Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Church's Desolation as a dulcimer tune

During Friday's open mike at the Dulcimerville music camp in Black Mountain, N.C., I played a shape-note folk hymn called "The Church's Desolation" [Sacred Harp 89] on my Jethro Amburgey dulcimer. While I can't always hear the resemblances in tune families, this one is clearly related to "Barbry Allen." I played it as an instrumental, since I was most interested in demonstrating how good the old folk hymns sound when played on the Appalachian dulcimer in open modal tunings (CGG on my Amburgey). But, as I said Friday night, the words tell a powerful story and the tune is powerful in its own right.
Here's "The Church's Desolation" as sung in January at Southwestern Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, posted to YouTube by user stratfield42 of the Texas Sacred Harp Singers. His channel has a number of high-definition videos at singings in Texas. I've only looked at a few of them, but they seem to be a very good introduction to contemporary Sacred Harp singing at its best.

Words, from The Sacred Harp at (click on "Indexes" and keep scrolling down to where it's indexed under "The"):
89 The Church’s Desolation
Tune: J. T. White, 1844
Meter: 8s,7s Double Iambic (8,7,8,7,8,7,8,7)

Well may Thy servants mourn, my God,
The Church’s desolation;
The state of Zion calls aloud
For grief and lamentation.
Once she was all alive to Thee
And thousands were converted,
But now a sad reverse we see,
Her glory is departed.

And has religion left the Church
Without a trace behind her?
Where shall I go, where shall I search,
That I once more may find her?
Adieu, ye proud, ye light and gay,
I’ll seek the brokenhearted,
Who weep when they of Zion say,
Her glory is departed.

Some few, like good Elijah stand,
While thousands have revolted,
In earnest for the heav’nly land
They never yet have halted.
With such religion doth remain,
For they are not perverted;
Oh may they all through men regain
The glory that’s departed.


The 1911 edition is available on line in the IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library on the International Music Score Library Project website (at
Joe James, in his authoritative footnotes to the 1911 edition, says: "We have been unable to find the name of the author of the words. While they appear in the earliest song books in the United States, none of them, so far as we could find, has given the author of the hymn or the date of composition."

The Digital and Multimedia Center of Michigan State University Libraries has the 1860 edition at and  -- it has two verses in the middle that do not appear in the 1911 or 1991 Denson revisions.

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