The Shenandoah Harmony
The Shenandoah Harmony is a new shape-note songbook with a concentration on Shenandoah Valley music of the early nineteenth century. At 469 songs on 480 pages, The Shenandoah Harmony is the largest new book of its kind published in more than 150 years. Its coauthors, John del Re, Kelly Macklin, and their daughter Leyland del Re; Nora Miller; Daniel Hunter; Rachel Hall; and Myles Louis Dakan are residents of the Mid-Atlantic states. The book is now in its second printing since its release in mid-February 2013.
Due to the traditional practice of shape-note singing, in which singers hold their books in one hand while marking time with the other, the authors of The Shenandoah Harmony have chosen to reduce prefatory material and endnotes in order to lessen the weight of the book. The electronic edition has 35 additional pages, allowing for a fuller bibliography and additional indices.
The original inspiration for The Shenandoah Harmony was to create a tunebook that included the best of the shape-note songs collected, printed, and published by Ananias Davisson from 1816 to 1826 in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Davisson’s works, Kentucky Harmony and A Supplement to the Kentucky Harmony, combine European congregational hymns and New England singing-school repertoire with the frontier sound of arranged folk hymns and camp meeting songs. They had a profound influence on later tunebooks, including the popular shape-note book The Sacred Harp, which has been in continuous publication since 1844.
In addition to being avid Sacred Harp singers, the del Re family of Boyce, Va. has been singing from Davisson’s books for over twenty-five years. Inspired by recordings of songs from Wyeth’s Repository (Harrisburg, Pa., 1813) and Kentucky Harmony (Harrisonburg, Va., 1816), they sought out songs associated with their own region. Through these recordings, they also became aware of the wealth of shape-note music found in out-of-print and inaccessible tunebooks. The group of coauthors formed in 2010; in the subsequent years, the project expanded to include other Shenandoah Valley sources, New England, Mid-Atlantic, and Southern songs in a similar style, and sixty songs from living composers. The coauthors considered thousands of nineteenth-century shape-note songs from over seventy sources for inclusion in the book.
The debut singing from The Shenandoah Harmony was held on June 2, 2013 in the Harrisonburg, Virginia area, near Ananias Davisson’s grave. Over 100 singers from at least sixteen states attended.