6. Recent Recordings by Performing Groups

Note: Lists of tunes presented on many of the recordings described below can be found in Berkley Moore's Shape Note Recordings Index.
Note: Recordings by polished professional ensembles may be listed in either this chapter or Chapter 7, depending (somewhat subjectively) on whether they have "many" or "a few" shape-note-style tunes, respectively.

Recordings by the Boston Camerata, directed by Joel Cohen and Anne Azéma. The Boston Camerata is a professional early-music chamber group of singers and instrumentalists which has produced a substantial number of recordings of medieval and Renaissance music, Christian, Jewish, and secular. Mr. Cohen has always had an interest in early American folk song and folk-religious music and their roots. In fact, Mr. Cohen and the Camerata's star soprano and current director Anne Azéma occasionally have sung Sacred Harp in the Boston area. The Camerata has produced excellent recordings featuring early American folk religious music performed in a disciplined classical style. Some songs are sung as vocal solos, while others are sung in choral style, and many have instrumental accompaniment. The notes contain some historical information. Some of the recordings below are found in major record stores, and the Erato recordings that have gone out of print are being reissued by Warner Classics. A few are currently "special order." The best place to order them is from the Camerata online store, where profits go toward underwriting present and future musical activities of the Camerata.

Recordings by Anonymous 4. This highly acclaimed women's vocal quartet (Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, Jacqueline Horner, and Johanna Maria Rose (or Ruth Cunningham)), originally specializing in early European music, turned their attention in recent years to the roots of Anglo-American sacred music. The ladies sing their parts beautifully with remarkable purity and delicateness. As they sing more or less in the same pitch range and with similar timbre, their voices blend well (anonymously) into a single harmonious unit. The sound is more gentle and relaxing than that of many early music vocal groups or of traditional singing.

Recordings by the Tudor Choir of Seattle, Washington. The Tudor Choir is a professional choral ensemble of 16-19 singers directed by Doug Fullington. In their shape-note recordings and performances, they manage to achieve a fusion of the style of traditional high-energy, high-pulse Sacred Harp singing and the astringent style of an early-music group. Most songs are sung in a vigorous, vibrato-less style with a timbre having an "edge" atypical of choral groups, and with prominent brassy or reedy alto voices perhaps inspired by Alabama Sacred Harp altos. Their shape-note work has been inspired and guided in part by Sacred Harp alto singer and musicologist Karen Willard of the Seattle area. The CDs are sold through the Tudor Choir website, through Gothic Records or Amazon.com.

Recordings by His Majestie's Clerkes, now Bella Voce, Anne Heider, artistic director. His Majestie's Clerkes, founded in 1982 and renamed Bella Voce in 2001, is a chamber choir based in Chicago specializing in classical a cappella music, particularly early and contemporary European music. The group has made a number of recordings under the direction of distinguished guest conductors. The name change to Bella Voce was made to reflect its broad repertoire. Anne Heider, now Artistic Director Emerita, has for many years found time to sing alto with the Chicago Sacred Harp singers and to do research on the resurgence of shape-note singing in the Midwest. The records below can be ordered from online stores such as Amazon.com

"Tim Eriksen Presents Shape Note at the Newport Folk Festival 2006". In the first performance of shape-note singing since 1963 at the famed Newport (RI) Folk Festival, Tim Eriksen assembled around 65 singers (by his count) from the eastern U.S. and performed eight Sacred Harp songs, along with four other sacred songs sung by Tim himself. A recording of the entire 35-minute performance appears to be no longer online, but single songs can be downloaded from nugs.net.

"Rivers of Delight," sung by the Word of Mouth Chorus, Larry Gordon, director. This superb 1979 Nonesuch recording by a pioneering New England vocal ensemble was the only major nationally marketed Sacred Harp recording (LP, then cassette, then CD) for around fifteen years. The Chorus attempted, with incomplete success, to emulate the sound of traditional Southern singers whom they heard during visits to Georgia and Alabama. The CD is out of print but mp3 downloads and used CDs can be obtained from Amazon.com. A digital album can also be downloaded from the Northern Harmony Bandcamp website.

