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The Sacred Harp: A Tradition and Its Music (Brown Thrasher Books) Paperback – December 7, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Never again should we allow to stand uncorrected the statement that jazz is the only truly indigenous American music.”--Chattanooga Times


"Cobb presents a thoroughly researched 'inside' view of the performance practice and cultural context of Sacred Harp folk. The media that severed Americans from oral tradition and developed a national culture at the expense of indigenous local practice has induced a rootless and nostalgia-seeking generation to return 'home' to warm themselves in the glow of traditional community singing.”--American Music


"This volume studies a southern musical tradition less well known than jazz but equally important, and emphasizes that [Sacred Harp] represents a social experience as well as a musical one for its participants."--Alabama Review


"To Buell Cobb and the University of Georgia Press goes the gratitude of fasola singers throughout the nation for their printing of this significant volume.”--Southwestern Journal of Theology


"An ‘inside’ history of the movement . . . Cobb describes in detail the tradition as a whole, its music, its early history, the editions of The Sacred Harp, and the rise and decline of the big singing conventions."--American Historical Review


"[A] definitive history . . . Buell Cobb is an authority on Sacred Harp and an enthusiastic member of the singing community."--Southern Living


"Cobb's study deserves to be included on the growing bookshelf of American musical studies. We are, perhaps, past the time when we can give Sacred Harp singing the recognition it deserves. Cobb has adequately preserved much of the meaning of that music in the lives of those who sang it.”--Ethnomusicology


"Cobb's study aims at a comprehensive presentation of the contents, history, and use of The Sacred Harp. He slights no aspect of the book and in many areas makes contributions that are fresh and important. . . . One of the few authoritative studies of a southern vernacular institution."--Journal of Southern History
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Product Details

  • Series: Brown Thrasher Books
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press (December 7, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0820323713
  • ISBN-13: 978-0820323718
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #944,085 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Kathryn Atwood on November 28, 2008
Format: Paperback
In the early days of the 18th century, the quality of music in the churches of colonial New England was less than ideal. Congregational singing was accomplished through a method called "lining out," a process in which a song leader would sing a psalm, one line at a time, and the congregation would follow suit. Although the 9th edition of the Puritan Bay Psalm Book - published in 1698 - did include printed music (and was the first edition to do so), because many of the colonists weren't musically literate, there was a growing feeling among New England's musically inclined that something had to be done to improve the quality of congregational singing.

Enter "singing schools," "shape-note" singing and the subject of Buell E. Cobb Jr.'s book, "The Sacred Harp." "The Sacred Harp," the title of the last shape-note tune book to be published, was descended from a long line of shape-note books, the first of which were used in New England churches to remedy their aforementioned musical malaise. Published in 1844, "The Sacred Harp" culled many tunes from previously published shape-note books and also included some previously unknown tunes.

The concept of "shape notes" -- the method of assigning to each note of the scale a particular shape instead of giving it a specific position on the musical staff -- is well explained in Cobb's book. (Although many psalms and hymns are included in the book's appendix, there aren't any recorded in the shape-note manner.)

If "shape-note" singing (a term now interchangeable with "Sacred Harp" singing) were not vibrantly alive and well in certain areas of the American south, Buell E. Cobb's book might be simply the study of a quaint but forgotten slice of Americana.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By John on September 7, 2013
Format: Paperback
I love the subject matter and love singing from the Sacred Harp, but unfortunately Cobb's presentation is a bit dry and, at the end of the book, repetitive. The first two or three chapters are the most interesting; the end of the book talks about the “present” situation, but is outdated by several decades.

One golden paragraph is on pp. 60-61:

As Lowens has remarked, the “enormous popularity” of the singing school during the eighteenth century was “obviously due to more than a great love for music or for learning. Here was a rare chance for approved social intercourse between boys and girls. No doubt the youngsters welcomed the break in routine provided by the chance to learn to read music, but they also used the singing-school as a place where they could make new friends, exchange notes, flirt, walk home together after lessons, and, in general, enjoy themselves.” For illustration, Lowens cites a letter written by a Yale undergraduate in 1782: “At present I have no Inclination for anything, for I am almost sick of the World & were it not for the Hopes of going to a singing-meeting tonight & indulging myself in a little of some of the carnal Delights of the Flesh, such as kissing, squeezing &c. &c. I should willingly leave it now, before 10 o’clock & exchange it for a better.”
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book because I attended a state gathering one afternoon at the invitation of a friend and found the genre very special--haunting, enamoring and beautiful all at the same time. I wanted to see some example hymns in their special shape note music notation and this book contains plenty of them. You probably need to be into this unusual music already to fully appreciate all of the history but it seems pretty complete. My only wish is that the book was oblong like the music books are so the included hymns would not need to be reduced so much to fit within its pages.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is just what I was hoping for--a concise but thorough story on shape-note singing. I highly recommend it!
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By Revell Family on July 8, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Good History Book.
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