Thursday, October 28, 2010

Shape-note Singing In Sweden!

Bill Gooch sent an interesting email to Tina Becker  ...
From: Bill Gooch
Date: Wed, Oct 27, 2010 at 7:43 PM
Subject: Shape-note sing in Sweden!
To: Tina Becker

Hi, Tina,
Thanks for the continuing updates.

Meg and I received the e-mail below from a friend in Sweden.  Four or five years ago, Eva Rune was teaching singing at the Scandinavian music and dance camp that Meg runs each summer, and we had a short shaped-note sing which included her.

She was the singing teacher again this past summer.  At the last minute before leaving for camp, Ann Strange dropped one of our books be my house for me to buy and take to Eva as a present.  Eva was very pleased to received it and also received a four-shape book from a New England singer (Kitty) at the camp. We
again had a short sing.  Kitty  also took her to a sing in Massachusetts after the camp.

Eva has been quite excited and taken by shaped note singing.  She has wide interests in many types of traditional singing.  I thought you might want to share this information with our local singers and add Eva's e-mail address to the periodic mailings.


From: Eva Åström Rune
To: Meg Mabbs; Kitty Kagay
Sent: Mon, October 25, 2010 6:15:11 AM
Subject: Short summary of yesterday

Dear friends,
I'm so happy for yesterdays singing session with introducing two Shapenote songs. 16 women came along and they enjoyed it althou it was compleetely new to them. Only 4 of them could read music at all, and the shapenote system is really new to us. I guess the teaching mainly concisted of learning by ear.
So we sang Idumea and Wondrous love. We went through all the parts, soprano, alto, tenor and bass. The bass part was just sang in one octacve higher or transponed in the lowest parts. It wasn't easy in the beginning but as they learned and got more confident they really enjoyed the harmonies. This group of singers almost never sing in parts at all, but they have been singing unison for long time and their singing is good in itself.

This meeting took place in a private house on the farmland outside Ljungskile, a little bit north of Göteborg. The family in the house, Mats and Moa Brynnel, is a lovely couple who always hosts and promote singing in various ways. I wish we could visit them together one day!

Best wishes,
Eva Åström Rune

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Headrick's Chapel S.M.

Caleb Dillehay composed this lesson in honour of the Headrick's Chapel singing.  Click on the image to increase the size.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Ann Stange Found It!


Here's what Ann Strange found on her way home from Augusta, GA!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

annual meeting

Please call Robin Goddard at 865-982-6148 if you'll come at 5:00 and help her set up tables or assist in anyway for the potluck!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Friends of the New Harp of Columbia annual meeting

The  Friends of the New Harp of Columbia annual meeting will be on June 13 at the Laurel Theater, pot luck beginning at 5:30. Come meet the new board members, talk about what you think we should do in the coming year and sing your heart out.

Randy Webber has sent us a new anthem to try out for the occasion.  Click here to download the PDF file.  If you download the file, print out a copy for yourself and bring it on the 13th. We will have some copies there, but it would be helpful if those who can would bring their own.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

1903 Knox County Singing

The New York Times
October 25, 1903


"A curious musical gathering occurs annually on the first Sunday in October at Beaver Creek Church, Knox County, Tenn., when an organization called the Old Harp Singers meets for a season of song. This has been done now for twenty-seven years, and the attendance, originally small, has grown till now about 4,000 people are present at the little village, people turning out for miles around to hear the singing and enjoy the day.  "The good housewives of the surrounding neighborhood," says The Knoxville Sentinel in its account of the
Festival that occurred the other day, "prepare a splendid dinner, which is spread at 12 O'clock and is free to all who will participate. After dinner they again assemble in the church, and continue the singing until 3:00, when they close and bid each other good-bye, and look forward to the next year's meeting." The "Old Harp of Columbia," from which the association takes its name, appears to be the title of the song book from which these Tennessee choristers sing. In the old days of 1876 there were two classes of singers, the "old" and the "new harp singers," who would sing against each other. They finally agreed to unite their forces and adopt the "Old Harp of Columbia " as their standard."

Links of Interest

Here are some links to websites we visit;

Old Harp Listserve

We have a low volume emailing list for communication among our community of singers and those interested in our tradition. Care is exercised to insure that the emailing list  remains spam free. To be added to the list please send an email is us

What is Tradition? - Ann Strange

I was not born in East Tennessee and my ancestors did not sing Old Harp. I joined this tradition about 23 years ago when we still sang every Sunday at Helen Hutchinson’s and Larry Olszewski started making the tradition his life’s work. After helping him with the Old Harp newsletter almost since the beginning, I now am putting some of my own thoughts into it.

