A musical journey to NW MA

Opal Armstrong Zwicky, my grand-daughter, is now well into her freshman year at Northfield Mount Hermon school, off in the wilds of northwestern Massachusetts, a place that (except for the fact that American English is the local language) is significantly different from where she grew up, here in the SF Bay Area, in a school that’s significantly different from the ones she went to up to this point. NMH from the air:


That’s the Connecticut River in the background. It all looks so New England villagey. (Here in northern California, we have plenty of New England-derived domestic architecture, along with lots of Spanish Mission-style stuff, but we don’t have anything that looks like this. We do have deciduous trees that turn color in the fall, but we also have palm trees, redwoods, and live oaks, all over the place).

On to maps and to the hymn tune Northfield (155 in the 1991 Sacred Harp), one of many shapenote tunes named for places in Massachusetts (and close by).

New England in a nutshell. A moderately large-scale map, in which the pointer marks Northfield:


Across the top of the map, from left to right: (upstate) New York, Vermont, New Hampshire. Going south from NH, you get to Massachusetts (the Boston area is on the right) and then Connecticut. And at the botton, left to right: New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island (that’s Providence lurking in the lower right corner). That’s six states, in a space comparable in size to the Bay Area.

Somewhat closer up:


The pink area is Northfield. From Wikipedia:

Northfield is a town in Franklin County, Massachusetts, United States. Northfield was first settled [by Europeans] in 1673. The population was 3,032 at the 2010 census. It is part of the Springfield, Massachusetts Metropolitan Statistical Area. The Connecticut River runs through the town, dividing West Northfield from East Northfield and the village of Northfield, where the town hall is located.

… Northfield is located at the junction of the Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont state borders along the Connecticut River. The town center is located 12 miles (19 km) northeast of Greenfield, 44 miles (71 km) north of Springfield, 52 miles (84 km) northwest of Worcester and 84 miles (135 km) west-northwest of Boston.

The landscape of hymn tunes. There are hymn tunes named Greenfield, Springfield, Worcester, and Boston, as well as Northfield. Also Deerfield, Northampton, Amherst, and Lenox. And in the Boston area, tunes named after Charlestown, Watertown, and Jamaica Plain — all of those written by the same man who wrote Boston and Amherst, the late 18th century composer William Billings.

Start from Northfield. That’s:

Northfield 155 (in the 1991 Denson revision of the Sacred Harp) by Jeremiah Ingalls; text (by Isaac Watts) “How long, dear Savior, O how long”

Discussed in my 11/29/11 posting “Rudolph in Northfield”.


Also from the 1991 SH:

(#5) Worcester 195 by Abraham Wood; text (by Isaac Watts) “How beauteous are their feet”

(#6) Green Fields (sometimes called Greenfield) 127; tune not attributed; text (by John Newton) “How tedious and tasteless the hours”

(#7) Lenox 40 by Lewis Edson; text (by Charles Wesley) “Blow ye the trumpet, blow”

On to William Billings: Amherst (a roundnote setting with standard SATB voicing), Greenfield (a roundnote setting, but with shapenote voicing, with the melody line in the tenor), and Boston (from Karen E. Willard’s 1994 Sacred Harp hymnbook An American Christmas Harp, hereafter ACH).

(#8) Amherst by William Billings; to various texts, incl. “Praise ye, praise ye the Lord” (Trinity Hymnal), above; also “Ye boundless realms of joy” (Common Praise) and “Lord of the worlds above” (Isaac Watts, in Southern Harmony)

(#9) Greenfield in The American Vocalist (1849), p.130; text “God is our refuge in distress”

(#10) Boston by William Billings (The Singing Master’s Assistant, 1778); text (by Billings) “Methinks I see an heavenly host”; in ACH #28

Other Billings songs in ACH with Boston connections:

Charlston (i.e. Charlestown); text (traditional) “Awake awake ye mortals all”; ACH #25

Water Town (i.e. Watertown), from The New England Psalm Singer, 1770; text (by Billings) “As shepherds in Jewry were guarding their sheep”; ACH #26

Jamaica (i.e. Jamaica Plain), from Music in Miniature, 1779; text (traditional) “Arise, arise, ye mortals all”; ACH #34

Then, four more hymn tunes from western Massachusetts not illustrated here:

Deerfield (1873) by David Haas; texts “The stars declare His glory”, “In the soft season of thy youth”

Springfield by Henry J. Gauntlett (1805-1876); text “Here, Lord, we offer Thee all that is fairest”

Northampton by Charles John King (1859-1934); text “Songs of praise the angels sang”

Williamstown by Bartholomew Brown (1772-1854); text “Immortal Babe, who this dear day”; ACH #55

And finally, five shapenote songs with names referring to places on the New England coast (outside of Boston):

Hull (MA), ACH #42, “We celebrate the praise today”

Salem (MA), ACH #102, “In heav’n the rapt’rous song began”

Milford (CT), SH #273 and ACH #10, “If angels sung a Savior’s birth”

Mount Desert (ME), SH #474, “Unshaken as the sacred hill”

Portland (ME), SH #556, “Sweet is the day of sacred rest”

No doubt there are more New England places in those songbooks.

One Response to “A musical journey to NW MA”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    I led Northfield this afternoon at the New Harp of Columbia singing we do every year at Dolly Parton’s theme park Dollywood up in Tennessee’s Sevier Co. east of Knoxville. I lead Northfield sort of like a martial arts kata.

    So that’s where Northfield is!

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