Recordings by Singing Ensembles led by Larry Gordon (Bayley-Hazen Singers, Northern Harmony ensemble, Village Harmony, etc.). Larry Gordon's ensembles started out in the 1970-80s focusing on shape-note singing (featuring songs composed by ensemble members). Over the years their interests have expanded globally to include traditional community songs, usually sung a cappella, from many parts of the world, particularly the Balkans, Caucasian Georgia, South Africa, Corsica, and Ukraine. They have made numerous cassette tape and CD recordings over the years but have allowed the older ones to remain out of print. Current offerings can found on the Village Harmony online store and the Northern Harmony Bandcamp site. For information, phone 802-426-3210 or send e-mail to villageharmony@gmail.com.

"Songs from The Missouri Harmony," recorded by the St. Louis Shape Note Singers. This recording. first issued on cassette tape in 1994 and reissued in 2001 on CD, presents 21 selections from The MissouriHarmony, 1846 Edition, which was reprinted in March 1994 (see Tunebooks chapter) performed by 14 shape-note singers from St. Louis, led by Kathleen Thro in a performance setting. These songs, which are often presented with both note-solmization and words, are important and beautiful ones not found in The Sacred Harp. The dissonant harmonization of "Captain Kidd" and the song "Converse" are particularly appealing. The CD is sold out, but complete mp3 files can be downloaded at no charge from a page of the St. Louis Shape Note Singers website.

Sweet Seraphic Fire: New England Singing School Music from The Norumbega Harmony performed by Norumbega Harmony directed by Stephen Marini. This 2005 recording by a foremost Boston-based performing group of early American music features 35 tunes from the outstanding tunebook The Norumbega Harmony edited by Stephen Marini and others. The selections are 24 tunes (many previously neglected but still beautiful) by such 18th century New England composers as Holden, Billings, French, T. Swan, and Belcher, four tunes by 19th century Southern composers such as Chapin and M.L. Swan, and seven tunes in compatible styles by contemporary composers. The 28-page liner notes include an historical essay by Mr. Marini and tune texts and commentaries. New World Records no. 80640. List price $16.00 plus shipping. One can order from online stores as well as New World Records.

"Sing and Joyful Be," sung by the Norumbega Harmony, Stephen Marini, director. A digital recording of many early American and Sacred Harp songs and anthems, sung with enthusiasm and discipline by the major performing group of early American shape-note music in the Boston area. Included are an excellent essay on the cover and song texts inside. This popular recording made in 1989 is now available on CD. The prices are $15.00 per CD or $5.00 per cassette, plus $2.00 for shipping per item. Make checks out to Norumbega Harmony, Inc. Order from Anne Kazlauskas, 22 Curve Street #1, Lexington MA 02420.

A related recording: "Shaker Songs: Come to Zion," sung by Norumbega Harmony and Singers of Hancock Shaker Village, directed by Stephen Marini. This excellent recording presents 35 Shaker songs and anthems of all types dating from early hymnals to the 1908 hymnal. Because the Shakers forbade harmony until the late 19th century, all songs on the recording except for eight from later hymnals are sung in unison. Still the singing is beautiful and moving. The prices are $15.00 per CD or $5.00 per cassette, plus $2.00 for shipping per item. Make checks out to Norumbega Harmony, Inc. Order from Anne Kazlauskas, 22 Curve Street #1, Lexington MA 02420.

Recordings by Northampton Harmony. This New England-based quartet (no longer active) featured Jeff Colby on bass, Timothy Eriksen on lead, Kelly House on treble, and Cath Oss on alto. These relatively young people have memorable voice timbres and a remarkable singing style which resembles that of Appalachian singers and Sacred Harp singers of earlier generations. Their style may also have been influenced by the fact that Tim and Cath belong(ed) to Cordelia's Dad, an internationally known rock band.

