Discography

American Angels

American Angels
(Harmonia Mundi Catalog # HMU 907326)

Songs of Hope, Redemption & Glory

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Track List

Track
Piece
Time
1
Holy Manna (Brethren, we have met to worship), folk hymn
2:15
2
Abbeville (Come, Holy Spirit, come), folk hymn
2:27
3
Wondrous Love (What wondrous love is this!) , folk hymn
2:35
4
Sweet Hour of Prayer, gospel song
3:13
5
Jewett (Amazing grace, how sweet the sound), camp revival song
3:11
6
Dunlap's Creek (My God, my portion and my love), folk hymn
2:16
7
New Britain (Amazing grace, how sweet the sound), folk hymn
3:05
8
The Morning Trumpet (O when shall I see Jesus), camp revival song
3:22
9
Resignation (My shepherd will supply my need), folk hymn
3:10
10
Poland (God of my life, look gently down), psalm tune
2:54
11
Wayfaring Stranger (I am a poor, wayfaring stranger), religious ballad
2:47
12
Sweet By and By (There's a land that is fairer than day), gospel song
2:51
13
Blooming Vale (O, were I like a feathered dove), fuging tune
2:35
14
Idumea i (And am I born to die), folk hymn Idumea ii (My God, my life, my love), folk hymn
3:36
15
Sweet Prospect (On Jordan's stormy banks I stand), folk hymn
3:03
16
Shall We Gather at the River, gospel song
4:52
17
Amanda (Death, like an overflowing stream), psalm tune
2:17
18
Invitation (Hark! I hear the harps eternal), camp revival song
2:32
19
Parting Hand (My Christian friends, in bonds of love), folk hymn
2:56
20
Angel Band (My latest sun is sinking fast), gospel song
3:09
Listen to Samples

Reviews of American Angels

10/10 Rating from ClassicsToday.com

Everyone who has been following the career of Anonymous 4 has long known that the real "American Angels" are the four women counting original-now-retired member Ruth Cunningham) who have made this group and its repertoire of medieval chant and polyphony a mainstay in the catalog and a standard against which all others will be measured. These singers, whose purity of tone, respect for historical context and sensitivity to language and style, and overall ability to capture the musical essence of whatever they perform (and always seem to have fun doing it!), have shown that ancient texts and modes and melodies, sacred or secular, can speak to us now--that even these forms and their often obsolete functions retain a vitality and humanness that modern ears and spirits can appreciate amid the sludge and drivel that passes for much of today's so-called music. And although the program on this new release is several centuries removed from the group's usual territory, it still comfortably retains the character of "early music", presenting 20 varied and profoundly engaging examples of early American folk hymns, gospel, and camp revival songs.

The music is a natural fit for these voices, relying as it does on clear, distinct lines and precise intonation to allow the open harmonies to fully resonate, and if you've heard other groups perform similar repertoire--Wondrous Love, Resignation, Sweet By and By, Shall we gather at the river, Parting Hand, Amazing Grace, etc.--you've never heard it so sweet, pure-voiced, vibrant, and sincere as here. All you have to do is skip to track 4--Sweet hour of prayer--and you'll be warmed and uplifted by the, yes, angelic harmonies and heartfelt expression. Thankfully, there's no imposition of artificial  "authentic dialect" nor is there an inordinate amount of ornamentation--for the most part the tunes are delivered in the manner they were intended: simply and respectfully. There are two versions of Amazing Grace, the second of which contains the essence of the familiar tune, but it's buried in the middle of the voicing (typical of this style) so it sounds almost like a new piece. The singers begin several of the selections in the original manner, using fa-sol-la syllables, then continue with the words. As Anonymous 4 approaches the end of its illustrious recording career we can only offer one more round of applause for yet another entertaining, enlightening musical journey from our own American Angels.
--David Vernier, Classicstoday.com

