Fa SolShapenote SingingMi La

On Jordan's stormy banks I stand and cast a wishful eye,

To Canaan's fair and happy land where my possessions lie.

Oh the transporting rapturous scene that rises to my sight.

Sweet fields arrayed in living green and rivers of delight.

These are words from an American hymn of 1787. It has particular importance to me this year as it represents a new interest in early American music, as well as a new appreciation for the meaning of worship. I have recently joined a gathering of local singers who sing "shapenote" music (see related links below). I find this music refreshing, almost chant-like and deeply spiritual. It is a very different experience from both the pop-rock praise song culture, and the rich but often distant and intellectualized classical tradition.

Eugene Sacred Harp Singers 1998

Photo by Fran Ross

[partial score of CLAMANDA from 1859 Sacred Harp]

Sometimes I drive to Corvallis, Oregon, where I teach at Oregon State University. The country road I take follows the Willamette River, through some of the most beautiful farmland in the State. Listening to shapenote music on the car stereo and driving through rich, green farmland along the Willamette River at sunset is probably the closest that anyone can come to an earthly vision of "Caanan's land."

Sacred Harp Singing | Isaac Watts on the Web | Sound Clip: Northfield

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