My thoughts on Blue Ridge Style

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New topic My thoughts on Blue Ridge Style

Post by D Wiley on Tue Dec 08, 2015 12:28 pm

What is it? Perhaps there are two ways to approach a definition; what is not, and what it is. It is my strong opinion that matters of “right and wrong” need not be a part of the discussion. Pointing out contrasts in style and emphasis need not be judgmental.

Some of us have an idea of what we think our singing needs to sound like. When we hear it, we can say “That’s it!” But, when we ask ourselves “What, exactly is ‘it’”, we perhaps struggle for precise definition. I am not convinced that a precise dictionary type definition is possible, needful or even helpful. Perhaps observation and anecdote can guide us to the understanding that we seek.

Laurie Kay Sommers wrote a very interesting essay. From the overview

This essay explores "Hoboken-style" Sacred Harp singing of the Okefenokee region of southeast Georgia and northeast Florida. It considers the history of this tradition, distinctive characteristics of this variant of Sacred Harp, and how "Hoboken-style" leaders have negotiated rapid change while maintaining core values of memory, legacy, and spiritual meaning. Sacred Harp singing in the Okefenokee dates to the mid-1800s, but, remarkably, local singers rarely sang with outsiders until the 1990s. Two important sound recordings from Florida Folk Festivals (1958 and 2000) serve as sonic benchmarks and as points of analytic departure for understanding the recent hybridization of Hoboken-style singing.:

Sharon Kellam told me of a conversation she had with Bill Lee (one of the preservers and promoters there I Hoboken.) He told her, in so many words, “We used to sing more like y’all do”. The essay examines the process by which the community adapted itself to a new day in order to attract new singers, while maintaining the integrity of core values.

A great deal of the essay deals with the spiritual aspect of the singing tradition. I will offer some thoughts on that. But, first, there’s something I heard last night that provoked a thought or two. I had spent the day processing the recording of the singing at Marshall, which was the inaugural singing from the just completed reprint of William Walker’s 1873 edition of “The Christian Harmony.” Upon my listening, many times I could say, “That’s IT!” (Other times, not so much. My opinion is that the difference is in who is leading.

I have heard it light heartedly said that the leader is there to get the class started and stopped together and keep it on time; and that the safest place is in the middle of the square, because “No one looks at the leader.” I will suggest that to restore the old style, leaders must take the lead and, in some way, impose upon the class by example of how the song needs to sound.

After I finished on the Marshall recording, I found a recording of a singing that our local group did as a live radio broadcast in 2012. I had to say to myself, “That’s not IT.” We wanted to perform well, so we had gotten a group of 14 singers together, had three practices and recorded them for more practice at home. We even decided on the proper pitch and blew a pipe for each song. We worked hard on tricky rhythms and made notes to remind us. And the performance went well. I had imposed my vision of what I thought it needed to sound like in order to, in my estimation, be pleasing to the host and imagined audience. It sounds “choral”.
Contrasting that with the All Day Singing, at Marshall, the radio group sounds like any run of the mill four part harmony a capella group (though I do think we were the first of even that in the 20 year history of that program).

Just a couple of weeks ago, we had opportunity to sing on the radio again. This time we had no practices – just showed up and sang. I was confident in the competence and confidence of the singers to just let it rip. My recording of that is not so good; I am awaiting a copy from the station to see if there is a difference.
Returning to “What it IS”, I suggest that the burden will be upon the leader every time he or she steps into the square. Certainly, we can have some defined characteristics of a technical nature, including, but not limited to, pitch, tempo, projection, confidence and vision. As a newcomer, I need all the help and input I can get.

Here is what David Lee said about ornamentation:

You add those extra notes on purpose, because it'd be mighty spare and dry without it. So you get a whole different tune out of it. . . . I think the page is restrictive . . . you can use that as a guide. The notes in that book is like a skeleton. When you have a complete skeleton you still don't have person, and when you got just them notes you still don't have a song. You got to flesh it out. . . And I think that's where that ornamentation is. We put that stuff in automatically and do it all the time.

I can understand that; but a part of me shies away from it. After all, they are not in the book (with a few exceptions). And it feels like it calls attention to the individual as opposed to the group. And I do not want quizzical looks from people who consider it odd or pretentious. But, I actually like to hear it sung that way. Perhaps singing more with singers who can do it right will sort it all out for me.

All the shape note traditions have Christianity as ethos.

Ethos (/ˈiːθɒs/ or US /ˈiːθoʊs/) is a Greek word meaning "character" that is used to describe the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community, nation, or ideology. The Greeks also used this word to refer to the power of music to influence its hearer's emotions, behaviors, and even morals

I read a lot of newspaper articles, produced as publicity vehicles. This is, of course, most welcome. But, there is almost always a mention that the singing welcomes all, regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof. And I have no problem with that. However, in my opinion, such disclaimers are out of place from the square while the singing is going on. I perceive it as an almost apology. Should not our conduct speak those sentiments in the way we interact with each other?
Of course, such is perfectly fine at a singing in conversation, if the subject is brought up.

So here’s maybe what the Blue Ridge style is not. It is not sundering from the Christian foundation which produced the books, inspired the Singing Masters, and comforted and encouraged generations of singers before us. We can continue to keep religion (and politics) out of the square and let the poetry speak for itself, without apology.
D Wiley
D Wiley

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Join date : 2013-03-22
Location : Johnson City, Tenn

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