Saturday, May 01, 2010

American Folk Hymnody in Illinois, 1800-1850 [2 of 2]

Notes and list of works cited for "American Folk Hymnody in Illinois, 1800-1850," a paper written for presentation at the Conference on Illinois History, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, Springfield, October 14, 2000. Transferred from archived copy on my faculty website, Benedictine University at Springfield. Second of two posts. Follow this link to the body of the paper.


Peter Ellertsen teaches English and journalism at Springfield
College in Illinois.

This study grew out of my efforts to document songs that might
have been sung around New Salem during the 1830s for the New Salem
Shape Note Singers, a group of interpreters at Lincoln's New Salem
State Historic Site; and research for two sites I maintain on
the World Wide Web: "Sacred Harp Singing in Downstate Illinois"
and "Shape-note Singing in the Sangamon River Country"
<>. For
advice, encouragement and factual information, thanks are due
to my SCI colleagues John Phillips and Susan Full; to Springfield
shape-note singer Berkley Moore; and members of the fasola-discussions
list on the World Wide Web at <>. The responsibility
for errors of fact or wrongheaded interpretations, of course,
rests wholly with me.

[1] On the animosity between Yankees and "crackers,"
or Scots-Irish settlers of the Southern highlands, especially
as it reflected differing attitudes toward religion, I follow
David Fischer, Albion's Seed (605-15); and Grady McWhiney,
Cracker Culture (23-28). Especially illuminating, although
limited in scope, is the discussion of strife in Don Harrison
Doyle's Social Order of a Frontier Community (47-51). In
addition to works cited in the text, I rely for background on
Frontier Illinois, by James E. David, and The Frontier
State, 1818-1848,
by Theodore Calvin Pease. I was struck by
the high regard Lois A. Carrier expressed for Christiana Tillson's
powers as an observer (56-57, 58), and found her perspective a
useful corrective for my own distaste for what I took to be arrogance
and snobbery on Tillson's part.

[2] Here I follow Jackson, Spiritual Folk-Songs 147-48.
Matching hymn texts to tunes in the old accounts is at best a
speculative enterprise, since texts and tunes were switched about
freely and many of the tunes come down in oral tradition with
numerous variants. Berkley Moore of Springfield, who has studied
shape-note hymnody in considerable depth, suggests the text would
more likely have been sung to Pisgah, a common tune of undetermined
British origin (please see note 9 below), because the "yi-yi
yi's" in Tilson's quotation better fit that tune. His suggestion
also has considerable merit. Sung very slowly with elaborate vocal
ornamentation, as probably was the case in early Montgomery County,
the tunes would have sounded rather alike in any event; Tillson
may not have known what she was hearing.

[3] The story of shape-note music was first told in George Pullen
Jackson's White Spirituals of the Southern Uplands and
elaborated in detail in Gilbert Chase's history of American music.
Irving Lowens' Music and Musicians in Early America and
David Warren Steel's "John Wyeth and the Development of Southern
Folk Hymnody" tell how the music moved south and west, and
Buell Cobb's discussion of the history and background of the Sacred
Harp explains how it survived into the 20th century. Each has
shaped my thinking in important ways. I also rely heavily on Harry
Eskew's discussion of shape-note hymnody in The New Grove Dictionary.

[4] In assigning dates to hymns and tunes, I rely on the scholarship
that went into 1991 Denson revision of The Sacred Harp
published in Bremen, Georgia; I also have taken advantage of earlier
editions of the same tunebook, titled The Original Sacred Harp,
that incorporate notes from the 1911 edition by Joseph James,
which sometimes give traditional lore about the music not available
elsewhere. I follow the practice, customary among shape-note singers,
of designating whether the hymn appears in the top (t) or bottom
(b) brace, or staff, of music.

[5] In tracing the development of lined-out hymnody from its
Calvinist origins, I follow Nicholas Temperley's article "The
Old Way of Singing"; Alan Dunstan's outline of Protestant
hymnody in the SPCK's Study of Liturgy (509-13); Temperley's
discussion of metrical psalms in The New Grove Dictionary;
and the article by Temperley and Richard Crawford on psalmody
in The New Grove Dictionary. In my interpretations of past
practice, I also am guided by the descriptions of lined-out singing
today by Jeff Todd Titon and Beverley Patterson.

[6] While the reference cannot conclusively be identified,
Lowell Mason's Eclectic Harmony carries the text, "Sweet
is the work, my God, my King ..." to a long meter tune called
Slade by Americk Hall. My thanks to members of the fasola-discussions
electronic mailing list who responded to my query.

[7] In addition to the works cited in the text, I am indebted
in my understanding of Appalachian folk hymnody to Dorothy Horn's
Sing to Me of Heaven throughout and Jackson, White Spirituals
(158-63). Charles Hamm does a particuarly thorough and lucid job
of relating the folk hymns to other points of the Scots-Irish
oral tradition in New World Music (47-55, 64, 261-74).

[8] As always, the relationships among oral-tradition tunes
are arguable. I rely on the listing in Andrew Kunz' on-line Fiddlers
Companion at <>, which includes
Saints Bound for Heaven in a tune family that includes not only
"Rye Whisky" but also the fiddle tune "Drunken
Hiccups." Joe James in his notes to the Original Sacred
merely says it is "an old melody" (35).

[9] Jackson says Pisgah is of English origin and may be related
to the ballad "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard" (Spiritual
144). Song collector Annabel Buchanan notes its
resemblance, in some varants, to the old ballad and says she heard
her parents and grandparents sing the text, "When I can read
my title clear" to Pisgah when she was a child (Buchanan
xxxi-xxi, 84). After reviewing the evidence available on its antecedents,
Horn says its British folk origins are "certainly open to
doubt." She concludes, "Perhaps someone else can determine
the amount and direction of lend-lease involved here" (34-35).
I am willing to let Horn have the last word on the subject.

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