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Advantages of shape notes?

Will Fly 16 Mar 10 - 05:30 AM
GUEST,BBP at work 16 Mar 10 - 06:47 AM
Mr Happy 16 Mar 10 - 11:17 AM
GUEST,leeneia 16 Mar 10 - 11:41 AM
Will Fly 16 Mar 10 - 11:51 AM
Cath 16 Mar 10 - 12:48 PM
GUEST,highlandman at work 16 Mar 10 - 05:07 PM
BusyBee Paul 17 Mar 10 - 04:09 AM
Ruth Archer 17 Mar 10 - 04:16 AM
Desert Dancer 17 Mar 10 - 12:11 PM
Burke 15 Jun 10 - 07:53 PM
maple_leaf_boy 15 Jun 10 - 08:25 PM
catspaw49 15 Jun 10 - 08:35 PM
Burke 15 Jun 10 - 09:11 PM
catspaw49 15 Jun 10 - 10:28 PM
GUEST,iancarterb 15 Jun 10 - 11:14 PM
GUEST,Booklynrose 15 Jun 10 - 11:33 PM
GUEST,Doiug Olsen 16 Jun 10 - 12:56 AM
ClaireBear 16 Jun 10 - 02:49 AM
Burke 17 Jun 10 - 01:48 PM
catspaw49 17 Jun 10 - 02:00 PM
GUEST,jennyr 17 Jun 10 - 05:52 PM
GUEST,Doug Olsen 17 Jun 10 - 06:33 PM
TopcatBanjo 18 Jun 10 - 04:38 AM
Burke 18 Jun 10 - 08:14 PM
GUEST,Kent Davis 18 Jun 10 - 11:01 PM
GUEST 19 Jun 10 - 09:36 PM
Ruth Archer 19 Jun 10 - 09:48 PM
LadyJean 19 Jun 10 - 10:57 PM
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Subject: Advantages of shape notes?
From: Will Fly
Date: 16 Mar 10 - 05:30 AM

Knowing very little about shape notes, I was looking through various web sites to learn a little more - just out of curiosity - and came across this paragraph in Wikipedia:

A fair comparison would take the form of a controlled study, using experimental subjects who are young enough not to be set in their ways. Just such a study was carried out in the 1950s by George H. Kyme with an experimental population consisting of fourth and fifth graders living in California. Kyme took care to match his experimental and control groups as closely as possible for ability, quality of teacher, and various other factors. He found that the students taught with shape notes learned to sight read significantly better than those taught without them. Kyme additionally found that the students taught with shape notes were also far more likely to pursue musical activities later on in their education.

I'm curious as to whether any 'Catters have direct experience of shape note singing and whether they have any comment on this quote. I'm assuming that shape notes are primarily for use in singing - or can they be used as aids to instrumental music?

[I couldn't find anything in the Forum Search, but then, I never can. Apologies if there are numerous previous threads on this].


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: GUEST,BBP at work
Date: 16 Mar 10 - 06:47 AM

Will,

I came across shapenote singing (via Mudcat) about a year ago and joined a local group. My first taster was at the Friends of Old Time American Music and Dance annual shindig in my home town of Gainsborough, Lincolnshire UK and was "true" shapenote in that we sang the notes to the names of the shapes first. Do me, this was akin to patting head while rubbing tummy!. Trouble is that, at 50+ years of age, I've spent years sightreading traditional notation and so I find that much easier.

A couple of years ago I started singing tenor instead of alto and now have to frequently sightread music in the bass clef. And I'm not fluent in it, having never learnt to read the bass clef, nevermind sightread it while singing. But I do find it easier to find my start note in shapenote singing.

All I can say is that the use of shapes / names to learn intervals DOES make singing easier - think of Sound of Music and "Doe, a deer...". In my choral society, we quite often remember difficult intervals by finding a well-known song with that same interval to compare it to, so a piece might well contain that "Somewhere (over the rainbow)" interval.

As shapenote singing - I love it and have made new friends through it. I'd recommend it to anyone - I call it a cross between Songs of Praise and Barbershop!

Deirdre


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: Mr Happy
Date: 16 Mar 10 - 11:17 AM

Never 'eard of 'em.

Heres some info:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shape_notes


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 16 Mar 10 - 11:41 AM

There was a post somewhere on the Mudcat from a woman who attended shape note events and quickly learned to sing the songs. She was coached by 2-3 regulars, and by listening and looking, she quickly learned it.

The trouble with musical notation is that the same note heads convey different intervals if the key signature changes. If shape notes help with that, it would be a very good thing.

