American Sacred Harp / Shapenote • Text by Isaac Watts, Music by Newcomb
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)."
To hear the whole song in four parts, listen to this recording made by Northern Harmony of Vermont.
God from his cloudy cistern pours
On the parched earth enriching showers
The grove the garden and the field,
A thousand joyful blessings yield.
He gives us bread for daily need,
In pastures of delight we feed,
Then let us praise him all our days,
Ye saints your songs of rapture raise.
His bounteous hands our table spread,
He fills our cheerful stores with bread,
While food our daily strength imparts,
Let daily praise inspire our hearts.