The members of the seraphic-voiced female vocal quartet Anonymous 4 have ventured into the depths of the Dark Ages ( 1000: A Mass for the End of Time) and visited with modern mystics (Darkness into Light), but this may be their most unexpected and rewarding journey yet. Carefully researched, as are all of their recording projects, American Angels: Songs of Hope, Redemption, and Glory takes listeners to the roots of the Anglo-American tradition. Here are sacred songs from revolutionary New England, so-called "shape-note" songs from the South (named for the style of musical notation employed), and others that have become part of the rich gospel repertory. Many of these tunes will be familiar, of course; "Jewett," for example, is a version of "Amazing Grace," as is "New Britain," though the two are distinct and probably unlike any form of this familiar hymn that you've heard before. Indeed, there's a purity to all of these harmonizations that evokes visions of a primordial, virginal America. Certainly, it's difficult to imagine that any congregation ever sounded so chastely beautiful as Anonymous 4, though the women make sure to add uthentic touches. Listen, for example, to their tender twang on "Resignation," or the folksy swing in the arrangement of "Sweet Prospect." "Angel Band," the final track, doesn't sound all that far removed from the earthy righteousness of the Stanley Brothers' classic rendition -- and what higher praise can one give? As with all of the ensemble's Harmonia Mundi recordings, this one is beautifully recorded and packaged, with texts and extensive notes on the songs and their origins. Scholarship has rarely sounded so sweet.
-- Andrew Farach-Colton, BarnesandNoble.com


On this ravishing CD, Anonymous 4 delves, once again, into early music. This time, however, it is early American music and the results are as lovely and insightful as the 4's forays into even earlier European vocal music.

On this musical journey, this incomparable vocal quartet traverses spiritual songs from Revolutionary times to the present. From the unadorned melody of "Abbeville," to the four-part harmonies of "The Morning Trumpet," Anonymous 4 brings to each piece a simple grandeur and eloquent expression that allow the music to live and breathe with authenticity and emotion..

And on songs such as "Wondrous Love," the quartet evokes the ties that bind the spiritual music of the Old World and the New. As their parallel harmonies unfold in near Medieval form, they break, at times, into a lilting slurred note that could have come right out of Appalachia. It is the sound of music - and musical traditions - reaching out across the centuries to each other.
- Ingrid Thorson - REDLUDWIG.COM

Anonymous 4 - American Angels: Songs of Hope, Redemption, & Glory (Harmonia Mundi): This remarkable a cappella women's quartet, now on a farewell tour, is known for exquisite renderings of medieval European music. This recording of American hymns and gospel tunes from rural 18th and 19th century New England and the South is a sweet parting gift. Some of the hymns ("Shall We Gather at the River") are familiar. Less well-known delights include "Wondrous Love" (1811) and "Holy Manna" (1819), which plaintively reminds that "All is vain, unless the Spirit/ Of the Holy One comes down;/ Brethren, pray, and holy manna/ Will be shower'd all around." "Angels" traces in song the spiritual path from hope to glory with soul-stirring purity.
- Gregory M. Lamb, Christian Science Monitor

“soul-stirring”
“This recording of American hymns and gospel tunes from rural 18th and 19th century New England and the South is a sweet parting gift. Angels traces in song the spiritual path from hope to glory with soul-stirring purity.”
- Gregory M. Lamb, Christian Science Monitor, February 9, 2004

“stunning”
“On the new album are five stunning examples of shape-note singing...”
ANGEL BAND: “Anonymous 4...succeeds in making this great hymn of faith their own. These four talented artists have raised their voices to champion what's best and brightest about America's own diverse, deep tradition of sacred music. ‘American Angels’ is another benchmark in a 17-year career full of them.”
- Earle Hitchner, The Irish Echo, February 4-10, 2004

“earthy righteousness”
 “‘Angel Band,’ the final track, doesn’t sound all that far removed from the earthy righteousness of the Stanley Brothers' classic rendition -- and what higher praise can one give?”
- Andrew Farach-Colton, BarnesandNoble.com

“sheer radiance”
“The quartet offers up a stunning disc of old-time Americana: 18th-century psalm settings, 19th-century shape-note songs, camp revival hymns and famous gospel tunes. As ever, the group’s purity, sweetness and joy are transfixing, whether in the haunting folk hymn ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ or in two unusual settings of ‘Amazing Grace.’ For sheer radiance...no one else comes close to these angels.”
– Anastasia Tsioulcas, Billboard, February 7, 2004

“a simple grandeur”
“Anonymous 4 brings to each piece a simple grandeur and eloquent expression that allow the music to live and breathe with authenticity and emotion. As their parallel harmonies unfold...they break, at times, into a lilting slurred note that could have come right out of Appalachia. It is the sound of music - and musical traditions - reaching out across the centuries to each other.”
 – Ingrid Thorson, Redludwig.com, February 13, 2004

“Anonymous 4’s straight, vibrato-less tone transfers fluidly from medieval to American folk style, and, as usual, their blend and intonation is flawless...fans of shape-note singing will find this collection erudite and entertaining.”
-- Eric Haines, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, February 8, 2004