I don't know, I'm just wondering.


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: Will Fly
Date: 16 Mar 10 - 11:51 AM

The trouble with musical notation is that the same note heads convey different intervals if the key signature changes.

Yes, one of the things that can trouble the beginner at music is remembering all the relevant sharps and flats in particular key signatures. So - as you say - the written interval of (for example) C to E in C natural (5 semitones) will be different to the same written interval in the key of A (4 semitones). But whether shape notes help this or not, I've no idea!


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: Cath
Date: 16 Mar 10 - 12:48 PM

I have similar experience to Deirdre. I started Shape Note singing about 5 years ago and I love it but still have a bit of difficulty with the shapes as I am more familiar with standard notation but agree that it has become easier to do the intervals.
Co-incidentally I've just spent the afternoon updating the mailing list for our Shape Note Singing which will be taking place in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire on March 27 - anyone interested in joining us let me know and I'll pass on more details.


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: GUEST,highlandman at work
Date: 16 Mar 10 - 05:07 PM

The shape-note system is by design a pedagogical tool.

The genius of the system is that it combines a relative interval based system (like the do-re-mi of solfeggio) with the conventional staff-based system that can be read by conventionally-trained musicians. And it combines the two in a simple visual representation.

A relative interval system is much more informative to beginning singers, who have no fixed-pitch instrument to associate the staff notes with. And it corresponds with the way we hear and produce sounds better than a fixed-pitch staff plus key signatures.

In teaching people to sight-sing, I have found that some effort spent to impart understanding of the scales and what the various intervals sound like in context bears great fruit. There are many ways to teach this, and this is exactly what the traditional "do-re-mi" is for. But in that case there is still considerable mental calculation involved (at first) to associate "the-third-line-from-the-bottom-in-treble-clef-and-one-sharp" with the sound of "mi." In shape-note singing, the shape gives you an immediate indication (alas, though, in fa-so-la rather than do-re-mi -- we can't have everything I guess).

I haven't read the study cited. I wonder if the same effect would have been gained by any relative-pitch teaching system, or if shape-notes in particular are more successful than other systems.

As to whether the shape-note system is of help to instrument learners, I doubt it. Producing pitches on most instruments is a matter of physically manipulating the controls of the thing in a certain way, whereas vocal production is primarily aural.
Not that there is no connection between aural learning and instrument playing, but the primary focus of sight-reading on an instrument is mechanical.

Having said all that, I would add that the music associated with shape-note singing in the Southern US is an aural experience all its own. Love it!

-Glenn


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: BusyBee Paul
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 04:09 AM

Cath, if 27th March wasn't my choral society concert day I'd come over to Holmfirth. It's nice to know that you sing it too - it's great music, isn't it?.

Deirdre

PS: See you at Holmfirth in May


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: Ruth Archer
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 04:16 AM

For anyone interested in trying Shape-note singing, there will be a workshop series again this year at Sidmouth. There will also be an introductory workshop led by Tim Eriksen.


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 17 Mar 10 - 12:11 PM

ooo - if you can catch a workshop with Tim Eriksen, don't miss it!

~ Becky in Tucson


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: Burke
Date: 15 Jun 10 - 07:53 PM

I drop in here once every few months & so just saw this.

What Becky says. Tim Eriksen will be leading the Shape Note Singing at Old Songs in Altamont, NY June 26 & 27. It should be good.

Go Here for a lesson plan based on Shape Notes put together by the Smithsonian.

I've been singing 4 shape Sacred Harp music for >20 years & find it has really helped me be a better sight singer in other choral situations. Sometimes I even write the note syllables on normal staff to remind me of especially difficult intervals.

I'm pretty sure Neely Bruce, who was at Wesleyan U. in Middleton, Ct for many years used shapes to teach sight singing. You could check the Shape Note Bibliography for other info. The site seems to be down right now so I can't check it.

There were a lot of Gospel Song books published with a 7 shape system. I've been told that pianists who read shape notes can be really good at transposing to different keys on the fly.

Sacred Harp music is just really great to sing. I tell people who can already read music & are put off by trying to sing the shapes, that they should consider the shapes as several more letters of the alphabet to learn.


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: maple_leaf_boy
Date: 15 Jun 10 - 08:25 PM

I've never used shape-notes. When I was a singer, I mostly sang by ear.
I either listened to a song, and sang along with it, or read standard
notation, playing the piano and sang the notes with the piano.