"Hidden Treasures: A Sacred Harp Album," sung in all parts by Christopher Yoder. Mr. Yoder, who grew up singing a cappella four-part harmony in the Mennonite Church, issued in 2013 this recording, available as either a CD or as downloadable mp3 files from Amazon and iTunes, in which he sings all four parts of songs from The Sacred Harp. The CD contains 16 songs, while 20 songs are downloadable as mp3 files. A few of the tracks, at least in the mp3 collection, include preliminary singing of the shape-note syllables. The sound is pleasant, gentle, and at times cool. Several audio clips are available for listening on Amazon.com.

Recordings of shape-note music in which all parts are sung by Judy Hauff:

"Newfound Hills" sung in all four parts by Tom Malone. Tom Malone, singer, folklorist, musicologist, and editor, produced a CD recording of 32 songs from the tunebook he edited, The Christian Harmony by Jeremiah Ingalls, Bicentennial 2005 Edition (see Tunebook chapter). He sings all four parts, in the manner of Judy Hauff (see above items) and Whit Denson. Nearly all the tunes are less familiar ones from the original Ingalls' tunebook, so the CD will help familiarize singers with these tunes. For more information and price (probably $7.50-10), e-mail Tom at shapenote@gmail.com.

Recordings by Prairie Harmony of Southeast Iowa. Prairie Harmony is a group of 14-15 nonprofessional singers from around Fairfield, Iowa, who have sung together informally for many years. As reported by the apparent coordinators Jennifer and Doug Hamilton, they have produced two CDs of songs from several shape-note tunebooks, particularly The Sacred Harp and Northern Harmony. The CDs are "Prairie Harmony (at the Historic Presbyterian Church in Bentonsport, Iowa)" and "Throne of Grace." Each CD ($15.00 each) contains 12-14 songs sung in the harmony of the original tunebooks and without preliminary solmization. The singing style resembles that of a balanced church choir and reveals the harmonious beauty and tunefulness of shape-note music more than does most traditional singing. Occasional songs are "lined out." Sample songs from each CD are found on the respective webpages.

"Make a Joyful Noise: Mainstreams and Backwaters of American Psalmody 1770-1840," sung by the Oregon State University Choir, Ron Jeffers, conductor. This 1996 CD is a reissue of a 1978 New World LP which for years was one of the few available recordings of early American psalmody. It contains 17 selections by Billings, Belcher, Kimball, Swan, Read, including several quite noteworthy ones. The choral singing is polished, but an effort was made, under the guidance of musicologist Richard Crawford, to achieve a forthright, crisp, pulsed singing style. The scholarly liner notes by Richard Crawford are unusually extensive and are alone a reason to purchase this recording. New World Records 80255-2. Order from mail-order houses or directly from New World Records at 212-290-1685.

"Original Sacred Harp" sung by Cross Ties Band, formerly The Universal Pickers. This collection of 18 Sacred Harp tunes on CD is an enhanced reissue of a 1993 recording in which 15 tunes were sung by a quartet of young men from Georgia (The Universal Pickers) who generally play (with stringed instruments) and sing bluegrass, gospel, spirituals, and traditional Irish music. They feel that Sacred Harp music, which they were taught to sing by Hugh McGraw, is "the ultimate." They (Randy Garrett, Randy Ellis, Jimmy Baggett, and Johnny Wright) sing all parts a cappella in the traditional manner, with preliminary singing of the notes. A four-track recorder was used to provide a 16-voice choral effect. The result is spirited and unpolished singing with good clarity of individual parts. Sound bites of many tracks can be heard at the band's web page for this recording. The present CD, issued in 2003, has an additional three songs performed by the successor band Cross Ties, which has three of the original members, plus Jon Ellis and Bret Mulcay. The CD can be purchased on the band's website via credit card for $12.99 postpaid, or by a check for that amount mailed to Cross Ties, 5950 Mt. Zion Rd., Waco, GA 30182.

