Folk Hymnody

Folk Hymnody

25 April 2014
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Following a movement which started with the Protestant Reformation, there appeared in America a new repertoire of hymns based on folk tunes in the late 18th century. With their pulsating rhythms and emotive choruses, these hymns were accessible to anyone with or without an education in music. Instead of traditional staff notation, the people were taught melodies using a simpler system called “shape notes”, which makes it a lot easier to read music by associating a series of shapes with different pitches. It allowed the wide transmission of these songs across the American East, where they were sung by one and all in a powerful, fervent harmony, most famously the community singing tradition from the Sacred Harp tune book. At home, these sacred songs are sometimes accompanied by traditional instruments like banjo and fiddle.