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: catspaw49
Date: 15 Jun 10 - 08:35 PM

A really fine song written by Ottawa folklorist Shelley Posen was recorded by Mudcatter Rick Fielding.

Will.....It may not add a lot to your discussion here but the song is really cute and fun AND informative. Rick recorded it on his second album, "This One's the Dreamer" on Borealis. I like that album because it has a great little instrumental titled "Catspaw's Rag." In any case, I think you'd love the album and you would have loved Rick. We have quite a few mwembers now that I think would enjoy Rick the 'Catter and especially Rick the musician.

Anyway, here's the song lyrics and a bit of info from a previous thread:

FA, SOL, LA
Shelly Posen


While walkin out one evenin'
In a little southern town
I saw some signs upon a fence
And looked them up and down
And then among the notices
For auction sales and cars
was a poster that read la, sol, fa.


It said that in the mornin'
There would be a special sing
For all the folks that lived in town
And friends that they might bring
The singers each would have a chance
To lead their favoire tune
They'd sing all day up in the hall,
With a pot luck lunch at noon.


Chorus:
And they would sing: FA, LA, SOL
And make the rafters ring
Like they did so long ago
Their hearts would fill with joy and love
To sing the praise of God above
And sing out with a LA, SOL, FA.


Next mornin' I went to the hall,
And found a vacant chair
The singers had assembled
Sittin' in a hollow square
A book they called the Sacred Harp
Was put into my hand
The notes were written all in shapes
I didn't understand.


Chorus:
And they were FA: FA, LA, SOL
They helped the singers read the music
Like so long ago
Triangle, circle, diamond, square,
Those were the notes that they read there
And named them with a LA, SOL, FA.


An old man rose and walked into
The center of the square
He called for silence, bowed his head,
And said a little prayer
He thumbed the pages in his book
And called the number out
And gave the parts their LA, SOL, FA.


Chorus:
And they Sang FA: FA, LA, SOL
Their voices joined in harmony,
Their faces all aglow
Each singer was a child of grace,
Soprano, alto, tenor, bass
As they sang out their LA, SOL, FA.


The singin' was so sweet in heart,
It took my breath away
I sang along as best I could
All through that glorious day
From Wondrous Love to Parting Hand
We sang them all day long
But I do believe that Showers of Blessings
Was my favorite song


He sends His show'rs of blessing down
To cheer the plains below;
He makes the grass the mountains crown;
And corn in valleys grow.


My friends if you should ever find
That this world is not your home
You've lost your faith in God and Man,
And think you're all alone
Or else you've met such happiness
That music fills your heart
No matter if it's joy or woe,
Sing from the Sacred Harp.


Chorus
Just sing FA: FA, LA, SOL
And join the gospel choir
That began so long ago
In city, town or village square,
You just might find them anywhere
Singin' with a LA, SOL, FA
In city, town or village square,
You just might find them anywhere
Singin' with a LA, SOL, FA



Showers of Blessings (Sacred Harp p.528) words by Isaac Watts, 1719
Music by A. A. Blocker and Joseph Stone, 1959---Directory of Sacred Harp Singings to experience what the song is about.

Some explanations of the song:
Major scale in FASOLLA:
FA, SOL, LA, FA, SOL, LA, MI, FA


FA, LA, SOL should be sung as major triad 1-3-5
LA, SOL, FA decending 3-2-1 of major scale.

triangle=FA
circle=SOL
square=LA
diamond=mi



Spaw


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: Burke
Date: 15 Jun 10 - 09:11 PM

Shelley Posen does this song a cappella with his trio. Rick's version was solo with guitar accompaniment. That's no big deal, except that one person cannot do the fuge. (He sends his showers of blessings down)

Also he changed the notes at the end of the chorus so that while he sang words LA, SOL, FA the matching notes should have been 3-2-1 of the scale. If I recall correctly, he actually sang the notes that would have matched LA-MI-FA Of course only a shape note singer would have noticed this.


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: catspaw49
Date: 15 Jun 10 - 10:28 PM

Yeah Burke, you recall correctly and of course you're right also on the fugue.....unless you meant fug which only requirers two or maybe fudge which would be something for everybody!

