"Shout and Sing"
Wiregrass Sacred Harp Singers. The Colored Sacred Harp. 80433-2. New World Records, 1993. CD 4281

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Hymns: Sing & Shout

Exclusively oral in most congregations, psalmody depended upon a song leader "lining out" a verse for the congregation to repeat back. However, worshippers who lacked formal music training generally altered the original. By the early years of the eighteenth century, lining-out and musical illiteracy contributed to a crisis in church music. In response to church leaders' criticism, singing schools began to spring up, and itinerant singing masters compiled tunebooks to aid in the music education of the colonists. The impetus to return psalmody to its harmonious roots marked the beginning of formal music education in America.

Little, William, and William Smith. The Easy Instructor; or, A New Method of Teaching Sacred Harmony. Albany, NY: Printed by Websters & Skinners and Daniel Steele, [1812].

Gift of Hartwell Cabell from the Library of
Joseph Carrington Cabell and Nathaniel Francis Cabell.

This book represents the first widely used manual for itinerant singing masters. Little and Smith had invented a four-shape system of notation, and in the course of patenting their invention, the symbols became known as "patent" notes. A distinct shape defined each of the four syllables: fa became a triangle; sol, a circle; la, a rectangle; and mi, the leading tone, a diamond.




Hickok, J[ohn] H[oyt]. The Sacred Harp. Lewistown, PA: Printed by Shugert & Cummings, 1832. Gift of R. L. Martin.

Hickok was the first to use the title "Sacred Harp", the name by which the entire shape note tradition has become known. The title reappeared in his and George Fleming's 1834 collaboration, Evangelical Musick, or The Sacred Minstrel and Sacred Harp United. The Sacred Harp of Lowell and Timothy Mason, also known as Eclectic Harmony, was published in eight editions between 1834 and 1847, including one round-note version.

The shape note collection with the most enduring history and far-reaching influence, however, was the 1844 Sacred Harp of B.F. White and E.J. King. One of the last published tunebooks using the four-shape system, The Sacred Harp earned a place of honor second only to the Bible in southern homes. Since 1844, the book has never gone out of print, with each new edition preserving earlier tunes and including new ones.




Davisson, A[nanias], ed. Kentucky Harmony; or, A Choice Collection of Psalm Tunes, Hymns, and Anthems. [Lexington?, KY]: n.p., 1816.

Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Philip H. Ryan.

This first edition of Kentucky Harmony represents the first tunebook with the four-shape system to be published in the South. An active singing master in the Shenandoah Valley, Davisson drew on previous collections by Smith and Little, Wyeth, Billings, Holyoke, Adgate, Atwell and Peck. The introductory "Rudiments of Music" includes "Lessons for tuning the voice" and "A remark or two at the request of several refined musicians."



Funk, Joseph. A Compilation of Genuine Church Music. Winchester, VA: Published at the office of the Republican, 1832.

Better known as Harmonia Sacra, the title given to later editions, this first edition employed a four-shape system. Later editions added three shapes, giving every note of the scale its own distinctive shape. Beginning in 1832, a variety of seven-note systems, with varying shapes, were tried. In 1846, Jesse Aikin's Christian Minstrel introduced the system which became the most enduring, surviving into the present day.

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