Sadly, the ACSI Mid-America Music Festival had to be cancelled this year. I was really looking forward to working with the high school band musicians on the piece Echoes of the Hollow Square by Johnnie Vinson! It’s such a fun piece to explore with multiple layers of things to learn from. Here are a few resources so that bands or individual students can dig into this piece some more. I’ve put an asterisk in front of the points and resources that I think cover the most important aspects of this piece.
*Echoes of the Hollow Square is based on four American hymn tunes from the 19th century: The Morning Trumpet, Hallelujah, I’m Going Home, and Warrenton. These songs appeared in songbooks, such as the “The Sacred Harp,” that used shaped notes. These were part of a system of note reading that used a simplified form of solfege (think Do, Re, Mi). It was helpful for teaching singing and allowed Christian communities to sing together in four parts. The “Hollow Square” refers to the traditional formation used in these gatherings in which each of the four voice parts were situated facing one another with the song leader in the center.
*Basic program notes: www.windrep.org/Echoes_of_the_Hollow_Square
*Sacred Harp: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacred_Harp
*Shape-note singing: www.britannica.com/art/shape-note-singing
*Shape-note songs used in this piece (excerpts from the Sacred Harp): https://drive.google.com/file/d/1-xLFT5wFItyTtL5WpsuDltWiQn0Ser2a/view?usp=sharing. Note that the melody is in the third line (tenor) part.
Sacred Harp books (primary sources of various editions):
Composer’s website: www.johnnievinson.com/
Hymn text composers and writers:
- The Morning Trumpet text: www.hymnary.org/person/Leland_J
- The Morning Trumpet tune: www.hymnary.org/person/White_BF
- Hallelujah text: www.hymnary.org/person/Wesley_Charles
- Hallelujah and Warrenton tune: www.hymnary.org/person/Walker_W
Lowell Mason: An important figure in early American church music and music education. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lowell_Mason
*Publisher’s performance with score:
*I’m Going Home performance:
Note how the first notes are intoned and how everyone first sings it through on syllables before adding the text. Also, it is common for the leader and singers to gesture up and down with one arm with the pulse.
Modern Sacred Harp gatherings: www.youtube.com/channel/UC1FDrF3rMfYBER0-NjuLtdQ
*This piece is available in www.smartmusic.com where students are able to play along with a recording of the whole piece, adjust the tempo for practice, and record themselves.
Discuss the musical aspects of Sacred Harp singing: There are distinct qualities to the singing that may strike us as odd or even non-musical, such as the timbre (tone) of the voices, strong rhythmic pulse, and relative lack of phrase shape. Also, the harmonies and voice leading is unique compared to traditional principles of classical music. This may lead to broader discussions about folk music and its place in culture. Also, in what ways does the composer reflect these qualities in timbre, tone, harmony, etc?
Discuss the content of the hymn texts: How does the music reflect the text? What biblical themes are shared by all of the hymn texts?
- The Morning Trumpet: www.hymnary.org/text/o_when_shall_i_see_jesus_and_reign_with
- Hallelujah: www.hymnary.org/text/and_let_this_feeble_body_fail
- I’m Going Home: www.hymnary.org/text/farewell_vain_world_im_going_home
- Warrenton/Come Thou Fount: www.hymnary.org/text/come_thou_fount_of_every_blessing
There are so many other connections that can be made with this piece. I’d love to hear how your students interact with it and include more of your ideas. Send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org!