Memorial song: Fellowship 330b

Saturday was the annual BASH (Bay Area Sacred Harp) all-day singing, this year at a Lutheran Church in Alameda (with an assembly hall that has a fine wooden ceiling, making for ringing acoustics). Part of the routine for “conventions” like this is a “memorial lesson”, during which someone lists singers who are sick or in distress and people who have died in the past year who were special in some way to a singer at the convention, and then we sing for them. The song for remembering the dead was 330b in the 1991 Denson Revision of The Sacred Harp, Fellowship, with a very familiar text (“Blest be the tie that binds”), excellent as a memorial song, but with a tune that was completely unfamiliar to me.

I realized too late that I should have added a name to the memorial list, but then used our regular Palo Alto singing yesterday to dedicate a song, and picked Fellowship because I had liked it so much at the BASH singing. As it turned out, another singer in the Palo Alto group picked it to lead, for reasons much like mine (but without the memorial function). So we all got to learn a “new” song (the words are 18th century, the tune mid-20th century).

The occasion for a memorial was the death (early this month of the older brother of an enthusiastic shapenote-singing friend of mine.

Fellowship (with the bonus of 330t, Horton):


(This is shapenote music, so the melody line for the tune is in the tenor part, the third line down. The top line is the treble part, providing high harmony; that’s the part I sing.)

Only three verses of text are given here, from the six in the 1782 original.

About that original, the brief story from Wikipedia:

John Fawcett (6 January 1739 – 25 July 1817) was a British-born Baptist theologian, pastor and hymn writer.

… Fawcett served for seven years [at Wainsgate Baptist Church in West Yorkshire], despite a small income and a growing family. It seemed only practical that he move to a church that paid a larger salary. When he received a call in 1772 to the large and influential Carter’s Lane Baptist Church in London he planned to accept the call. But at the last minute he changed his mind, and remained at Wainsgate where his salary was £25 a year. To commemorate this event, in 1782 he wrote the words to his “Blest Be the Tie that Binds” hymn, his most famous hymn by far.

The tune (named Dennis) that is now widely familiar for this text appears in Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran hymnals (at least), but not in the Episcopal hymnal I have. (In the terminology used in England, “Blest be the tie that binds” belongs to “chapel” rather than to “church”, where church refers to the Church of England.) Here it is, with all six verses:


(A standard four-part hymn setting, SATB, with the melody in the top, soprano, line.)

This is a major tune, sweet, even sentimental. The tune Fellowship, in contrast, is minor, raw, and mournful. Fellowship suits the last verse in the Sacred Harp especially well, since this verse shifts from the pleasures of friendship to the pain of parting, to meet again only in death.

[Added on the 25th, links to videos of the two versions of “Blest be the tie that binds”:

Sacred Harp 330b, Coker UMC, San Antonio TX, July 2011: viewable here

Bill and Gloria Gaither, gospel show version: viewable here]

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