"A Colonial Christmas" performed by Early Music New York directed by Frederick Renz. This recording, issued in 2004, features 40 tracks of early American choral tunes and English/colonial fiddle tunes, in approximately equal numbers for each, performed by an ensemble of nine male singers and four instrumentalists in residence at New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The tunes are from Billings, Read, Kimball, Woodruff, Benham, and Holyoke, as well as Wyeth's, Walker's and the Swans' shape-note books. According to Berkley Moore, there are first recordings in any form of compositions by Kimball and Woodruff as well as three by Holyoke. The outstanding singing is highly polished, expressive, and beautiful, and the musical selections are intelligently chosen. However, the austere and distant sound of the voices and the overly reverberant acoustics of the recording hall (a chapel in the Cathedral) evoke Gothic Europe more than colonial America. The interspersed dancing tunes by John Playford et al., while not specifically for the Christmas season, are among the more joyful selections on the recording. There are excellent liner notes with song texts. The recording, issued with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is on the Ex Cathedra label, no. 70070-29006-2. Order from Amazon.com or other online stores.

"Wake Ev'ry Breath: William Billings (1746-1800)" performed by the William Appling Singers and Orchestra, William Appling, conductor. This ensemble of 20 professional singers and 7 instrumentalists perform 15 psalm-tunes, anthems, canons, and fuging tunes of Billings on this 1997 CD recording. Most of the sacred works are recorded a cappella or with unobtrusive strings (consistent with historical practice in New England), while the patriotic pieces Chester/America include piccolo and drums. In accordance with Billings recommendations, the bass part is augmented with additional voices, and both men and women sing tenor and treble parts. While there is considerable overlap of pieces with previous professional Billings recordings, there are some newly recorded works. The liner notes by William McClelland include the texts of the songs. New World Records 80539-2. Available in record outlets or from New World Records at 212-290-1685.

"William Billings, the Continental Harmonist," performed by the Gregg Smith Singers conducted by Gregg Smith. This CD, a reissue of an older LP, includes performances of Chester, Easter Anthem, I Am the Rose of Sharon, David's Lamentation, and other sacred and humorous secular works, generally different from those on the His Majestie's Clerkes CD above. The quality and exuberance of the singing are excellent. Unfortunately, 27 minutes of this disc are devoted to (wasted on?) a new composition by Gregg Smith for orchestra and choir and intended for choreography. It utilizes several Billings tunes arranged in modern harmony. Premier Recordings PRCD1008. It is out of print.

"Christmas in Early America: 18th Century Carols and Anthems," by the Columbus Consort, directed by Joseph Pettit. This 1993 CD (Channel Classics CD CCS 5693) contains 18 compositions by such composers as Supply Belcher, Samuel Holyoke, Joseph Stephenson, Jacob French, William Billings, and several Moravian composers. The compositions are interesting and often not well known. The performers are a Netherlands-based international group of nine trained singers and seven instrumentalists, only six of whom are North American. The singing style is that of a highly polished early-music group. There are good notes by Pettit.

"America Sings," Vol. 1, The Founding Years (1620-1800), sung by the Gregg Smith Singers conducted by Gregg Smith. This 1993 release (Vox Box CDX 5080) is a 2-CD set that is a reissue of a four-LP Vox Box of 1976. This is a rich and varied collection, having about 76 pieces of early New England sacred and secular music, sung by a disciplined choir which has championed American music. Particularly noteworthy to the shape-note enthusiast are music from the Ainsworth Psalter (brought over by the Pilgrims) and the Bay Psalm Book (first music book published in colonies), hymns and anthems by Billings, Read, Ingalls, Stevenson, Selby, and Morgan, and music from Lyon's tunebook Urania (1761). The CDs also include parlor songs by F. Hopkinson, Moravian music, and secular music of the American Revolution. There are informative liner notes also. Sadly, the recording seems to be out of print.

"Vermont Harmony" recordings by the University of Vermont Choral Union. Between 1971 and 1989, the Choral Union, a group of around forty non-professional singers under the direction of James Chapman, produced four recordings of nearly 100 hymns, anthems, fuging tunes, and secular pieces published between 1790 to 1810 by Vermont composers. The initial volume was rerecorded with better sound quality around 1990. These recordings are out of print. Some used copies are listed for sale on Discogs. The volumes are as follows:

Steven L. Sabol (sabol@his.com)
HTML version by Warren Steel (mudws@olemiss.edu)