The Book
The most remarkable thing about our tradition is that our book has been in print and the songs have been sung in East Tennessee ever since it was first printed in 1848 as “The Harp of Columbia” and now “The New Harp of Columbia.” The “Sacred Harp” tradition has been revived and there are many groups across the nation that sing the four shapes. And “Christian Harmony” is our closest neighbor, also seven shapes, and also sung in the South. But Old Harp, as our tradition is known, is only sung in East Tennessee. Larry helped keep the book in print and added in the old songs to enhance our tradition.

The History
I never knew any of the old Singing School teachers and don’t know how they taught the Old Harp tradition. Larry O. tried to maintain the tradition and also moved it forward in his way. He wanted to honor the tradition and the elders and many appreciated his efforts. I have his archives which document his research and I wish that someday we can pay someone to go through and catalog that knowledge. There is a gap developing in our understanding as the oral history passes out of living memory. It makes it difficult for us to agree upon what exactly our tradition is.

Rural counties in East Tennessee were the places that kept the singing going. I know that John McCutcheon “discovered” it in Wears Valley and introduced Old Harp singing to a bunch of hippies at the Laurel Theatre in Knoxville. A small group began meeting weekly to sing at Helen’s house in Fort Sanders. I don’t know how the Knoxville folks integrated the Sevier and Blount County singings, but I believe they were warmly welcomed. I know when I first went to Headrick Chapel when Luke and Lena Headrick and Burl Adams were still alive, I felt I was part of a very special tradition. And when Larry was chosen as moderator of the Headrick Chapel singing, it was a very big deal to him.

The People
I don’t know if I made this up or if it was something Larry used to say, but whoever shows up at an Old Harp singing and sings is an Old Harp singer. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to participate. Ours is an oral tradition and most of us learned the songs by sitting in the square and hearing them sung. This is how the tradition has been handed on. The elders have always had a respected role because of their years of singing knowledge. Our tradition is diminished every time someone passes away but our tradition is also enhanced every time a new singer joins us. A recent convert was amazed that a group of people get together just to enjoy being together. There is usually no money involved, the only formal organizing is notices of singings, and yet when a singing is called, people show up. The people are what make the tradition.

The Songs
After even a few visits to a singing, one notices that some songs get sung a lot more than others. We all have our favorites and even some we don’t like much. If the same group of people keep singing the same songs, the tradition is not going to change much. But if a new song is selected, there is certainly room for disagreement about if and how that will fit into our tradition.

The Music
I don’t read music and that fact kept me from singing for most of my life. The shapes have taught me a lot so that now I can figure out a new shaped-note tune and I have also expanded recently to voice lessons, singing in a church choir, and singing with a jazz band and a Balkan group. Shaped-note singing opened up the world of singing for me and I will be forever grateful.

The Singing
One of the great things about our tradition is that we don’t demand a certain vocal quality. You don’t even have to be very good. The music is not meant to be pretty. I like the fact our singing is less strident than Sacred Harp singings and that sometimes we don’t sing them the way they are written because we like it the way we sing it. But it can make it hard for visitors to sing along with us. Good, strong voices are appreciated but not necessary. Some like to belt it out, some like melodious tunes, but all stay for the stirring harmonies. It’s heartfelt singing and that’s what matters.

What’s going on now
After Larry died, we created “The Friends of The New Harp of Columbia,” a non-profit Board of Directors to oversee things that Larry used to do by himself. We keep track of the money, keep the book in print, promote singings and the tradition, and I have done the newsletter for many years now (before and after Alan and Sharon Hjerpe). From Larry’s typewriter, to a 12-page graphic production, to a web page and listserve, things have changed. This year, after seeing some singings falter and thinking about the future, I have chosen to reduce and simplify the newsletter. Someone else will take it over one day and probably won’t be using Quark Xpress on a Macintosh computer. I have asked the “Contacts” of each singing to give me their annual and monthly schedules and that is what is reflected here today. I am hopeful that the Board will continue to try to “herd the cats” of unique Old Harp singers and continue to promote this tradition, even as we agree to disagree about what that is.

Some of the Old Harp singers also love Sacred Harp and Christian Harmony singing. Some of us have attended Camp Do Re Mi with its instruction about how to lead, how to sing, how to organize a singing, and more. Those ideas have trickled back into town and have caused some to think we’re messing with the Old Harp tradition.

Opening up our Tradition
Larry O went to Sacred Harp singings, invited them to our singings, welcomed Village Harmony and Northern Harmony, and would have been proud of our singing with the Boston Camerata. He loved it when the young people went right to the back of our book and led the harder songs. He promoted all the local singings and offered rides or did whatever he could to get everyone to attend. We had papers with “extra words” from other books and they got put in the restored edition. So I believe it is true that East Tennessee has been open to other traditions and not been just an insular group.

