Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fasola, the Original Article

Artist and historian Linda Griggs happened on my writing about the Sacred Harp tradition and wrote a note to say that 2 p.m. this Saturday, March 19, there will be a singing at Convention Hall in Asbury Park as part of festivities surrounding the Smithsonian Institution's "New Harmonies" exhibit. Sacred Harp is the title of one of the most popular songbooks in the tradition known as "shape-note" or "fasola," a widely practiced amateur congregational singing. The songbook has been in continuous publication since 1844 and many of its songs originated in earlier published volumes. The singing is free and anybody can join in to try it out.

Griggs researched an article that was published in the Asbury Park Press. She found that the writers behind one of the original fasola songbooks were most likely from New Jersey--Hopewell, specifically. The style, she writes,
was nearly wiped out in the north by the mid 1800's
by Lowell Mason and the "Better Music" movement. It persisted in both
White and Black churches in the South and is one of the roots of
bluegrass and country. Johnny Cash, the Louvin Brothers and Hank
Williams all sang Sacred Harp.
Lowell Mason, whose family owned a piano-selling business, was interested in promoting a stricter European style music education and degraded the amateur singing as "buckwheat notes." But the tradition survived and as Southerners moved North to factory jobs in the 20th Century, they brought the shape-note singing back with them. Sacred Harp sings could still be found in New Jersey into the 1970s. The 1990s saw a revival of interest in the style and there are now regular Sacred Harp singings in Montclair and Princeton.

The Smithsonian's "New Harmonies" is on display at the Asbury Park Public Library, 500 First Ave., through April 17 and features photos, videos and memorabilia related to American roots music.

Griggs, who has a studio on the Lower East Side in New York City, is a fascinating character with her hands in many different historical and artistic projects. Her own artwork makes use of texts, drawn directly onto the canvas.. The style seems inspired both by common artwork of early 20th Century rural America and by "outsider art" which often deals in simple expressions of mystical experience.

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