Hymn of the Week: September 5
by Mary Chapman, Director of Music
The Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion, University City
Proper 18B – September 5, 2021
O Christ, the Healer – Wonder, Love, and Praise #772
Words: Fred Pratt Green (b. 1903) © 1969 Hope Publishing, Co., Carol Stream, IL
Music: Kedron, melody att. Elkanah Kelsay Dare (1782-1826); harm.: The Southern Harmony, 1835; adapt. Hymnal 1982 © Church Pension Fund.
The hymntune Kedron was originally published in 1799 by Amos Pilsbury, a noted composer who possibly “found” this piece orally or from an unattributed manuscript. It then received its Southern four-shape printing in 1816. The version in Wonder, Love, and Praise shows the three-part harmonization by Elkanah Kelsay Dare (att. 1819). The tune continued to be printed in fasola collections thru 1855.
Fasola collections? What are those?
Let’s back up a bit.
For years, musicians tried various forms of music notation which could be used by many people, including those who were illiterate. Shape-notes, also called character notes or patent notes, are one of many notational innovations which, like solfege syllables, were designed to make sight-reading easier. The four shaped notes—a right triangle for fa, an oval for sol, a rectangle for la, and a diamond for mi—were created by Philadelphia shopkeeper John Connelly about 1790.
Shape-note singing originated in New England, but became quite popular in the South. As like today, singing was a community and social event, and often was part of religious gatherings, such as tent revivals. At many of these gatherings, those attending would learn and share music, often from fasola collections.
And what were fasola collections?
Basically, fasola collections were music books of hymntunes which used shape-notes for notation.
Pennsylvania and the Ohio River valley were early centers of shape-note publication, and over 200 different shape-note tune books were printed in the United States between 1801 and 1861. Most of the publications were eclectic collections of strophic hymn tunes, odes, and anthems, taken from a variety of American and European sources. Many shape-note books also included “folk hymns” (tunes drawn from oral tradition, then harmonized by the compilers or other local singing teachers, and underlaid with sacred texts). Christian shape-note books endured longest, the most popular of which was The Sacred Harp by B.F. White (published in 1844).
In the video below, you’ll hear the melody being played not in the upper voice, but in the middle (tenor) voice. The text shown is not the one in Wonder, Love, and Praise, but by the great hymnist Charles Wesley (1707-1788). Does his name sound familiar? Charles was a great hymnist, and we still sing hymns with his text. A few of his best-known hymns are Christ the Lord is Risen Today, Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending, and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.