My 5/29 posting “The hairy and the smooth” is about (among other things) a story from the biblical book of Genesis, about two fraternal twins, Esau the hairy brother and Jacob the smooth one — Esau also known as Edom, Jacob as Israel. Edom is the Semitic version of the name, Latinized as Idumea / Idumaea. Both Edom and Idumea gave their names to the lands of their descendants. From Wikipedia as quoted in my 5/29 posting:

Edom and Idumea are two related but distinct terms which are both related to a historically-contiguous population but two separate, if adjacent, territories which were occupied by the Edomites / Idumeans in different periods of their history.

My 5/29 discussion then turned to the shapenote song Edom. It turns out that the Sacred Harp has not only Edom (SH200), but also Idumea (SH47b), both song names from the placenames.  Edom is joyous, but Idumea is something altogether different: by turns, powerful, moving, dark, mournful, literally apocalyptic, and shivery, a package that has has made it a great favorite of folk singers. Music from the Denson Sacred Harp (1991 revision):

(#1) SH47t Primrose and SH47b Idumea — both from the early flowering of shapenote music in the South in the early 9th century, both on salvation and resurrection, in Primrose (in A major) merely joyous; in Idumea (in A minor), triumphant, as part of the Apocalypse  — texts from two amazingly prolific writers of hymn texts, Isaac Watts in Primrose, Charles Wesley in Idumea

Wow. Listen to Idumea build from And am I born to die?  through The dreary regions of the dead  and What will become of me?  to break out in Waked by the trumpet sound … And see the flaming skies!

The trumpet is from 1 Corinthians (KJV) — for the trumpet shall sound:

52In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. … 54… then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 55O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

(In Handel’s Messiah: The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be saved.)

To listen: three singings using the setting above:

(#2) The Second Ireland Sacred Harp Convention, 2012 (the singers singing the shape-names first, then all four verses, repeating the chorus on the last verse)

(#3) As sung in the 2003 movie Cold Mountain, by singers from Liberty Baptist Church in Henagar AL (exactly as in the previous, but audio only)

(#4) Fieri Consort (four singers, one per part, doing the parts as in the Denson book), singing under Battersea Rail Bridge, as part of their “exploration of hidden acoustics around London”: verse 1 by the tenor solo, then verses 3 and 4, no repeat

Then there are a great many performances by folksingers and by choral groups using other arrangements, often with instrumentation. Just one example:

(#5) Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn “And Am I Born to Die” (tenor line plus banjo)

The album cover:


The composers. First, from Wikipedia, for Idumea, with more about the text and tune:

Ananias Davisson (February 2, 1780 – October 21, 1857) was a [Virginian] singing school teacher, printer and compiler of shape note tunebooks. He is best known for his 1816 compilation Kentucky Harmony, which is the first Southern shape-note tunebook.

… In 1804 he bought land in Rockingham County, supplementing his income as a farmer by conducting singing classes in the Shenandoah Valley. He established a printing shop in Harrisonburg in 1816, and in that year published the Kentucky Harmony, the first Southern shape note tunebook. As a printer, he cultivated a network of singing school teachers and composers in Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky who sold his tunebooks and sent him their own compositions.

… the music advocated in New England and the Midwest by the “Better Music Boys” (e.g. Lowell Mason, Thomas Hastings, and others) sought to emulate European styles, while denigrating William Billings and other composers of the First New England School. The 1816 Kentucky Harmony has no European compositions, retains the best of the New England fuging tunes, makes extensive use of regional folk tunes, and has 60% of its songs in the minor key.

… Davisson’s iconic tune [Idumea] first appeared in the Kentucky Harmony in 1816, based on a folk song, with treble and bass voices composed by Davisson, as a setting for Isaac Watts’s “My God, my life, my love” (93 in Horae Lyricae: Poems, Chiefly of the Lyric Kind, 1707). [This text appears in the Denson Sacred Harp in #147t, set to the tune Boylston, composed by Lowell Mason in 1832.] Following the convention of using a toponym for the tune name, he called it “Idumea” (the name of Biblical Edom during the Roman period), pronounced “Eye-DEW-mee-a” or “Eye-DEW-mee” by traditional singers.

… The first appearance of the tune with the present words (“And am I born to die?”; Charles Wesley 1763, Hymn 59) is in the Southern Harmony (1835) by William Walker, who omitted the alto. When he again published the song in Christian Harmony (1867), Walker composed a new alto part, the one that is used today.

And for Primrose, again from Wikipedia, but much more briefly:

Amzi Chapin (1768–19 February 1835) was an American cabinetmaker, singing-school teacher, shapenote proponent and composer.

… Chapin taught singing schools in Virginia and North Carolina, before moving to Kentucky and then Pennsylvania. … [His brother] Lucius Chapin was also a singing teacher, and the two were apparently among the first to teach sacred music west of the Allegheny Mountains.

Genuine frontier music, composed by craftsmen (a printer and a cabinetmaker) who were also singing-school instructors.



One Response to “Idumea”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Until now, my only association with the name Idumea was the recitative that introduces the famous tenor aria “Sound an Alarm” from Handel’s Judas Maccabeus:

    My arms! Against this Gorgias I shall go!
    The Idumean governor shall know
    How vain, how ineffective his design,
    While rage his leader, and Jehovah mine.

    For some reason it never occurred to me to wonder what or where Idumea was.

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