to pay unto Amzi Chapin nine shillings for each person whom we subscrihe to instruct thern in the Art of Music. Twenty six days. Payment to he made at the expiration of the term.” Meeting in the evening, after the day’s chores were completed, the singing master would begin by instructing the class in the rudiments of music theory, teaching the students how to read rhythms and how to foliow steps of the scale by reading the pitches on the rnusic staff. After the class gained enough profi— ciency in the rudiments, he would then ieacl them in singing parts to some of the less complex hymns. First, the class wouid iearn the air, or melody, which was in the tenor voice, and once they had mastered that, they wouid ’oegin reading the other partsmireble (soprano), counter (alto ), and bass. As the stu- dents gained confidence in their ability to read music at sight, they proceeded to learn more challenging music until the final singing lecture, a graduation cer— emony in which they presented a public concert to demonstrate their achieve— ments. The purpose was pedagogical, the atmosphere was morally uplifting, but it is clear from this Yale student’s journal entry of 1782 that the singing school also provided a much-needed social outlet. At present I have no inclination for anything, for I am almost sick of the world and were it not for the hopes of going to the singing meeting tonight and induiging myself a little in the carnal deiights Triangles, Squares. Circles, and Diamonds 213 of the flesh, such as kissing and squeezing etc, l should willingly leave it now. (Lowens i964, 282) SINGING SCHOOLS The eariy iined out psalrn singing style required only a book with the words of the psalms printed for use by the song leader. Because the congregation merely echoed the leader’s line of text and followed the wellwknown melodies by ear in lined out style, a single copy of a booit was ail that was really need ed for performance. Singing schoois, however, required a book for every par— ticipant since each singer was sight reading the words and music for their individual harmony lines. lohn Tufts {1689—4750) printed the first book suitable for use with the singing schools. His A Very Plain and Easy IntroductiOn to the Singing of Psalm Tunes (c. i 724.) was a short, twelve—page volume containing thirty-seven tunes written for treble, tenor, and bass voice parts. As the book’s purpose was to teach illiterate colonists to read music, Tufts sought an innovative system that would be more clear and eaSy to read than conventional European notation. He placed letters of a sslfege system on a five-iine staff rather than the usual “round notes.” Thus, he used the letter F for the pitch fa, the letter S for so, L ' for In, and M for mi. Today, we commonly use seven syliables—do, re, mi, fa, figure 9.1. Melody and bass lines of Old 100 as printed in A Very Plain and Easy Introduction to the Singing of Psalm Tunes by John iufts. Transcription lay Larry Nelson, University of Kentucky. 214 Musics of Muiticuitural America so, in, ti, domto teach students how to read music, but Tufts employed an ear— iier English system that only used the four syllabies fa, 50, la, and mi to indi- cate the pitches of the scale and show the distance, or interval, between one note and the next. The rhythms were also represented by a simple, yet innovative, system. The ietter alone was worth a quarter note (F), a letter with a period foilow— ing it was a half note (E), and a letter foliowed by a colon was a whole note (F1). The inventive notational solutions of Tufts were typical of the American process of culturai adaptation in which we retained aspects of “oid world” British culture and transformed them to suit our new situation. Psalmody m ' “music in America” rather than “American music,” but the risaof—t-hesingfl school soon led to the first distinctive mmpr’essiofif of the American colomésr'w 7 NEW ENGLAND Tnfts’s book opened the floodgates to a whole generation of New England singing masters who composed their own original music as weli as collected and arranged earlier music in their publications. In addition to the psalm tunes inherited from Britain, such Yankee singing masters as Wiiliarri Biliings added new plain times, vigorous fuging tunes, and extended anthems that explored the expressive reiationship between words and music. Plain tunes were short “Chorale style” works in which ail the voices moved homophoni— rally (rhythmically together) to complement metrical strophic texts of repeated verses. Fuging tunes began with a section in which ali the voices sang rhythmically together in fourupart harmony foilowed by an imitative section in which the voices chased each other as in a “round.” Anthems were more extended compositions with changes of tempo, different rhythms, and key changes that painted the meaning of the words through musical expres~ sion. This was a new American music suited to the temperament and needs of a new American peopie. ‘i This new singing schooi music clearly reflected the important question that was at the heart of America’s experiment in participatory democracy-m how was this country going to reconcile the tension between individual free» den: and the constraints oi social order. Each vocal line was fierceiy inde- pendent in following its own path. William Hauser, author of The Hesperian Harp, stated that each part should be “so good a melody that it will charm even when sung by itself” (Hauser 1848, xviii). Tenors, trebies, counters (altos), and basses ali