First observe of how many Notes compass the Tune is. Next, the place of your first Note; and how many Notes above & below that: so as you may begin the Tune of your first Note as the rest may be sung in the compass of your and the peoples voices, without Squeaking above, or Grumbling below.

Stacy B leads at April’s Brooklyn singing


Cooper Book 567, CHILD OF THINE

Sacred Harp in the era of social media

This is what it’s like singing Sacred Harp in the twenty-first century. I wake at six outside of Philadelphia, check my Twitter feed, and find this:

And I respond:

(The answer is yes, they do, and I’m asked to pass on regards to friends.)

And now I hear that coffee is ready. I bet they have that in London too.

More squeaking.

The same person who sets the Tune, and guides the Congregation in Singing, commonly reads the Psalm, which is a Task so few are capable of performing well, that in Singing two or three Staves the Congregation falls from a cheerful Pitch to downright Grumbling, and then some to relieve themselves mount an Eighth above the rest, others perhaps a Fourth or Fifth, by which means the Singing appears to be rather a confused Noise, made up of Reading, Squeaking and Grumbling, than a decent and orderly part of God’s Worship.

— “Jeoffry Chanticleer” on the Common Way of psalm-singing, in the New England Courant, Boston [?], 1724.  Quoted in Gilbert Chase, America’s music: from the pilgrims to the present, p.25.

York (PA) All-Day, April 27, 2013

Lovely warm singing at York on Saturday, on a perfect Spring day with the trees in bloom in the meeting-house garden and all over.  I picked and still have a now-withered blossom from a gone-wild crabapple up on the ridge behind Lamar’s house — well, compound — where the social was held.  A few of us sang for the dead, perhaps including Hal’s eighteenth-century ancestors, at the little burial ground across the stream.

My leads: 313t CONCORD, 411 MORNING PRAYER.

Check behind the couch.

If you can come up with the change, you can have your own copy of the 1640 printing of the Bay Psalm Book, the first book printed in English America and the source of this blog’s title and epigraph.


For a funny and moving story that reflects some of the tensions (and comforts) of the Northern Revival, read and listen to Abby Beshkin’s Jewish Daily Forward piece & audiocast.

The song “Poland,” with the words “God of my life, look gently down, Behold the pains I feel,” was not really about a breakup. But from the depths of my grief, it sounded as if it was written just for me. After awhile, however, all this comfort I was taking in Sacred Harp music began to make me a little uncomfortable.

. . . .

[T]he fact that I have found a community among people who sing relatively obscure music has given me hope of perhaps someday finding my place in another community, perhaps the Jewish community. Plus, in true “only in New York” fashion, I have found that many of my fellow Sacred Harp singers are also Jewish

New York singers may remember my carrying on about the irony of serving as kitchen mistress for the 2010 All-Day on Yom Kippur. For me, several years further down the SH road and without yeshiva in my past, it seemed clear that I wasn’t going to have any more spiritual experience on that Saturday than I’d get from attending the singing. But I certainly understood Abby’s qualms and those of other Jewish singers, and can’t claim to have been untinged by guilt.

In Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania there is snow. I gather this is generally true — the snow was falling generally, isn’t that what it says in “The Dead” — but it’s true here, in the backyards of the Philadelphia suburbs. I’m on my way to the Keystone convention, in Bethlehem, PA, this year. A little snow won’t stop us, but I’m not foofing around in a dress. Jeans, and woolly socks.

Later: No, it’s “snow was general.” Which is quite different. Here’s the famous last paragraph:

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Chair’s cheffery update — NYCADS 2011

I’ve finished the two salads, the chicken is marinating in its spicy yogurt bath, and it’s time for some fresh coffee before mopping the living room floor (where my guest will be bunking on the Aerobed) and frying the dumplings.  Such a pretty day!  The cat must slither in her sleep so as to keep her head in the square of sunlight moving across my bed.

Later I’ll get back to thinking what to say tomorrow and remembering all the names to thank.  And then it’s off to singing school —