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  The Shapenote Album/Tudor Choir
The Shapenote Album - Tudor Choir - Douglas Fullington


 
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Program and Notes
 
The Shapenote Album
The Tudor Choir, Doug Fullington, director
 
Using a high-energy, vibrato-less singing style, the Tudor Choir creates a choral sound that is both unusual, yet entirely appropriate for these early American hymns. Works from the Sacred Harp and similar sources.
 
Booklet contains full texts and commentary on each tune.

Montgomery
Windham
Sweet prospect
China
Soar away
The better land
Weeping Mary
White
Mortality
Eternal day
Heavenly union
Expression
Evening shade
Kedron
Love the Lord
Condescension
All is well
Africa
Traveling on
Happy land
New Jerusalem
Primrose
Hallelujah
Peace and joy
Schenectady
Program Notes

The music on this recording is taken from the repertoire of the 18th- and 19th-century American singing schools. What strikes listeners most forcefully the first time they hear this music is its distinctive sound, standing in sharp contrast to what is heard from a choir or congregation singing traditional church hymnody. Although it has been preserved and propagated in printed form, the harmonies—often based on 4ths and 5ths rather than 3rds—and even many of the tunes themselves owe much to rural American folk music. Also, the singing-school tunesmiths sought ways for the melody to crop up in all of the voices, or at least for each vocal part to have an interesting musical line, rather than to concentrate on harmonically supporting and reinforcing a melody given to sopranos. Furthermore, men’s and women’s voices normally doubled the tenor and treble arts.

Singing schools were begun (ca. 1720s) to improve congregational singing, and their task was simplified when shapenotes were invented in 1798. Each note was given a shape that told the singer what degree of the musical scale it represented (no more learning to decode key signatures). Only four shapes were used initially, for the solmization syllables FA, SOL, A, and MI (MI is the "leading tone"). The use of shapenotes was, and is, quite effective in enabling singers to quickly sight-read and master unfamiliar music.

Shapenote music continues to be sung today by singers using tune books such as The Sacred Harp, first published in the early 19th-century and still in print. When folks gather for a day of singing, as they do with great regularity especially in the summer, songs are always sung through first with the solmization syllables instead of the lyrics so as to set the vocal parts in the singers’ minds. This recording includes several examples of this practice. Whether sung with the surging beat and astringent vocal intonation of traditional singers, or given a softer interpretation, these songs retain the ability to move singers and listeners alike,

to send us soaring away above the sky to see our God above.

– KAREN E. WILLARD


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