possessed their own melodic direction that coexisted with the other independent parts in a loose confederation of harmony. The bass was not content merely to ploci sub- servientiy below the soprano melody and the counter refused to be reiegated to the supportive role of doubling harmony notes. Each part had its own dis— Triarrgles, Squares, Circles, and Diamonds 215 tinct melody that contributed a unique perspective to the total sound. Democracy can sometimes be a messy process, and occasionain the inde» pendent vocal parts clashed discordantly or tripped over themselves as they crossed paths with another part, but they aiways did so within a framework of collective order. SHAPED NOTES Despite the efforts of John Tufts to develop a clearer system of music nota— tion, musicians continued to use the conventional round notes for all singing schooi tune books through the eighteenth century. In 1798, however, William Little and Wiliiam Smith of Phiiadelphia invented an entireiy different way of indicating pitches, using various shapes to represent notes. Taking the four syilable fasola system used earlier by Tufts as the basis, Little and Smith sub- stituted differently shaped note heads for the letters as a visuai aid in reading rnusic. Thus, a triangie was used for fit, a circle for so, a square for In, and a diamond for mi. Unlike the commbn do-re—mi system where each of the seven pitches of the scale corresponds to a different sylia’ole, this shapemote fasola system has to repeat three of the syilables and their corresponding shapes twice within a scale; thus the entire scale would be sung for, so, In, fat, so, in, mi, fa. This is not reaily confnsing, however, since the note shapes are placed on a five-line staff - r regained; " Figure 9.2. C-major scaies for the four voice parts. Reprinted from The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, edited by Glenn Wilcox, copyright © 1987 by the University Press of Kentucky, by permission of the pubiishers. 216 Musics of Muiticultural America and it is easy to distinguish the pitches by their relative height on the lines and spaces of the staff. It is also important to remember that the shapes only indi~ cate the relative placement in a scale and the interval between tones. The shapes do not represent fixed pitches as do notes on a piano. For instance, fa is the root and fourth of any major scale—in the key of C major, the fa cor- responds to the notes C and F, while in the key of D major fa corresponds to the notes D and G. Rhythms were indicated the same way as with round ' notes, with hoilow or shaded note heads and stems and beams. The combination of fasola syllables and the shape—note notation proved to be highiy successfui. Between the printing of Little and Smith’s The Easy Instructor in 1798 and the publication of The Social Harp in 1855, there were at least thirty—eight different tune books in circulation that all used the four shapes. Singing masters compiled and printed books for use in their own _ schools mat typically included an assortment of the most popular hymns excerpted from other books as well as original compositions and arrange« ments of vernacular rneiodies that were matched with sacred texts and adapt- ed for hymn use. In this way, the collective compiling work of various singing masters increased the singing school repertoire beyond the original British psalrn tunes through the inclusion of originai American compositions and adaptations. Like a living organism, shape—note repertoire eyoived in response to the changing tastes of musical America. Now as singing school masters followed the growing tide of migration to the southern and western frontiers, another rich layer of new shapemote hymnody, known as white spirituais, would further enrich the repertoire. WHITE SPlRiTUALS During the first decades of the nineteenth century, musical life in New England was altered by the rise of public school music education, an empha— sis on European “classical” music, and the immigration of trained profes- sional European musicians. Singing schoois and their folksy home—grown music became an endangered species in the urban centers of New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. Such reformist musicians as Lowell Mason, who condescendineg called shape notes “dunce notes,” established more formal— ized organizationsu—the Boston Handel and Haydn Society, for examplew and forced the singing schools to retreat to rural areas of New England and down through Pennsylvania into the wilderness areas of Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky. Kentuckians were especially receptive to singing schools. The first school was recorded in Lexington in 1797, and shortly thereafter subsequent singings spread thronghont the bluegrass region and into the mountains to the east and the Purchase area of the west. Southern singingaschooi masters aiso began compiling and publishing their own tunebooks. incorporating the Triangles, Squares, Circies, and Diamonds 217 contributions of Lucius and Amzi Chapin, who were living in Fleming County, Kentucky, John Wyeth puhlished the Repository of Sacred Music in mm. Six years later Ananais Davisson, who lived in the Shenandoah Vailey, printed his Kentucky Harmony and the following year Samuei Metcaif of Shelbyvilie, Kentucky, issued the Kentucky Harmonisr in Lexington. These first southern books were important becanse they introduced a whole new type of shape—note hymn based on indige...
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