Shouting songs

Continuing a series of recent postings on the music of joy, now specifically joyous praise to God, and even more specifically “shouting songs” from the Sacred Harp tunebook.

This is loud, passionate praise, rooted in the evangelical camp meetings of early 19th-century America (and England and Scotland before that), capable of seizing your body and sliding you towards ecstatic engagement with the message and the music. Somewhat tamed by being captured on the pages of a hymnbook rather than being created live in the fervor of a camp meeting, but still standing out as something special in the Sacred Harp.

Background: musical. The Sacred Harp is a collection of white gospel hymns (sung a cappella in four-part harmony) in shapenote notation (in four lines, with the melody in the third, tenor, line, and with the four shapes of the notes indicating their place in the musical scale), first published in 1844 and then in multiple editions by various hands. In what follows, SH refers to the 1991 Denson Revision that I sing from (a new Denson revision is in progress; the tradition is a live one, constantly renewed).

The singing tradition originated in late 18th-century New England, but eventually found its home in the early 19th century in primitive Methodist and Baptist churches in the rural South (especially Georgia and Alabama). (But in the second half of the 20th century spread back to New England, to the upper Midwest, to California, and then elsewhere, including to Europe.)

The harp in the title of the tunebook is a figurative one: the reference is to the human voice, the only musical instrument given by God (as the harpers say). The harps and trumpets are all figurative — but they recur as powerful imagery in the texts of the songs.

Background: musical and personal. From my 5/5/22 posting “Music of joy”, which is:

A sort of appendix to my 4/20 posting “Oh joy, oh rapture unforeseen!”, which was centrally about the expression of joy in music (and also a very many other things). As I noted there, joy is a big thing in my life; I seek out occasions where I can experience joy (like conversation, dancing, and, of course, sex) and things that display joy (as in joyful smiles)  … or embody joy (as in hymns of joy) or evoke joy (as in kissing) …  Since music is also very important to me — has been woven into my daily life since I was a child — some years back I started assembling (on my computer) albums of the music of joy.

With notes on some recent postings on the music of joy:

my 5/3/22 posting “A moment of joy on waking up”

my 5/4/22 posting: “Turkish earworms of joy”

my 5/5/22 posting “Go revel ye Cupids, the day is your own”

my 5/5/22 posting “Joyous praise”, on joyous praise to God; joyous celebration of martial victory; and joyous celebration of victory over death

But wait, there’s more, some of it very personal indeed. From my “Go revel” posting:

Ecstatic joy [or better: joyous ecstasy]. Singing [SH186] Sherburne is entirely capable of taking me to the altered state of consciousness I think of as a state of grace — I give myself over to, lose myself in, [joyous ecstasy]. Like sexual ecstasy, not something I can just call up, but something to wish for and seek out, since it’s such an extraordinary, exhilarating experience. Like trance states and religious ecstasy (neither of which I have experienced), becoming unhinged like this can be alarming to observers; I sometimes apologize to the other singers when I come back to everyday consciousness, to reassure them that I’m safe to be around.

On sexual ecstasy, there’s some extended discussion in my 2/3/22 posting “Happy catamites”, which I now rework here to make it clearer:

There are intense attentional states (much like flow or being in the zone in sports psychology) during sex (I’ll concentrate here on sex between men, where I have extensive evidence from both gay porn and personal experience), manifested in characteristic facial expressions: in particular, Man at Work — or Workman or Craftsman — which tends to look devoid of emotion beyond intense attention; and Ecstatic, in which the man is figuratively taken out of himself, given over to the experience of pleasure (his mouth hangs open, his eyes roll up in his head, and so on). In these highly focused states of attention, the experiencer is still peripherally attached to the world around him.

But you can go past highly focused attention and into an alternative state of consciousness, in which you are in fact, for some period of time, no longer connected to the world around you: in sexual ecstasy (which I have experienced several times in my life, most recently — unexpectedly, and thrillingly — a couple of weeks ago), in joyous ecstasy (see state of grace above); and in religious ecstasy and trance states.

In my 10/1/17 posting “Ecstasy”:

Following up on yesterday’s posting “The archangel Michael” (focusing on the nature of angels and archangels, especially those represented in art as wingèd men), on to angelic music in the Sacred Harp hymnbook: on

angels, wings of love, robes of light, flying away, being carried away, ecstasy. With trumpets.

As before, I’ll start with the Christian context — of art yesterday, of music today — and move to sexual, in particular gay, interpretations of these works, finding in them homoerotic elements that were surely never intended. This move is straightforwardly sacrilegious, and therefore offensive to many

… The connection is the ambiguity of the word ecstasy, an ambiguity that is rooted in a significant similarity between religious ecstasy and sexual ecstasy: being transported or carried away, in mind and body, by an experience.

These examples don’t distinguish between an ecstatic attentional state and something more profound, but the imagery of being transported or carried away applies to talk about either. The SH examples discussed in this posting:

SH497 Natick, SH285t Arnold, SH85 The Morning Trumpet, SH120 Chambers, SH106 Ecstasy (“Oh, had I wings, I would fly away and be at rest”)

Then, for a comparison between erotic and religious ecstasy (Saint Teresa of Avila!), see the section on the topic in my 5/24/21 posting “The Ecstasy of St. Atlas”.

