American Sacred Harp / Shapenote • Text by Watts, Ryea, Carpenter, Houston • Music by Seth Houston
Aeolian Harp is Shapenote song brought to us by singer and choir leader Deva O'Neill of Norfolk, UK.
Sacred Harp, or Shapenote, is a rich polyphonic folk tradition with colonial American roots. Notes being written as shapes and transferred into solfege were an attempt to teach the common folk to read sheet music, and are a carry-over from the mostly English reduction of solmization (the transferring of musical notes into solfege - fa, so, re, me, do, etc) into just the syllabols mi, fa, sol, and la.
"The four shaped notes—a right triangle for fa, an oval for sol, a rectangle for la, and a diamond for mi—were invented by Philadelphia shopkeeper John Connelly about 1790 and made their first appearance in The Easy Instructor (1801), by William Little and William Smith. Over 200 different shape-note tunebooks were printed in the United States between 1801 and 1861, most of them eclectic collections including strophic hymn tunes, odes, and anthems from a variety of American and European sources. Pennsylvania and the Ohio River valley were early centres of shape-note publication. Many shape-note books included “folk hymns” (tunes drawn from oral tradition, harmonized by the compilers or other local singing teachers, and underlaid with sacred texts)."
The billows swell, the winds are high,
Clouds overcast the wintery sky
Out of the depths to thee I call
My fears are great my strength is small.
A silent rest o'ertakes the land
Long fields roll and mountains stand
Silent billow, all nature sleeps
To gather strength for springtime leaps.
A full moon shines on snow so bright
Stars sparkle in the darkest nights
Crystal and clear the ice breaks free,
O'er flowing streams float towards the sea.