Numerology

On Facebook this morning, from Lisa Cohen in Chicago, this query (lightly edited):

Shapenote friends, am I the only weirdo who does this? When I see a bus with a number from a new to me route, I try to see if I can recall the corresponding tune in the Denson book. This confession brought to you by my pride in recalling that 49B is “Mear” without needing to look it up.

I replied:

In my current life, I don’t see many buses. But dates, dates do it for me. Yesterday (7/2) was Bellevue (72b), today (7/3) is Cusseta (73t) and Arlington (73b). D-Day (6/6) is the wonderful Jordan (First) (66). In the reverse direction, St. Thomas (34b), the standard first warm-up song in Palo Alto, is my grand-daughter Opal’s birthday (3/4, March 4th).

I will explain some of the inside-shapenote stuff.

Background. There’s a Page on this blog with postings about shapenote singing in the Sacred Harp tradition, including these two introductory postings:

from 9/23/10, “Shapenote singing: some basics”

— also from 9/23/10, “Notes on shapenote singing”

Four-part a cappella sacred music in an American folk tradition. The groups I am in sing primarily from the current (1991) revision of the Denson Sacred Harp book (there’s also a Cooper Sacred Harp, and a Social Harp and a New Harp of Columbia and An American Christmas Harp and a Christian Harmony and …)

Songs are identified by three things: their page number (with t for top or b for bottom added if necessary), the tune name, and the first line of the text (So: 49b, Mear, “Will God forever cast us off?”). As with hymns in general, the same text can be set to any number of tunes, and the same tune can be used for any number of texts.

My answer to Lisa continued:

This is the sort of [somewhat numerically obsessive] thinking that gave us March 14th (3/14) as Pi Day. (Oh yes, 314 is Cleburne, one of the “All hail the pow’r of Jesus’ name” songs in the Denson SH).

My mentioning Cleburne caused Lisa to note that 485 — not, alas, readable as a date — is one of her favorites. I offered background for non-SH-savvy readers:

Note for most of the world: 485 is (Ted Johnson’s) New Agatite, another of the “All hail…” settings. (Coronation 63 is the usual setting, but 6/3 is nothing special on my calendar.)

And then Lisa supplied this YouTube clip of her leading New Agatite in Chicago (with Ted as one of the singers):

(#1) The text is an all-out praise song, with angels and diadems. Ted’s setting is driving and passionate, coming as close as Sacred Harp songs get to outright ecstatic. (It often takes me into an altered state of consciousness, what some of my more religiously oriented friends identify as a state of grace).

Perronet’s 1779 text has been set to an enormous number of tunes, four of them in the Denson SH; chronologically, they cover the time from the late 18th century to the late 20th. Music from the Denson book below.

(Note: the four staffs are for, from top to bottom, the treble, alto, tenor, and bass lines. The (main) melody is in the tenor line; high harmony or a counter-melody in the treble line, chord-filling harmony in the alto, and (surprise!) bass notes in the bass. The tenor and treble lines can be sung by both women and men (tenor is a default-men’s line, but Lisa is a tenor; and treble is a default-women’s line, but I am a treble).)

1 Coronation 63 Oliver Holden tune from 1793: a tune in most conventional hymn books (my Lutheran and Episcopal hymnals have both Coronation and another tune, Miles Lane, not in the SH)

2 Green Street 198 J.J. Husband tune from 1809, wonderfully twiddly


3 Cleburne 314 S.M. Denson tune from 1908, decidedly “Southern” harmony (in the major pentatonic scale on G: GAB DE)

4 New Agatite 485 Ted Johnson tune from 1990

One Response to “Numerology”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    Do not despair, Lisa Cohen. 485 can be yours, in US highway route numbers: From Wikipedia:

    Interstate 485 (I-485) is an Interstate Highway loop encircling Charlotte, North Carolina. Completion of the last segment of the highway occurred on June 5, 2015.

    And yes, Jordan (First), SH66 is Route 66!

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