Much of the music that we perform comes from participatory community singing traditions. Although fun to listen to, it is even more fun to sing. Many of our more gratifying moments have come in workshops where we have sung this music with local singers. On the 1994 tour we had particularly rewarding collaborations with West Gallery choirs in many parts of England, including Vital Spark in Malvern, Christminster Singers in Oxford, Shieldfield Harmony in Newcastle, Gladly Solemn Sound in Lancaster, Sussex Harmony in Brighton, Madding Crowd in Southampton, and others. In addition we worked with hundreds of other singers in England, Holland, Germany and Italy. We hope we have inspired them to keep singing this music and share it in their local communities.
SHAPE NOTE MUSIC
Shape-note singing began in the community singing schools which flourished all over early rural New England, particularly in the years 1770-1810. The singers were primarily young people and they were led by scores of resident or itinerant singing masters, many of whom became prolific composers. Beginning initially with hymns and fuging tunes from the English West Gallery tradition by such composers as William Knapp and Joseph Stevenson, these singing schools soon generated a flood of local compositions which formed a distinctively American style. The music was disseminated through over 280 published collections during that forty year period. The style was characterized by appealing modal melodies, stark open harmonies with frequent dissonance, much crossing of vocal lines, energetic, contrapuntal 'fuging' sections, and the fiery rhymed poetry of Isaac Watts, the Wesleys, and their followers.
This music began to wane in New England in the early 19th century, but it formed the basis of the even more popular and widespread Southern singing tradition in the nineteenth century which persists to this day. The shape-note notation system, which assigns each degree of the scale a characteristic notehead shape to aid in sight reading, was invented in 1800, and it rapidly became associated with this style of singing in the South. hence the singing style began to be known as shape-note singing. The Southern Harmony and the Sacred Harp became the two most widely used collections. Both of them preserved a lot of the early New England tunes as well as adding many folk hymns, camp meeting songs, and a steady stream of new compositions.
In recent years there has been a tremendous revival of interest in this music across the country. The tradition is still carried on primarily through weekend singing conventions where up to several hundred people gather in the inward facing square formation for one or two days straight of ultra-high energy, ecstatic singing. The current revial has once again sparked a flood of new compositions in shape-note style. The 1991 edition of the Sacred Harp contains over 30 new songs, as does the new edition of the Northern Harmony. This album contains songs from every period in the history of this tradition
WEST GALLERY MUSIC
In the 18th and early 19th centuries in rural and small town English parishes, there was a very lively tradition of local choirs and church bands playing hymns, psalms, carols, funeral hymns and anthems for the Sunday service or for special occasions. The tradition was parallel in many ways to the early New England singing school tradition. This music was suppressed almost entirely in the later 19th century by well meaning church and musical reformers and has been preserved primarily in hundreds of local church manuscripts and a few antique published collections. There is now a great revival of interest in this wonderful repertoire, and groups are springingup all over England who are researching and performing and sharing this music once again.
released November 12, 2014
Although some members remained constant, our Fall 1994 tour actually comprised two different groups with rather different sounds, as you will hear on the album. Each group recorded separately and we also recorded some songs together (Daniels, Land of Pleasure).
Larry Gordon, director
Northern Harmony I:
Jenna Carpenter, Emily Wells, Amity Baker, Marcia Brewster, Peter/Mary Alice/ Sam/ Stefan Amidon, Mary Cay Brass, Fred Emigh, Lynn Pilcher
Northern Harmony II:
Jenna Carpenter, Emily Wells, Amity Baker, Marcia Brewster, Tim Eriksen, Kate Bramley, Amber Smith, Evi Aries, Porter Underhill
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