“phenomenal”
“This is a phenomenal recording. Music just doesn't get any better than this.”
-Te deum.com

This, Anonymous 4's final recording, is a break from their usual "early music" periods and locations; it presents American music, religious in nature, from the 18th and 19th centuries. And it's absolutely beautiful from start to finish. Their normal, exquisite technique and purity here blend to sound the way we imagined the ladies' choir in church meetings in America past might have sounded: sweet, sincere, and with harmonies recognizable yet somehow fresh. Some of the songs begin with the women singing "fa, so la" exercises, which was called "shape note" singing because some places taught singing with notes as shapes--circle, rectangle, diamond, triangle. But it's the music that counts, and there are treasures here. They include two versions of "Amazing Grace," one familiar, one with an unusual melody and a piece called "Blooming Vale" which is as sophisticated as anything on their previous albums. "Shall We Gather at the River" is performed with a clarity and loveliness that makes us forget that it's normally sung as background to movies about the Great Depression. The foursome sometimes sing in rich harmonies and occasionally alone or in pairs or trios. This is glorious Americana and highly recommended.
-- Robert Levine, Amazon.com

To answer the obvious question, the name Anonymous 4 refers to an unsigned musical treatise written in the Middle Ages. The members themselves have names: Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, Jacqueline Horner and Johanna Maria Rose form an all-female vocal ensemble based in New York. Their latest album, "American Angels: Songs of Hope, Redemption & Glory," is a departure from the medieval sacred music they're known for. This collection of Anglo-American spirituals follows a sinner on the path to salvation in five themed sections, with psalm settings from 18th-century rural New England, 19th-century folk hymns and camp revival songs from the rural South, and Northeastern  gospel songs that migrated south in the late 19th  century. Their sound is comparable to the music of the Coen brothers' 2000  film, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and Anthony Minghella's "Cold Mountain" in 2003. Many of the songs have familiar tunes in unfamiliar settings - there is an arrangement of "Shall We Gather at the River" and two arrangements of "Amazing Grace." These versions survived
through the efforts of 18th-century singing schools that later compiled them into tune books and passed them down from congregation to congregation.

The Anonymous 4 are scholars as well as singers, and they preserved a few historical touches themselves - in a few of their songs, they follow the Southern "shape-note" tradition of tuning by singing on the syllables "fa sol la" before adding the text to the music. This practice uses a notation system with square, triangular, and diamond-shaped notes instead of round to make the music easier to learn.

Originally, these songs were not intended for performance, but for participation in churches. The Anonymous 4 sound more polished than the average congregation, and with beautiful tone and relaxed diction, they are technically sound with a believable style. In worship services, these American spirituals provided a sense of community; in this recording, they're reinvented as history and art.
- Devon Glenn, Orange County Register / Sunday, March 28, 2004

Developed in Toni Morrison's "Atelier" program at Princeton University, this female vocal pioneers' final release before disbanding shows them at their best; silvery timbres sung with unaffected sincerity. And just as Anonymous 4 broke new ground for medieval music sung by women, they approach these American folk tunes with the same commitment to both historical research and musicality. Right under much of modern America's noses, harmonies and singing styles from the 16th and 17th century Britain have survived in the isolation of the Appalachian Mountains (and not so hidden in the country music of Dolly Parton and Rita MacIntyre). Grace notes and slides are always tasteful (they never cross over into actual twang), while perfect fourth harmonies, sung with their trademark tightly dovetailed ensemble, add a welcome tang. The diversity of music, shown by two versions of "Amazing Grace," one a jaunty arrangement that would be at home in any Revival meeting, the other a steadfast hymn of praise.
-- Nebraska Public Radio

We don't get too many chances to listen to a cappella gospel singing around the sub-basement of the GMR building, but this week we took a break from SPike's new obsession with a certain British techno-punk diva and played this new CD by Anonymous 4. Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, Jacqueline Horner and Johanna Maria Rose make up the quartet who have chosen to remain anonymous. With voices like theirs...anonymity would be a curse. Listen up, America, these women can SING!

Based in the American tradition of shape note, or sacred harp, the 20 folk hymns/revival songs presented here accomplish exactly what the title claims. This album brings American Angels right into your living room, or your office, or your car, or wherever you listen to music. I listened in all of these places, and in the office I could feel my blood pressure lower as the quartet sang the good news about the "Amazing Grace" of the Saviour; in the car I was lifted above the cares of the road as I was reminded that "I am a poor wayfaring stranger..." and "my shepherd will supply all my need;" and at home my wife and I relaxed to the strains of "What wondrous love is this?"

