Musical numerology: two days in May

5/4 (yesterday; yes, I’m late, but I was without internet access for about six hours and couldn’t finish assembling the materials for this posting); and 5/9 (Ann Daingerfield (Zwicky)’s birthday, and, this year, Mother’s Day). About the occasions, but also about the dates as 54 Day and 59 Day — in the pages of the Sacred Harp.

Two 5/4 occasions. One silly — Star Wars Day (“May the Fourth be with you”) — and one solemn — Kent State Day (“Four dead in Ohio”). On the first, see my 5/4/17 posting “Star Wars Day”; on the second (which still ignites rage and grief in me, 51 years later), see the second section of my 5/5/17 posting “Four days in May”.

Sacred Harp numerology. There’s general background on shapenote singing (of Christian sacred music in an American folk tradition of 4-part a cappella singing) in the early entries in a Page on this blog of postings about shapenote singing, especially using as source book the Sacred Harp (1991 Denson Revision). But the specific background for this posting comes in my 7/3/19 posting “Numerology”, about bus route numbers (highway route numbers can be used the same way) and dates viewed as numbers of SH songs — viewed this way by the same trick that gives us March 14th (3/14) as Pi Day (given that the numerical constant pi / π is approximately 3.14).

The song for May 4th. By a version of this scheme, 5/4 translates to the number 54, which we can then view as a SH page number, giving a particular hymn as the song of the day for May 4th: SH 54 The Blessed Lamb (which I recall having sung only a two or three occasions; each shapenote singing group has its own favorites, and The Blessed Lamb was not a favorite in any of the groups I’ve regularly sung with: Columbus OH, Palo Alto (mid-peninsula), and San Francisco).

The music as printed in the book:


The text, in more readable form:

See the happy faces waiting
On the banks beyond the stream;
Sweet responses still repeating
Jesus, Jesus is their theme.

See they whisper; Hark! they call me,
Sister spirit, come away;
Lo, I come, earth can’t contain me;
Hail, ye realms of endless day!

Hail the blessed Lamb,
Glory to His name.

#1 doesn’t give the sources of the text or tune, but others have provided this information:

poet: William Williams, (1717-1791) in Welsh; translated by William Griffiths, 1822; and Harrod’s Social and Camp-Meeting Songs, 1819

composer: The Sacred Harp, 1869

You can listen to a singing of SH54 here, from the 2018 Rhode Island All Day Singing. (Note: the singers make a first pass through a song using the names of the shapes for the notes of the scale, then launch into the actual text.)

The song for May 9th. 5/9 translates to page 59, and SH59 Holy Manna is one of my favorites. It’s pentatonic; it’s a “shouting song”; and it’s in some sense a food song, so appropriate for Ann Daingerfield’s birthday (she was an astounding chef and hostess).

There’s some discussion of SH59 in my 11/2/14 posting “Sacred Harp by Cantus”. The music:


The words for verse 5:


You can listen to a singing of SH59 here, from the 2012 Second Ireland Sacred Harp Convention.

Personal note. The last time I was able to sing was 3/8/20, in Palo Alto. Shortly thereafter I went into pandemic lockdown; and not long after that I had a severe respiratory infection, as a result of which I lost my ability to sing (and some days, to speak above a hoarse whisper).

Shapenote singing was one of my great pleasures; singing in close proximity with others is a fabulous experience, and shapenote singings are also social events with good friends (one of the very few open to me, even before the pandemic). Regular virtual singings have been arranged, some using some fancy software that eliminates the lag time of most meeting software, but of course nothing can come near to face-to-face singing. And in any case, even that has been lost to me, possibly forever.

I will probably never again be able to shout out Holy Manna with the altos in my right ear and the tenors in my left (and the basses a bit further away, across the hollow square we sing in). The most I can hope for is that enough singers get fully vaccinated so that the group can resume singings, and I can go as a listener. That would be something.

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