Emma Hooper (Bath Spa) – Young Ladies All Attention Give, You That In Wicked Pleasures Live…: The Alto Line as Suspicious New-Comer in American Spiritual Music

Wednesday 4 December 2014. 12.30-2pm
CM105, Newton Park. 

‘Sacred Harp is loud, the harmonies are unusual, and not quite in tune.’ (Aviram, 2013) Despite belonging to the culturally-familiar (and largely dominant) western music canon, Sacred Harp singing, an American-spiritual style of community music making, is remarkably distinct from other contemporaneous and culturally-related musics. “Suggestions that this music rests on a quartal harmonic base make one think of cultural regression…polyphonic conductus of the 13th century”. (Wallace, 1989) One further  distinctive element is, up until remarkably recently, the absence of an alto-line in this a capela part singing tradition; while the earliest sacred harp compositions date from the mid-eighteenth century, the regular addition of the alto part didn’t appear until the mid-Twentieth. Considering both musical and sociological factors, this paper seeks to explore why this lower female range was excluded for such a significant portion of the music’s history, and why, centuries later, great pains were taken to fit this now arguably extraneous part into the tradition’s vast repertoire of songs.

To hear this talk, please visit the MPA Research Forum archive [BSU users only]

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