On Sunday I went to shapenote singing (2-4, at the Unitarian Universalist Church in south Palo Alto), for the first time in two or so years. Much trepidation, but I manasged reasonably well, especially in the early (“warm-up”) songs, which were so familiar I could sing the shapes and the verses without looking at the book. Tremendous expense of energy, as I was singing full-out, so I was done in after two hours, but happy.

Of the several possibilities for a closing song, we did one of the “new songs” (new to the 1991 edition of the (B.F. White) Sacred Harp): 347, “Christians, Farewell”, reproduced here (with permission) from the book:


(Click to enlarge the image.)

Hamrick adapted the text of #621 in Benjamin Lloyd’s 1841 Primitive Hymns, and more recently Caroline Bonnet supplied a one-verse secular text.

This is four-part a cappella sacred music, with a complex history going back to the 18th century (previous postings on the tradition are inventoried here). The parts are, from the top: treble, alto, tenor (the melody line), bass; I am a male treble.

The song is gorgeous, but something of a trial for the trebles, who are at the top of their range for most the whole two lines. And the text is bittersweet: on parting from friends for the release of death.

Local singer Peter Ross later supplied me with a variant, secular, text, “Singers, Farewell” (Peter: by “Caroline Bonnet, who died unexpectedly last year, lived in Cloverdale but often attended the Berkeley shape note singing and also the Bay Area conventions”). Bonnet’s version has been set in print by various local hands (Dan Harper for sure, perhaps Terry Moore as well): once following the conventions of shapenote music (thus, very close visually to #1):


and once set in ordinary “round notes”, but preserving the order of the lines (with the melody in the third line):


The prospect of leaving in death has been replaced by mere separation after singing.

Early on in discussions on the net, a fairly large collection of people took up the question of hiw to get permission to do what I have just done, namely, post Bonnet’s version on the web. Hamrick is pretty much out of this, since (like others in the 1991 SH) he assigned copyright to the Sacred Harp Publishing Company (which gave me permission to reproduce #1 on the web). So his estate is not involved; incidentally, he died in 2014, at the grand age of 99 1/2.

Bonnet is another matter, since she died without assigning copyright. Strictly speaking, posting her words would require permission from all of her living heirs, a daunting prospect. But Bonnet was apparently quite generous with her poetry in her life, and in that spirit, I’m posting her version here. (The legal situation seems to be an enormous morass.)

[Addendum on the 14th, e-mail from Stella Bonnet (wife of Jay Bonnet, Caroline Bonnet’s son) to Peter Ross (edited down from all-caps):

Thank you for your concerns regarding the release of the song by posting on the internert. Jay has given permission and encourages anything written ny his mom to be shared with others. She was all about giving and this is very fitting.

That would seem to settle things for practical and human purposes, if not for legal(istic) purposes.]

As I’ve remarked on this blog several times, new texts for old tunes and new tunes for old texts are both quite common in the world of song, especially hymns, especially shapenote hymns.

One Response to “Farewells”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    Christian’s Farewell is indeed Sacred Harp 347 – in the 1991 edition of the most commonly used recension of the Sacred Harp, usually called “the Denson book” when it’s necessary to distinguish it from “the Cooper Book”. Christian Farewell is 255 in The Georgian Harmony, a book of Raymond Hamrick’s songs published a couple of years before he died last year at the age of 99.

    I’ve sung from The Georgian Harmony at Camp DoReMi, an annual gathering of seven-note singers (New Harp of Columbia and Christian Harmony) held every year at Wildacres in the western North Carolina Mountains. Raymond Hamrick writes in the style of many of the older shape note composers, music that in general is easy to sing.

    The treble is printed pitched so high to avoid ledger lines in the alto – you’d pitch it at least a third lower than the B-flat it’s printed in. (I too am a male treble.)

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