The album is divided into five sections, each presenting three or four thematically grouped selections. "Invitation" (the first group) includes "Brethren, we have gathered here to worship," "Come Holy Spirit come," "What wondrous love is this?" and "Sweet hour of prayer." Both worshippers and the One to Whom worship is offered are invited to join together. Traditionally these songs were sung by the worshippers, who would gather in a square, and sing parts, the harmonies which are so richly textured, and true. The church that I attend used to meet in such a manner, with benches which were set up in a square (we called it the "squared circle," the shape singers call it a "hollow square"); it is a square with God in the midst. Our best efforts at singing came nowhere even close to the delicate vocals included here.

A photo of Anonymous 4 shows a quartet of attractive women in black gowns, looking like nothing so much as much classier Dixie Chicks. Musically gifted, linked to the past but firmly in the present, they have other similarities too.

The second group is entitled "Grace" and includes two different songs called "Amazing Grace" bookending "My God, my portion and my love" as the worshippers respond to the gift God has given, His Son. God's Riches At Christ's Expense! The third collection is called "Journey" and the five songs included under this title deal with the believer's walk, in the world, but not of the world.

Then "Crossing" as the believer deals with life, and loss, and to preparation to meet his maker. The finality of death, and the eternal hope of the believer appear in the final section "Parting." "Death, like an overflowing stream," "Hark, I hear the harps eternal," "My Christian friends, in bonds of love," and "My latest sun is sinking fast" complete the cycle. The music is beautiful, rich, moving and the words add meaning to the amazing performance. The album sounds as though it was recorded in an empty room, which simulates the chapel experience.

"Songs of Hope, Redemption and Glory" is the subtitle, and that pretty much sums up the album. The package contains only a few pictures of some lovely quilts, and ads for other Harmonia Mundi releases, minimal liner notes, but there is a wealth of information about shape singing, and sacred harp concerts on-line. As an introduction to this loveliest art American Angels is almost perfect.
.--  David Kidney, Green Man Reviews

For those who know Anonymous 4, you're probably wondering why I'm reviewing their latest album here at Roots66.com. After all, isn't this site for Americana and isn't Anonymous 4 a classical music group? Yes and yes. But Anonymous 4's American Angels is real Americana. Let's back up a little and introduce Anonymous 4 to those who haven't had the immense pleasure of hearing this distinctive female a cappella
quartet. Created in 1986, the quartet, whose current membership consists of Marcia Genensky, Susan Hellauer, Jacqueline Horner, and Johanna Maria Rose, has specialized in medieval, Renaissance, and other "classical" music. Among their sixteen previous albums are such titles as An English Ladymass, The Lily & the Lamb, and On Yoolis Night. Anonymous 4 has toured the world and received the highest
accolades both for their wonderful performances and also for their careful scholarship. This album features sacred American music in the folk tradition—colonial, shape note, and gospel. The music comes from Colonial America, the New England singing schools, the Southern shape-note traditions, and the 19th century revivals. Be prepared to be transported to another age—and maybe to the doorway of Heaven with
these wonderful voices.

The recording is divided into five thematic sections. The song titles are frequently the titles of the tunes used; the words of the first line are given in parentheses. Today we generally know these songs bytitles drawn from the first lines or chorus of the song.

Invitation
The tune is first lined out in solmization (singing the notes with the do-re-mi note names) as is customary with shape-note singing before the quartet swings into the familiar "Holy Manna (Brethren, we have met to worship)." "Abbeville (Come, Holy Spirit, come)" is a plea for God's Spirit to come to the believer. This is a lovely solo selection. "Wondrous Love (What wondrous love is this!)" also begins with the shape-note recitation of the note names in this contemplation of God's love. The hymn "Sweet Hour of Prayer" is a quiet meditation of the virtues of prayer.

Grace
"Jewett (Amazing grace, how sweet the sound)" is an interesting tune for John Newton's ubiquitous "Amazing Grace." Note the repeated chorus "Shout, shout for glory." "Dunlap's Creek (My God, my portion and my love)" begins with a solo verse and adds voices until the full quartet is voicing this sweet melody. "New Britain (Amazing grace, how sweet the sound)" is the most familiar tune for the reformed slave-ship sailor's sweet words, done here in shape-note fashion.

