Karen Willard:

"Very few of the songs in The Sacred Harp are sung exactly as they are printed therein, but for the minor songs and a few others, the variance between the way the songs are printed and the way they are sung is significant. Observers have attempted to describe these differences by saying that minor songs (aeolian and harmonic) are sung as if they were dorian, and all the music is sung as if it were printed without accidentals. This hasn't proved to be entirely helpful (or accurate) but it at least serves as an alert as one goes through the book. For the songs one should be wary of, two versions have been provided: exactly as printed in the book (for comparison purposes), and a "traditional" version (this latter term is simply a label, not a claim to accuracy for everywhere, everywhen and everybody). The two versions will have slightly different notes in some of the parts. (The ways in which Sacred Harp singers alter tempos and note durations are not tackled.) The "traditional" version is a rough attempt to reproduce what one will hear at an actual singing, but it is a very rough attempt. Not only does the practice of Sacred Harp singers vary somewhat across the South in the degree to which these notes are altered, but also from song to song. When using these music files, you are therefore urged to learn your part from the "traditional" version but then when in an actual singing, listen carefully to what the traditional singer next to you is doing on those notes and modify your own way of singing accordingly. One of the delights of attending different traditional singings in the South, in fact, is the variety to be found in the way these songs are sung. "

Warren Steel, PhD., Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of Mississippi:

"Many of the melodies in the Sacred Harp are also found in ballads, dance tunes, and other songs in the oral tradition of the United States and the British Isles; many other melodies resemble folk tunes in their melodic contour, scales, and phrase structure. These songs are sometimes called "folk hymns," even when the hymn texts are by Watts or other known poets.

Traditional singers use the printed book in learning songs, and refer to it while singing, but the notes in the book are not interpreted literally, but according to a performance practice and style that is learned through oral tradition and varies among different regions and families."
( )

THE SACRED HARP, 1991 Revision, "Rudiments of Music" pages 18-19 paragraph 15, and page 20 paragraph 4 (in chapter iv):

"Traditionally, minor music is sung in the Dorian mode, with the sixth degree a half step higher than the natural minor notation indicates... It is traditional to sing "Fa" at the sixth degree, even though the pitch actually corresponds to "Fi"... [For example in a key signature of E minor, a ] C# is understood but not printed in Sacred Harp notation. Round-note readers can obtain the proper key signature for the dorian mode by dropping the last flat or adding another sharp to the natural minor key signature."

Ananias Davisson, in his 5th edition (1826) preface to THE KENTUCKY HARMONY:

"In this work the Author, in order to abbreviate its rudiments, has taken the liberty of dismissing seven characters, viz. the accidental flat, sharp, and Natural; the hold, the staccato, the direct, and the Counter, or C cleft. As it would be unjust, however trifling those characters are, to dismiss them without notice, we will briefly drop a few remarks, and pass them by. We shall first [this word illegible] the accidental flats and sharps; these characters, we are told, stand in direct opposition to each other, the one pulling up, and the other down; from this stiffnecked contrast we beg to be released, believing them to be of no other use, than to destroy the ease and freedom of pronunciation, and convert the beauties of nature into a kind of sonata, that is not only more unpleasant, but almost impossible to perform with accuracy. I say almost impossible, because, when acquiring our first principles of sound, we are taught to pronounce the semitones between me and faw, and law and faw, and no where else; and consequently when one of those characters steps in, we must either deviate from our first principles, or go back and form a new system of seven semitones to the octave, (such as has never yet been seen) and learn to sound a semitone between every note, or remain inadequate to the performance. But a third character is presented to us called a natural, (for my part I call it unnatural), this character we are told restores a note to its primitive sound; here we would undoubtedly need a scale of contradiction, or something else, that would learn the pupil to say one thing and mean another, or in other words, name one note, and sound another, for we are commanded not to change the name, but the sound. For my part I have thought it advisable where restorations were necessary, to make them myself rather than leave them to the scholar*; having learned from experience that when left to the latter, it remains undone. As there are four concords which can be advantageously used in composition; I think it better to remove a dissonant, and place it where it will harmonize, than to trouble the learner with a train of useless characters. I will venture to assert, that any person, who will undertake to teach a raw set of youngsters, that have no knowledge of the degrees of sound, will find it sufficiently difficult, to get the unavoidable semitones performed with accuracy, without being pestered with sinks, and raises and primitive restorations. Now I do not wish to be understood, to entirely curtail the authority of the natural; far from it, I use it as a restorative in certain pieces where the key is transposed, and requires to be restored to its natural standing; as in the Prodigal Son; but in no other case. .... These are my reasons for turning six characters out of office, believing them to have no other tendency, than to swell the rudiments and perplex the learner with a crowd of mysteries which are in my opinion useless. I will farther add, in connection with this argument, that the gentleman from whom I received my instruction, had been in the constant habit of teaching for fifteen years; and was pronounced a teacher of first eminence; and by that gentleman to the best of my recollection, I never was stopt by the interposition of an accidental flat, sharp, or natural, either to sink half a tone, raise half a tone, or make any primitive restoration..."
{* Mr. Davisson here uses "scholar" in the sense of "student".}

