Praise singing

(About music rather than language.)

This morning’s coming-to-consciousness music on my iTunes was the moving and joyous Sacred Harp song Bridgewater (276 in the 1991 Denson Revision), as sung at the 1999 United Sacred Harp Convention (one of seven versions I have of the song). It’s a simple tune with a fine fuguing chorus giving the effect of banks of trumpets sounding praise. Words by the prolific hymnwriter Isaac Watts, text by Lewis Edson (1748-1820), one of America’s first composers; according to the Wikipedia entry,

He began working as [a] blacksmith, but soon after became a singing master and was a notable singer in his day.

His settings (including Lenox (SH 40) as well as Bridgewater) were published in the collection “Choristers Companion” in 1782.

The SH setting:

On the chorus, the lines enter in the order bass, tenor, treble, alto, each beginning with a rising interval.

My tastes in shapenote music run strongly to angels and trumpets. Which reminds me that I need to put together a posting on Gospel Trumpet (SH99), a song that I am so associated with by the peninsula singers that they often sing it “for me” when I’m not able to get to singings.

Now, to hear (and see) Bridgewater in a variety of renditions, check out the YouTube versions from Alabama, Texas, and Massachusetts:

led by Bridgett Hill at Liberty Church, Henagar, Alabama; from the film “Awake My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp”

Coker UMC Hour 4 San Antonio Texas July 2011

from the 2009 Western Massachusetts Sacred Harp Singing Convention

On the last, catch the wonderful glass-cutting alto. A vocal quality that is perhaps not to everyone’s taste, but it’s something that we treasure in Sacred Harp circles.

And then two special delights: Sacred Harp around the world. First, Bridgewater led by Judy Caudle at the second Ireland Sacred Harp Convention (Cork, March 3rd & 4th, 2012):

And then Bridgewater at the First Polish Sacred Harp Convention (Warsaw University, September 23rd and 24th, 2012):

I’ve written in earlier postings about the rich fabric of social conventions that surround the Sacred Harp singing tradition. These include “dinner on the grounds”, with food contributed by and shared by the singers. Both days at the Warsaw convention provided a “Polish style dinner on the grounds”. Traditions adapt to new settings.


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