Journey
Looking forward to the trumpet sound at the return of Jesus, "The Morning Trumpet (O when shall I see Jesus)" is a camp revival song with the tune dating from 1866. The words of "Resignation (My shepherd will supply my need)" are a rewording of Psalm 23 by the great English poet and hymn-writer, Isaac Watts. His version of Psalm 39 provide the words for "Poland (God of my life, look gently down)." The popular folk hymn "Wayfaring Stranger (I am a poor, wayfaring stranger)," dates from 1858. The familiar gospel song "Sweet By and By (There's a land that is fairer than day)," is done very sweetly.

Crossing
The words to "Blooming Vale (O, were I like a feathered dove)" are also by Watts, his version of Psalm 55. Two sets of words to the tune "Idumea" by Ananias Davisson are next. The first, "Idumea i (And am I born to die)," by Charles Wesley and the second, "Idumea ii (My God, my life, my love)," by Watts. The shape-note folk hymn "Sweet Prospect (On Jordan's stormy banks I stand)" looks forward to Heaven. "Shall We Gather at the River," a popular gospel song from 1865, is well known and most beautifully done here.

Parting
Isaac Watt's version of Psalm 50 provides the text for the 1790 tune "Amanda (Death, like an overflowing stream)." Crossing the Jordan to Heaven is the subject of the lovely "Invitation (Hark! I hear the harps eternal)." The subject of parting from friends at death is the topic of the shape-note folk hymn "Parting Hand (My Christian friends, in bonds of love)." In the final selection of this great album, a dying believer looks forward to Heaven in "Angel Band (My latest sun is sinking fast)."

This is an astoundingly beautiful album. The voices of Anonymous 4 are hauntingly sweet and clear and treat the words and music with great faithfulness. This survey of early American sacred music brings us not only well-known songs but also lesser-known gems, reminding us that we have our own honorable tradition of great music. The recording of the a cappella voices is very good, indeed. The album comes with a nice book of lyrics and an informative introduction by Marcia Genensky. The Anonymous 4 are truly the voices of American Angels.


My Favorite Songs: "Sweet Hour of Prayer," "Sweet By and By (There's a land that is fairer than day)," "Shall We Gather at the River," "Invitation (Hark! I hear the harps eternal)," "Angel Band (My latest
sun is sinking fast)"

Rating: [Rating: 5 notes] 5 notes
--Bill Yates, Roots66.com

American Angels Program Notes

Songs of Hope, Redemption & Glory

American Angels is the diary of our journey to the roots of Anglo-American spiritual vocal music. It includes songs of redemption and glory spanning the years from the American Revolution to the present day: eighteenth-century psalm settings and fuging tunes from rural New England, nineteenth-century folk hymns and camp revival songs from the rural South, and gospel songs originating in Northeastern cities and adopted in the late nineteenth century by rural Southerners. Each of these musical styles has played its own part in an interweaving of oral and written traditions, in which favorite older tunes have survived and flourished from one generation to the next. We love the fact that these tunes have been treasured by so many others before us. They have been printed again and again in the tunebooks, and imprinted on the memories of generation after generation of singers, who continue to sing them at singing conventions, in worship services, and in many other settings.

The story of the rural American sacred music featured in American Angels opens with the attempts of certain eighteenth-century colonists to “improve” upon the lining out of psalms. In this practice – the main musical worship practice in the Colonies at the time – a deacon read out a line of text, the congregation responded by singing it, the deacon read out another line of text, and so on. How did those in favor of replacing the “old way of singing” with “regular singing” accomplish their goal? With the introduction of the singing school, where students practiced singing the octave scale with European solmization syllables, fa-sol-la-fa-sol-la-mi-fa, and learned to sing music composed in three and four parts. The singing school acted as a primary means of teaching and disseminating music in New England during the eighteenth century.

The musical settings of psalms and hymns taught in the earliest singing schools and published in the first colonial American tunebooks were imported from England. But by the late eighteenth century, New England tunesmiths – singing-school masters who had attended such schools themselves – started to make their own contributions. Many of them compiled their own tunebooks, which they sold to singing-school students in each town they visited. They were at first greatly influenced by the English composers of their day, but soon the sound of their compositions began to reflect their rural American origins. Most frequently taking their texts from the English poet Isaac Watts, the New Englanders wrote pieces intended both for worship and for artistic expression. They favored among other styles four-part homophonic settings of psalms, such as POLAND and AMANDA, and fuging tunes featuring both homophonic and imitative sections, such as BLOOMING VALE. In both forms, the tenor line holds the tune, but the other three voices carry equally strong, independent, melodies.