George Pullen Jackson:


"One of the other songs where the perfect 6th of the dorian mode is sung though not printed." Another Sheaf of White Spirituals, University of Florida Press, 1953, page 136


"The scotch snaps and the raised 6ths are my recording of how the Sacred Harp folk actually sing those passages today." Another Sheaf of White Spirituals, University of Florida Press, 1953, pages 168-169


"I have left the mode as aeolian though suggesting the C sharps--which the Sacred Harp folk always sing--thus indicating my conviction that its proper mode is dorian." Another Sheaf of White Spirituals, University of Florida Press, 1953, page 172


"I have inserted the raised 6ths, the C#s, following the way they were sung at the convention of the United Sacred Harp Singing Assoc., Atlanta, Sept. 1936." Down East Spirituals and Others, J.J. Augustin, New York, New York, 1943, page 277

As for ignoring printed accidentals, Jackson wrote in 1952 about #210 LENA:

"The Sacred Harp singers today intone the E#s [in the alto and the bass] as E naturals, and they persist in raising the Ds to D#s. This is the old story of folk resistance to the artificialities of the harmonic minor scale, even though it be editorially sponsored, and their persistence in singing modally--this time, as often, their preferred mode being dorian."

From "The Story of the Sacred Harp 1844-1944" published in 1944 by Vanderbilt University, written for the centennial of the first edition of The Sacred Harp. This pamphlet was included in the 1968 Broadman Press facsimile of the 3rd edition of The Sacred Harp and thus the page numbers of the quotes:

pg. xiv "I shall simply say, ... that a tune to be surely harmonic minor, must contain the seven tones of that scale, with lowered third and sixth and with the raised seventh in full cadences. The lowered third is often met with. But the sixth is almost always omitted from otherwise minor-sounding tunes (if not from the other harmonic parts). And the seventh is nearly always sung as a lowered or natural tone, even though it may not be printed as such."

"There is still another type of minor-sounding scale or mode met with here and there in the Sacred Harp. It is that scale which has the lowered third and seventh and the perfect sixth. This is what was called in olden time the "dorian mode." In its lower tones it sounds minor (due to the lowered third) and in its upper reaches it sounds major (due to its perfect sixth). It has been blurred in some instances in the notation because it was confused, by those who first recorded those old unwritten dorian tunes, with what they took to be "minor." But the mode comes out clearly in such beautiful tunes as WONDROUS LOVE where the printed d-flat is sung regularly as d-natural. Other songs were the perfect sixth of the dorian mode is sung though not printed are on pages 38, 74, 126, 142, 183, 211, 300, 302, 392, and 447. As far as I have been able to find, the only tune in the Sacred Harp which is not only sung in correct dorian but is printed that way, too, is in the 1911 James edition, from the earlier wrong f-natural to an f-sharp by George B. Daniel."

{recall that GP Jackson was referring to the 1936 edition of the Sacred Harp when he wrote the above page numbers}

John Garst, PhD., author of the Rudiments section of the 1991 Revision of THE SACRED HARP:

"What has generally happened is that traditional singers have learned to sing their minor scale with a raised sixth while reading notation in which it is not raised. It was related on this mailing list (the Fasola discussion list-ts) a few years ago that Yankee members of a singing-school class being taught by Terry Wootten (Sand Mountain area of Alabama) asked him about the raised sixth. As I recall, he either denied raising it or said that he didn't know anything about it. Then they asked him to sing the minor scale, which he did - *with* a raised sixth! (I think this story comes from Karen Willard.)