Spaw (;<))


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: GUEST,iancarterb
Date: 15 Jun 10 - 11:14 PM

I also love Shelley Posen's song, Heard it once live at a Finest Kind house concert mid 1990s. The experience of singing with a group who almost all STARTED Shape singing at the same time (early 80s) muddies the research, but I know that MY sight singing went from zero to, say, 25 MPH over the first 15 years or so. It does NOT help remembering to count for meter any more than conventional notation- only practice really works for wither.:)
   Hopelessly Ear-bound Player and Singer Carter B


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: GUEST,Booklynrose
Date: 15 Jun 10 - 11:33 PM

Don't miss the chance to try shape note hymn (Sacred Harp) singing. If you're not near the site in the U.K. cited above, come to New York City. We have 3 or 4 regular sacred harp sings/month. Of course this was a tradition from the Deep South, but it has a lot of enthusiasts in New York City.
I can't really sight sing & I can't follow the shapes easily either. I love the counterpoint harmonies. If only the songs did not keep referring to God or Jesus.
Tim Eriksen & Shelley Posen are both VERY good leaders of Sacred Harp, but gosh, I miss Tom Gibney.


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: GUEST,Doiug Olsen
Date: 16 Jun 10 - 12:56 AM

I was given a shape note song once with the Alto part written in Alto Clef, which I don't read at all. The shapes allowed me to work out what the part was supposed to sound like. Couldn't have managed without the shapes.

On a slightly digressive note, I found a newspaper article about shape note singing that has to be one of the most affecting pieces I have ever read. See the URL below. I still can't read it without getting tears in my eyes.

http://www.oregonlive.com/music/index.ssf/2007/10/shapes_of_the_heart.html

Doug


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: ClaireBear
Date: 16 Jun 10 - 02:49 AM

I guess I am unusual in this crowd, in that the first sight reading I ever did was with shape notes (singing with Doug, in fact, among others). At that time I was totally unable to read music in anything like real time, but with shape notes I was able to sight sing. That was 25 years ago...

I'm now in a church choir, where I have to sight sing regularly. How I wish our hymnal and anthems had shape notes! Because they don't and because I hold down the tenor section by myself (which means I have to sing lound, with no one else there to remind me of my part), I've gotten by with writing scale numbers (1-7) next to at least the first note in each staff (usually more) so that I can find my place. That's becoming less necessary as time goes by, but I still miss the shape note system that made everything so easy.

Claire


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: Burke
Date: 17 Jun 10 - 01:48 PM

Spaw, I deliberately spelled it fuge.

I do wish I had called it the fuging section, which I started with. The fuging sections are not full fledged fugues (as in Bach). The old books always call them fuging tunes. Within the shape note singing community we've had some discussion of the spelling, but I have checked some online sources and found fuge used in at lease some old 19th century tune books.


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: catspaw49
Date: 17 Jun 10 - 02:00 PM

Thanks for that info Burke. I had assumed it was just a typo!

Spaw


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: GUEST,jennyr
Date: 17 Jun 10 - 05:52 PM

I used 'normal' notation for years before I started shape note singing, and it took a little while to adapt (in the sense of being able to 'sing the shapes' at the speed of experienced singers) but I do find them helpful - in fact, if I'm struggling to sight-sing something now, I mentally convert it into the shapes, which always seems to solve the problem.

I think this is partly for the speculative reasons above (eg that it no longer matters what key the piece is in), and partly because there's a very simple, direct link between the visual and the audio.

Yes, shape notes were created as a pedagogical tool, but they're also a very quick way to get a lot of people singing a new piece together, without needing to play through or teach each part separately.


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: GUEST,Doug Olsen
Date: 17 Jun 10 - 06:33 PM

Let me do the URL properly.

http://www.oregonlive.com/music/index.ssf/2007/10/shapes_of_the_heart.html

No one who loves shape note singing should miss this article.


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: TopcatBanjo
Date: 18 Jun 10 - 04:38 AM

I've been singing Sacred Harp (which uses shape notes) for about five years now and it's just fantastic. I'm not massively into the teaching side but as I understand it the original point was to teach those who could not read music. I believe it's actually a bit harder for those of us who can read music, to then get used to the shape notes. But the point of it was to communicate where on the scale the note was. It all becomes clear once you've been singing for a while.

Those of us singing Sacred Harp regularly in the UK try and stick to the traditions as closely as possible, including always singing the song through "on the shapes" first. IMO the poster above who states "If only the songs did not keep referring to God or Jesus" is missing the point mightily! Personally I am not a religious person at all but I think the majesty and the power of the songs are absolutely linked to the resolutely prevailing themes of life, death and salvation. I'm always amazed at how great the singing makes me feel when it's essentially full of dark and tragic words! In my opinion, Sacred Harp singing is really good for the soul, whether or not one is a believer, and it's important to respect the songs and the tradition.

