Class of 1978 Pavilion
Sixth floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library
Please join us Monday, October 31st, for the next meeting of the Workshop in the History of Material Texts. We will convene at our usual time and place: 5:15pm in the Class of 1978 Pavilion in the Kislak Center on the 6th Floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library.
We will be welcoming Rachel Hall (Math, St. Joseph’s University) for a talk entitled "What is an Oblong Tunebook?"
Part church choir book, part textbook, part resource for social singing, the oblong tunebook was a staple of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American musical culture. Tunebooks typically contained hundreds of sacred songs arranged for three- or four-part a cappella singing. The oblong format allowed each voice part to be displayed on a separate staff, a practice that encouraged particular compositional techniques. A compiler, rather than a composer, was a tunebook’s chief creator, collecting repertoire from multiple sources, often without attribution; choosing lyrics and titles; editing and rearranging songs at will; and adding voice parts to pre-existing compositions. Nineteenth-century Southern and Western books often included folk hymns—melodies transcribed from the oral tradition—and were printed in shaped notes, a notation system that facilitated teaching unaccompanied vocal music. Philadelphia was a hub of printing oblong books in this specialized notation.
The shape-note tunebook The Christian Harmony, published by William Walker of South Carolina in 1867, is one of the few oblong tunebooks still in print. Its 536 songs span a wide repertoire, from eighteenth-century English congregational music to appropriations from European classical composers to arrangements of folk hymns collected by Walker and his contemporaries. Comparison of The Christian Harmony to Walker’s earlier publications and other contemporary books reveals Walker’s changing musical preferences, editorial practices, commercial aspirations, and relationships with rival Philadelphia publishing houses.
Rachel Hall is an Associate Professor of Mathematics at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Her research interests include applications of mathematics to music and nineteenth century American vernacular sacred music. She is an avid shape-note singer and a co-author of The Shenandoah Harmony, the largest new oblong shape-note tunebook to be published since the early twentieth century.