There is an instructive incident involving JORDAN'S SHORE, which was removed from The Sacred Harp in the 1991 McGraw edition. One of the members of the music committee for an earlier edition had become acutely aware that everybody raised the sixth, which falls on a high, heavily accented note. He lobbied for the placement of an accidental sharp there, which was done - I believe this was in the 1936 edition. Nothing changed about the way the song was sung, but in a later edition, prior to 1991, the sharp was removed because it had come to be believed that The Sacred Harp should not contain accidentals.

I think the removal of the sharp probably came about as follows, but I couldn't prove it. The traditional singers who were in charge of the revision had been influenced by some musicologist who had pointed out the general absence of accidentals in The Sacred Harp. They had then taken this pronouncement to heart and made a principle of it - The Sacred Harp should not contain accidentals."

"When I was working on the Rudiments for the 1991 edition, I brought this issue before the music committee. I wanted it mentioned in the Rudiments in order that newcomers who were unable to attend southern singings not be misled by The notation. The question arose, "Is the sixth *always* raised?" Richard DeLong and Hugh McGraw took the position that it is, and this is consistent with Terry Wootten's alleged singing of the minor scale. That's how the 1991 Rudiments came to imply that it is always raised in tradition. (That doesn't settle *reality*, of course.)

The 1991 Rudiments are the first to address this issue in The Sacred Harp. However, you can find commentary or notation in books from the mid-19th century that indicate that the practice has been around for a long time, even in Yankee land.

Musicologists are very familiar with this sort of thing, that is, with the performance deviating systematically from the notation. They call it "musica ficta" ("musical fiction," I suppose)."

"I don't think that those who believe that printed scores are the *real* music are very familiar with music. Notation is *always* inadequate, even in the realms of classical music and opera. I suppose that a machine could manufacture sounds that could be said to correspond exactly to the score, but no noteworthy human performer attempts or wants to do that. Every performance of any distinction deviates from the score in myriads of ways. If this were not true, there would be no point in having more than one performer, since all would sound exactly alike and none would be "better" than another.

My point, Number 1, is:
The performance is the *real* music - the score is not, *ever*. This is certainly true of Sacred Harp singing, which I view as an *oral* (actually aural, I suppose) tradition that is supported, not dictated, by a printed book.

Point Number 2 is quoted from a nice on-line textbook of music. See

"One of the antecedents of the new style, which emerged around the beginning of the sixteenth century, was the ancient practice of musica ficta, the vocal application of accidentals in melodic lines where none were indicated."

"Ancient" already in the 16th century! Need I point out that this is exactly what SH singers do in raising minor sixths. Even so, I don't think that the motivation behind this is exactly what is described in the Oregon textbook. The musica ficta described there reflect natural tendences to narrow the ultimate intervals in important cadences, the feeling being that an upward half-step move provides more emphasis than an upward whole-step move. (My opinion is just the opposite. Perhaps that's because I'm been so conditioned, through hearing conventional harmony all my life, to expect half steps. The novelty of whole steps might be what impresses me. Who knows?) At SH singings I think I've heard both minor and raised sevenths at cadences. This may really be a less settled issue than that of raised sixths! Anyhow, using the scale of the Dorian mode does not provide the kind of "leading tone" of which the author of the Oregon text speaks. I think you have to look elsewhere to explain the popularity of Dorian in Sacred Harp singing. (Warren has told me that this kind of use of the term "Dorian" is far from its original meaning. I have no reason to doubt him. I think, however sloppy it might be, that it has come into general use and is recognized even in modern authoritative music dictionaries. It seems to conform also to the usage in the Oregon textbook.)

Point Number 3:
The Dorian mode has long been a favorite of British, and therefore American, traditional singers of folk songs and ballads.

I can't quote chapter and verse on this, but I think Sharp probably makes relevant remarks to this effect somewhere.

I don't know how the Dorian came to be favored over Aeolian mode among bearers of the oral song and ballad tradition, but it seems to me that we must have imported Dorian folk tunes into The Sacred Harp. The original arrangers of these tunes put them into two-, three-, or four-part settings and followed what they perceived as a rule - every tune is major (Ionian) or minor (Aeolian). Since the Dorian tunes were minor they were noted as Aeolian. This didn't bother anyone because everyone knew how they really went.
Now, 150 to 200 years later, not all people *do* know how the tunes really go, so they take the scores literally. I have no problem with this. If these folks sing to themselves, they can do it however they want and no one will care. If they come to traditional southern singings, they will soon learn how the tunes really go. It all works out."

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