I posit
We have a 1951 recording of Old Harp singers with notes about the tradition. Larry made several recordings of singings. We have recent recordings but again, no one has written the definitive book about how to sing our songs. Any song in the book that isn’t well known is open to interpretation. And because there are standard musical conventions, a good shaped-note singer should be able to sing it “as written.” How to learn the shapes and sing the songs is in the Rudiments in front of the book.

Tradition is dynamic, not stagnant. We are brothers and sisters in the shaped-note tradition and we need each other. I can’t sing harmony by myself so I love to go to singings. I would like to be a better singer and learn how to sing the song “correctly.” I put that in quotes because although we can tell many things about a song by what is on the page, when we sing it, we make it our own. A humorous “tradition” among Old Harp singers is not to follow the leader. That’s not very funny to some people and a good argument can be made that it’s important to follow the leader. (It helps if the leader knows how to lead!) Also, if we do something we can’t or don’t want to explain, we say that it is “local tradition” which stops the conversation. Some don’t like any change and some can’t wait for change. I believe there is strength in our differences. If we all sang bass, it wouldn’t work. Old Harp singers are quite unique individuals. It is that which makes us a great group of people and the people I consider among my closest friends. When we gather for a special event such as a wedding or a funeral, it is often the feelings of comfort and connectedness that we most treasure and remember.

Our tradition is that someone calls for a singing, people show up, and the Old Harp tradition continues.

2010 Monthly Singings

2010 Singing Schedule

Date Day Time Potluck? The Singing
Mar 14, 2010 Sunday 10:00 AM Yes Epworth Annual Singing during the Jubilee Festival, Laurel Theatre, Knoxville.
Apr 4, 2010 Sunday 05:30 AM Yes Easter Singing at Bill Gooch and Meg Mabbs home, 4401 Alta Visa Way, Knoxville.
Apr 11, 2010 Sunday 02:00 AM No Oldhams Creek Missionary Baptist Church, 3629 Boogertown Road, Sevier County.
Apr 25, 2010 Sunday 02:00 AM No Tuckaleechee Untied Methodist Church, Townsend.
May 2, 2010 Sunday 02:00 AM No Middle Creek United Methodist Church, Sevierville.
May 11, 2010 Tuesday 10:30 AM No Corryton Community Building, 9331 Davis Dr., Corryton, TN. Lunch served at noon,
May 16, 2010 Sunday 02:30 AM No Old College Singing at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Athens, TN.
Jun 5, 2010 Saturday 10:00 AM Yes Franklin singing at New Bethel Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Greeneville, TN. 
Jun 13, 2010 Sunday 05:30 AM Yes Annual Meeting of the Friends of The New Harp of Columbia and regular Second Sunday Singing.
Jun 27, 2010 Sunday 12:00 PM Yes Beech Grove Primitive Baptist Church, Sevier County,
Aug 12, 2010

Camp Do-Re-Mi, Wildacres Resort, Little Switzerland, NC.
Aug 15, 2010 Sunday 02:30 AM No Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Sept 4, 2010 Saturday 10:00 AM Yes Etowah United Methodist Church, Etowah, NC. Three-book singing.
Sept. TBA

Yes Music of Appalachia class joins us from the University of Tennessee at the Laurel Theatre, Knoxville. Perhaps combined with Sept. 12 Second Sunday.
Sept 26, 2010 Sunday 10:00 AM Yes Headrick Chapel, Wears Valley, Sevier County.
Oct 3, 2010 Sunday 02:00 AM No Valley View Baptist Church, Wears Valley, Sevier County.
Oct 9, 2010 Saturday TBA No Pumpkin Town Festival, Athens, TN.
Oct 17, 2010 Sunday 02:00 AM No Dollywood Singing, Pigeon Forge
Oct 24, 2010 Sunday 02:00 AM No Maryville College, Center for Campus Ministry, reception afterwards.
Nov 6, 2010 Saturday 10:00 AM Yes Sycamore Shoals State Park, Elizabethton, TN, The Old Fields singers host a two-book singing.
Nov 24, 2010 Wednesday 06:30 AM Yes Larry Olszewski Memorial Singing during the traditional Thanksgiving Eve potluck and Old Harp singing.
Dec 11, 2010 Saturday TBA No Sugarlands Visitors Center, National Park
Jan 9, 2011 Sunday 02:30 AM No Wilderness Wildlife Week, Pigeon Force