Mini-class: New England Choral Music

Augusta Heritage Workshop, Davis & Elkins College, Elkins, WV

Four 75-minute sessions Monday through Thursday of Augusta Heritage Center's week five.

In 18th-century New England a generation of self-taught composers created a new choral style. They were inspired by a grab-bag of materials including Handel’s oratorios, British “fuging tunes”, the “grave and solemne and plaine Tunes” of traditional psalmody, newfangled hymns, and their own unruly imaginations. This music truly lives at the intersection of the oral and written traditions, giving life to the vigorous voices of the working people who made it. It is fun to sing and there are many interesting texts, including William Billings’s “Chester” (arguably the first American national anthem), and the self-referential “Down Steers the Bass with Grave Majestic Air.” Too rambunctious and “incorrect” for the would-be sophisticated churches in the urbanizing northern states, the New England music gave birth to the shape-note tradition preserved in Appalachia and the deep South. We will sing some “plain” tunes, fuging tunes, anthems, and “set pieces,” in three or four-part harmony, selected from the work of Billings and his contemporaries. The ability to read music is helpful though not necessary, but students should be able to match pitch and hold a part.