The music of the Sacred Harp : it's history, composition, and performance



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Chapter I contains a general history of the southern hymn book. The Sacred Harp, with emphasis on three important editions: 1859, comprised mainly of three-part settings; 1911, with added alto parts; and 1971, which contains works by contemporary composers. A stylistic analysis in Chapter II documents a gradual shift in tonality away from fifth-based harmonies and melodies in the original edition toward more triadic writing in the 1911 and 1971 editions. Gradual changes in performance style in Chapter III reflect this evolution also. Older singers employ guttural and nasal singing techniques and take great liberties with the written music. Elaborate ornamentation and a gradual rise in pitch and an increase in tempo distinguish the older style. Younger singers employ pure vowels and do not decorate their parts. Their performance style bears a greater resemblance to that of professional or college choirs.