The amazing grace of song

A fascinating article at the American Library of Congress outlines how shape note singing helped to disseminate the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ throughout the land in the early 19th century

We sang with some abandon in the Sacred Harp/Shape Note tradition, the resonant chest voices arcing through the air, yesterday evening, though my joints were slightly aching after the bout of wood stacking. The SongWave Choir members are gearing up throughout this term, and then into the next, for a series of Christmas concerts, so ‘Beautiful Star, of Bethlehem’ was first up. We finished with the delightful ‘Carol of the Bells,’ which will be rendered in Ukrainian. That carol is based on the Ukrainian song Schedryk, composed in 1914 by Mykola Leontovych.

As one of the choir members mused during the break, ‘It’s best to be singing in the heart of the choir, where voices surround the singer and you feel the music from your heart.’ That’s as true during the singing as in the remembering, and the feeling elicits a strong sense that we want to participate at the last rehearsal of this half-term, or first term as it’s called in Scotland.

The joy was infectious, spreading from the choir’s cheerful leader, Kate Howard, and rippling out through the assembled singers.

We can’t wait to learn our parts by heart, along with the words (even the Ukrainian ones!) so that we can lose ourselves in the song.

2 responses to “The amazing grace of song”

  1. How true. We have 3 cd’s of shape note hymns from Appalachia. We use to listen to these on long trips. Sad bc cars no longer have CD players.


    1. Never mind about the portability of CDs, what are we going to do with the vinyl record albums from the late 60s and 70s? I set up a lovely turntable several years ago, played a couple of records with delight, and it’s languished in the cupboard ever since! I’ve only recently become reasonably au fait with streaming services, so there’s been a hiatus in my listening pleasure. On the other hand, there’s nothing to beat the joy of singing together, and in a choir you don’t need a backing track of any description. The SongWave choir leader gets her note from a single recorder, and everything else is a cappella, not even a piano graces the auditorium. So it’s pretty much vocal, vocal or vocal, really.

      But here’s a thought: why don’t you dig out those shape note CDs, remind yourself of the songs you loved by playing them through a stationary player, and then carry that song in your head into the car for bringing out on your next journey? You could get the lyrics printed out so anyone accompanying you could prompt the next line, which has an eerie kind of verisimilitude to the old tradition of ‘lining’ out a hymn!



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