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Rethinking American Music$
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Tara Browner and Thomas L. Riis

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780252042324

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252042324.001.0001

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Secular Music in Shape Notes

Secular Music in Shape Notes

(p.50) 3 Secular Music in Shape Notes
Rethinking American Music

David Warren Steel

University of Illinois Press

The distinctive repertory and performance practices of American shape-note (fasola) singing during the early 1800s, while sacred in origin, made a much wider impact in secular realms than one might suppose. The religious connotations of the music were readily accepted on the frontier but did not limit it to purely sacred uses (in other words, public worship). The singing school was a social institution as well as a religious and educational one. Contemporary accounts show that young people viewed singing schools as a valuable opportunity for courting in a relatively unsupervised atmosphere, and several writers noted the apparent discrepancy between the words sung and the deeds done at such gatherings. Tunebooks throughout the era reveal a highly diverse list of secular songs and song types.

Keywords:   fasola singing, shape notes, tunebooks, performance practice, secular music, singing schools

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