Background: religious and cultural. From The American Yawp website, section 10 on “Religion and Reform”:

(#1) [illustration from American Yawp:] “Camp Meeting of the Methodists in N. America” (1819), Library of Congress

In the early nineteenth century, a succession of religious revivals collectively known as the Second Great Awakening remade the nation’s religious landscape. Revivalist preachers traveled on horseback, sharing the message of spiritual and moral renewal to as many as possible. Residents of urban centers, rural farmlands, and frontier territories alike flocked to religious revivals and camp meetings, where intense physical and emotional enthusiasm accompanied evangelical conversion.

The Second Great Awakening emerged in response to powerful intellectual and social currents. Camp meetings captured the democratizing spirit of the American Revolution, but revivals also provided a unifying moral order and new sense of spiritual community for Americans struggling with the great changes of the day. The market revolution, western expansion, and European immigration all challenged traditional bonds of authority, and evangelicalism promised equal measures of excitement and order. Revivals spread like wildfire throughout the United States, swelling church membership, spawning new Christian denominations, and inspiring social reform.

On camp meetings and the music that sprung from them, from Wikipedia:

The camp meeting is a form of Protestant Christian religious service originating in England and Scotland as an evangelical event in association with the communion season.

… Originally camp meetings were held in frontier areas, where people without regular preachers would travel on occasion from a large region to a particular site to camp, pray, sing hymns, and listen to itinerant preachers at the tabernacle. Camp meetings offered community, often singing and other music, sometimes dancing, and diversion from work. The practice was a major component of the Second Great Awakening, an evangelical movement promoted by Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and other preachers in the early 19th century. Certain denominations took the lead in different geographic areas.

As with brush arbor revivals and tent revivals, camp meetings today are often held annually at campgrounds owned by a Christian denomination.

… The camp meeting tradition fostered a tradition of music and hymn singing with strong oral, improvisatory, and spontaneous elements.

Hymns were taught and learned by rote, and a spontaneous and improvisatory element was prized. Both tunes and words were created, changed, and adapted in true folk music fashion.

… Many of these songs were republished in shape note songbooks such as A Supplement to the Kentucky Harmony (1820), the Sacred Harp (1844), and dozens of other publications; they can typically be distinguished by the reuse and re-arrangement of certain lines of lyrics from other songs, re-set to a new melody and sometimes containing new lyrics. Many of these camp songs are also set in a “call and response” format, typically, every line of lyric is followed by the words “Glory Hallelujah!” (although this varies, and other phrases or combinations can be used as well), which allows for easy audience participation in their original format, as the audience can call back the response even if they don’t know the lyrics of the song itself. For example, [the 1st verse and chorus from SH277 Antioch, a song with a tune I’ll refer to as Antioch-FCW by F. C. Wood (1850) and a text by Samuel Medley (1775)]:

I know that my Redeemer lives, Glory, Hallelujah!
What comfort this sweet sentence gives, Glory Hallelujah!
Shout on, pray on, we’re gaining ground, Glory Hallelujah!
The dead’s alive and the lost is found, Glory Hallelujah!

(The awkward reference to the tune Antioch-FCW is necessitated by the existence of an entirely different tune also named Antioch: what I’ll call Antioch-LM, a 1839 tune by Lowell Mason, customarily used for the song “Joy to the World”, with a 1719 text by Isaac Watts (though this text has been set to other tunes). See the discussion in my 12/13/11 posting “Text+Tune”.)

One further digression, and then I’ll get down to the SH shouting songs, starting with Antioch-FCW. This has to do with a parallel but distinct tradition of shouting songs, in black gospel music and more generally in the music of pentecostals (derided since the 19th century as holy rollers). From Wikipedia:

A shout (or praise break) is a kind of fast-paced Black gospel music accompanied by ecstatic dancing (and sometimes actual shouting). It is sometimes associated with “getting happy”. It is a form of worship/praise most often seen in the Black Church and in Pentecostal churches of any ethnic makeup

SH shouting songs.

— SH277 Antioch. The music:

(#2) You don’t get the vividness of “fiends of hell” very often in the SH

Though SH music is customarily sung at top volume (and a constant tempo with very heavy accents) all the way through, this song has two rare fortissimo markings in the chorus — SHOUT. It. OUT.

Then, moving through the SH, from #59 through #333…

— SH59 Holy Manna is one of my favorites. It’s pentatonic; it’s a shouting song, with a great thumping beat. In my 11/2/14 posting “Sacred Harp by Cantus” there’s a discussion of the song, and the music is reproduced in my 5/5/21 posting “Musical numerology: two days in May”.

— SH79 The Old Ship of Zion. A 19th-century camp-meeting shouting song. My 8/29/19 posting “79” reproduces the music.

— SH80t Shouting Song. Right there in the name of the tune. The chorus:

Shout, O glory! Sing glory, hallelujah!
I’m going where pleasure never dies.

Here’s the music (and you get Service of the Lord for free):

(#3) Note that the tune was in the original 1844 Sacred Harp — present at the founding

— SH105 Jewett. The John Newton text (of 1779) for “Amazing Grace” was set to many different tunes (beside the now-traditional New Britain). Even the 1991 SH has two different settings: SH45t New Britain and the alternative SH105 Jewett, which breaks out into a shouting song in the chorus (“Shout, shout for glory”). My 12/12/11 posting “Black keys” reproduces the music.

— SH146 Hallelujah. My 8/16/11 posting “Ilse Lehiste Memorial Symposium” reproduces the music, with discussion of the song in my 8/30/11 posting “Hallelujah”.

— SH333 Family Circle is in a straightforward (heptatonic) major key, and breaks out into a shouting-song chorus (“Shout and sing, Oh my sister!”). My 12/23/11 posting “Come thou fount” reproduces the music.


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