By the early nineteenth century, the heyday of the New England tunesmiths had ended. But singing schools had already begun to spread to the rural South, where they thrived for well over a century. Singing-school masters now published tunebooks containing a new “patented” notation using four different shapes for noteheads (triangle for fa, circle for sol, rectangle for la, and diamond for mi), intended to help students learn to read music more quickly and easily.
 
The compilers of the Southern four-shape tunebooks acted as collectors as well as composers. They included in each new publication many favorite psalm settings and fuging tunes by eighteenth-century New Englanders. Some of their own musical additions to the tunebooks document the music sung at camp meetings, huge evangelical religious gatherings that flourished during the first half of the nineteenth century. Singing played an essential role at these revival meetings, encouraging and celebrating the conversion of souls, and helping to bring about a feeling of community among the thousands of people who attended them.
 
The simpler musical forms contributed by the Southern tunebook compilers include narrative religious ballads; strophic folk hymns, such as NEW BRITAIN and WONDROUS LOVE; and camp revival songs intended for large group participation, such as JEWETT and MORNING TRUMPET, characterized by short verses alternating with choruses and by exclamations of “Shout, O glory!” Their texts come from Charles Wesley and other eighteenth-century English poets, and from newer American authors whose works could be found in pocket-sized text-only hymnals such as Mercer’s Cluster. Among their most popular themes: conversion and grace, the difficulty of life on earth, and especially looking forward to the hereafter. The tunebook compilers themselves wrote some of the tunes for these songs, but they drew many others from oral tradition. Much influenced by their modal tenor-line tunes, the three- and four-part harmonizations of the folk hymns and revival songs sound hauntingly open and hollow.

After the invention of a new system of seven-shape notation in the 1840s, singing-school masters began to instruct their students to read music using the more familiar solmization syllables: do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-si. The first seven-shape tunebooks resembled their four-shape counterparts in format and content, although they favored camp revival songs over earlier styles. These seven-shape books also contained some of the new gospel songs, often similar to the camp revival songs in their structure of verse alternating with chorus, but identifiable by their simple, melody-driven European harmonies and their optimistic or pleading texts.

The composers of SHALL WE GATHER AT THE RIVER, ANGEL BAND, and other gospel songs, came from Northeastern cities and had studied European musical style and tradition. They may have actually felt a certain disdain for shape-note singing schools and the music contained in the shape-note tunebooks. At their singing schools, they taught their students to sing from round notes, rather than shape notes, and they published hundreds of songs in Sabbath School and gospel-song collections printed in round notes in the mid–to–late nineteenth century. Despite their best intentions, the simpler and more folk-like of their compositions soon appeared in the Southern seven-shape tunebooks.

Many of the gospel songs originating in the urban Northeast and adopted by Southern tunebook compilers went on to become favorites in the twentieth century. Many well-known artists – Ralph Stanley, the Statler Brothers, and Emmylou Harris, to name only a few – have featured them on recordings in a wide variety of styles, among them hillbilly, bluegrass, country, and Southern gospel. Some gospel songs can also be found in several seven-shape tunebooks that are still in use. And certain Primitive Baptist congregations sing from seven-shape hymnals that even now retain a large proportion of eighteenth-century New England tunes, and nineteenth-century folk hymns, camp revival songs, and gospel songs.

Several four-shape tunebooks have also remained in continuous use since the early nineteenth century. The Sacred Harp, the most popular of these, first appeared in 1844, and is still used at traditional “sings,” where participants continue the singing-school practice of singing the tunes through with the fa sol la syllables first, before moving on to sing the text. The latest revision of The Sacred Harp preserves many of the tunes included in the 1844 edition, but also contains quite recent shape-note tunes composed in the older styles, such as the religious ballad WAYFARING STRANGER.

Since the establishment of singing schools in the eighteenth century, thousands of people have attended them, and many today still sing the three- and four-part fuging tunes, psalm tunes, folk hymns, and camp revival songs. Others instead – or in addition – continue the oldest tradition of singing from text-only hymnals. They carry in their memories many of the same tunes that were adapted from oral tradition and harmonized by the nineteenth-century Southern tunebook compilers. At home or at social gatherings, the hymns may be sung by a solo voice or by a small group, sometimes with improvised added lines influenced by the open harmonies found in the old tunebooks. The style of hymn singing at worship services varies from congregation to congregation, but practices include congregational singing of tunes and even the lining out decried by the eighteenth-century colonists who argued for “regular singing” almost 300 years ago.

– Marsha Genensky

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