The Shape of Singings to Come: Shape-Note Singing in Sewanee and the South Cumberlands
I propose two complementary curricular ventures that will increase attention towards and enhance the practice of a specific Southern type of music, Sacred Harp (or shape-note) singing. One will establish Sacred Harp singing as a credit-generating musical ensemble for Sewanee students, and the other will revise a course already on the books so as to devote more resources towards the study of shape-note singing.
Project Alignment with the Collaborative for Southern Appalachian Studies
“Ramblin’ Blues”: The Back Roads of Southern Music (MUSC 141) is already on the books as an elective course for the Minor in Southern Appalachian Studies. However, with a reading list encompassing books by Robert Palmer, Peter Guralnick, and others, this class currently focuses on African-American musical idioms (folk blues, country blues, urban blues, spirituals). With the revision anticipated by this project, I intend to open the syllabus up and to include a more robust array of shape-note materials, including recent scholarly literature (Kiri Miller, 2008; Laura Clawson, 2011), film documentaries, and of course first-hand experience of Sacred Harp singings.
The Music Dept. sponsors four ensembles that convey one-hour credit for student participants (Sewanee Symphony Orchestra, University Jazz Ensemble, etc.), and which may be repeated each semester. In this part of the project I will develop a new ensemble devoted to shape-note singing on campus. Any student could enroll, not just those with previous instrumental or vocal experience, as shape-note singing is an amateur idiom with educational opportunities as a standard component. Given the considerable interest in Sacred Harp singing among community members in Sewanee and the surrounding region, this initiative will give students new opportunities to interact with adults in the Sewanee-Monteagle area.
In its first semester of realization, the project will reach a normal sized 100-level Sewanee course-worth of students (25–29). In multiple iterations of the course, that number will expand arithmetically. Once the ensemble takes root, it has the potential to engage a small but quite dedicated group of participants, reaching out beyond just students to attract community members from the region, as well as faculty and staff. In a quasi-pilot version of the ensemble (which met once a month at the Otey Parish Hall), there were literally scores of participants from the region, including both students and adults.