I also disagree with the poster above who says it sounds like "a cross between Songs of Praise and Barbershop" - way to put people off! That makes it sound bloody awful. Sacred Harp is NOTHING like the weedy and bloodless sound of most English hymn singing. It's full blooded, full throated, often dark, stark and powerful, more like mountain music in my opinion.

A couple of examples of the singing:
Tim Eriksen and singers at Newport
Soar Away at Ephesus Georgia

Tim Eriksen will also be doing a Singing School as part of the SummerTyne festival in Newcastle on Sat 24th July - free tickets from The Sage Gateshead. Or if you're interested in trying Sacred Harp (shape note) singing in the UK, check out the calendar on the UK Shape Note website.
Tim Eriksen Singing School 24 July 2010
UK Sacred Harp community


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: Burke
Date: 18 Jun 10 - 08:14 PM

For people in the rest of the world, here's a list ofRegional Singings and Conventions

Just for Spaw: Sacred Harp in Ohio

My singing schedule for the next couple of weekends:
June 3rd weekend Exeter Meeting House near Philly (tomorrow & I'm staying home)
Juen 4th Old Songs
July 1st Pioneer Valley (Western Mass)
July 2nd Quebec(maybe)
July 3rd State College, PA (will miss the Ingalls sing in VT)
July 4th Coastal Maine (another maybe)

I remember when Old Songs was one of 3-4 times per year that I could sing with a large group in the Northeast US. Things have really changed.


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: GUEST,Kent Davis
Date: 18 Jun 10 - 11:01 PM

A shape-note singing workshop will be held tomorrow (June 19, 2010) at 4 p.m., at the West Virginia Folk Festival in Glenville, West Virginia. Tomorrow morning at 11 a.m., there will be a hymn-singing using a shape-note hymnbook. The singing and the workshop use the 7-shape method, not the fa-so-la method used in "Sacred Harp" singing. If the Lord wills, my youngest daughter and I will be at both events.

I do not read regular notation. I do lead congregational singing from time to time. We (the church of Christ in Reno, Ohio) sing without mechanical instruments. I find several advantages to shape-note singing:

1. I have a narrow vocal range and sometimes can't hit the high notes (or the low notes) as the songs are originally written. Also, especially when I'm nervous, I have trouble matching a note on a pitchpipe anyway. With shape-notes, it is easy to use relative pitch. Your "do" can be any note you want it to be, and the rest will follow.

2. The relationship between the first note of the song (usually do, mi, or so), the highest note, the lowest note, and the last note (usually do) are readily seen, which helps in choosing songs for congregational singing and in getting the tune right if I'm a little weak on leading it "by ear".

3. When I sing bass or tenor, it makes it easy to tell the relationship between my note and the lead note. I don't need to try to deal with treble clef and bass clef because a triangle means "do" in both clefs.

Here's a link to the West Virginia Folk Festival schedule for tmorrow: http://www.wvfolkfestival.org/Text/festival_schedule.html

Kent Davis (who has lost his cookie)


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: GUEST
Date: 19 Jun 10 - 09:36 PM

We just got back from the West Virginia Folk Festival. The hymn singing was great, but the shape-note workshop was a disappointment. I thought the teacher focused too much on music in general, and too little on shape-note singing specifically.

Anyway, if anyone is interested in congregational singing using shape-notes, please visit our congregation in Reno, Ohio, (adjoining Marietta, OH, and near Parkersburg, WV). The best time to visit would be 6:30 p.m., Sunday, June 27th, as we are planning to devote most of the hour to singing. This will be worship, not a workshop, and there will be lots of singing, but no instruction on singing.

You will be welcomed warmly if you were to attend then, or at any time. Location and times are here: http://www.mariettarenochurchofchrist.org/?page_id=7

Kent Davis (whose cookie is still lost)


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: Ruth Archer
Date: 19 Jun 10 - 09:48 PM

"Of course this was a tradition from the Deep South"

I understand that the Southern tradition actually evolved from the earlier New England tradition. Tim Eriksen's workshop at Sidmouth will focus on the New England repertoire as distinct from the repertoire contained in The Sacred Harp (he is currently working on an album of the New England songs). So it should be interesting for newcomers and Shape Note enthusiasts alike.


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Subject: RE: Advantages of shape notes?
From: LadyJean
Date: 19 Jun 10 - 10:57 PM

Almost 40 years ago now, up in the North Carolina Mountains, I heard a girl who grew up to be Jennifer Armstrong Clark and her friend Anne Jackson sing what I thought was called a "shake note" hymn, "Bright Morning Star's Arising" and I fell in love with the close harmonies.


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