Studio One - Saturday. December 17, 2011

mp3 file of the show is at this LINK

The idea of singing shape note on the radio popped into my head in September or October, I think it was. I made contact with the host, Dave Carter, and within a few days, he had extended the invitation. Then I could start worrying - What in the world could I be thinking of?


Really, that's not true. There was just a tiny thought that I may have bit off a bit too much; but, I figured it was worth giving it a try. And , after today, I can report a most excellent experience which folllowed on several weeks of excellent experiences.


My greatest misgiving was tha, due to the space limitations of the studio, we could only have a limited number of singers. This, of course violates our "Come one, come all" standing invitation. A second misgiving was trying to prepare for a presentation; a performance. That also violates the tradition of calling the number and going at it.


As far as I know, the misgivings were not borne out inreality. We did hold extra practices to make the singing as good as we could. And, if anyone was hurt by being excluded, I don't know of it. If that happened, I am deeply sorry. I said, going in, that I would just drop the thing if it caused bad feelings.


We gathered at the studio, on the ETSU campus at 11:30 and began to set up the square, which was more a rectangle with rounded corners. The sound guy got the microphones set up. We sang some, and he got his levels set - reporting that we sounded great. Dave briefed us on how the show would proceed. After a break, it was one o'clock and the red "on the air" lights lit up.


The class did sound fine, I thought. We sang around eleven songs. Dave had put us at ease, saying just to do it like we do it. That just lifted whatever pressure I was feeling, which honestly, was not that much. But, it was the right word at the right time.


I hope to make the recording available on this site. I can burn CD's (by permission). Until then, I want yo commend Dave Carter for his excellent hosting. He had an intuitive understansing of what we are about and his comments and questions were instant gratification that surely calmed any nerves we may have had about this. While I did a great deal of the talking, he also involved several other singers in the discussion and the back and forth was very fine. We also got in several plugs for our monthly singings both at the Shoals as well as Roan Mountain. 


After the show, several of us stopped to "eat mor chikkin" I think that's how to spell it. Then, on to Barnes & Noble for Jennifer Bauer's book signing. (She had sold all her books by the time we arrived.) We sang six or seven songs, I guess. I did not notice any listeners. Oh well. It was still wonderful to sing and especially to see Jennifer looking great after her recent close call (auto accident).


To sum up the day and my reflections on the past weeks of preparation, I believe the show host really "got it." More than once, he commented on the fellowship - the comraderie that he sensed among the group. As far as I know, no one told him to say that. I didn't. He just reported what he saw and felt. And that there is powerful stuff.


Old St John's - Saturday, December 10, 2011

Although renovations are underway to the old church, they are not completed so we convened in the Presbyterian church just across the street. It was an adequate singing space and a large, strong class raised the ceiling at least a bit.


A couple of the pictures show the inside with the floor repaired. Dorthy Jane reported that there was still considerable work to be done in the basement, but plans are to be complete by April.


Photo gallery features the apple stack cake and a few more travelogue pics than usual. It was a spectacular day weather wise.

Turn your radio on - Part 1 - Saturday, December 3, 2011

Julianne and I joined the Old Harp singers to sing on the Blue Plate Special.


Turn your radio on - Part 2 will be Saturday, December 17 at one o'clock p.m. on WETS-FM 89.5. Also available via internet streaming.


Black Mountain - Saturday, November 12, 2011

Last week I heard Chis opine that she was not expecting many singers. There was singing in Georgia and several of them have come to Black Mountain in the past. But, here come several newcomers and a couple of singers who had not sung in quite a spell. So I estimate around 30 singers to well fill all four parts. In my brief experience, we have fine weather for this one and today is no exception  -  clear blue sky, moderating temperature and a breeze. In fact, by afternoon, we needed to open a door to let some heat out.

Sometimes, it's the little things. At a break, I was sipping on some coffee, and behold! A tray of fresh baked (and delicious) banana bread. I bake a little myself, and I know good banana bread. I do. Let us not fail to be thankful for "little things." Thank you Chris.

I deliberately decided to not make a recording. My thinking was that fiddling with that contraption distracts me and I wanted to enjoy just singing. But, sure enough, I second guessed myself as the class progressed through the day and the music upward rolled.. I was really sad when we sang "Union" at at a higher pitch than I have ever sung it. And as Scott saya, "It rang."

Much of what happens to make a singing is routine and repetetive. The organizers get us a place, they collect the needed supplies and prepare the room. The singers make a dish or two, think a bit about what songs we might want to sing, gas up the car and go. But, the singing is never routine. The same singer may lead the same song, but today is different than the last time, because today I am different than the last time.

Here is another aspect of the value of the tradition, if we will avail ourselves. It's all there on page 282, "Friendship",  which, I confess is not even in my top one hundred favorite songs. For some reason, the tune grates on me. But, the words tell me about what is truly worth seeking and what can be found in the hollow square (and the Dinner table). What should I be doing to make the different person that I am this week a better person than I was? If you are a regular singer, maybe this makes sense. If you're not a regular then, Come, Sit a spell. Let's sing and maybe it will.

And to conclude this self-directed sermon portion, let's be mindful of every newcomer. If they are trying to sing, make sure they are seated with an experienced singer. While it is true that most of them are "one and done" never let it be a reason that they were not specially noticed, welcomed and helped on their first visit.

Fifth Singing at The Old Fields - Saturday, November 5, 2011

I heard a lot of nice things said about the singing. One comment that I received from David Sarten on Facebook goes to what I consider the most important aspect of this thing.


It was a great singing Don. I really enjoyed the fellowship as well as the harmony in the square and in the room. I hope to sing with you soon again!

David lives in Sevier County. He leads a group that sings New Harp and moderates the Headrick Chapel singing. I suppose he might be considered a "guest" at a singing a hundred miles away. But, he's not a guest. When he used the word "fellowship" to me he is speaking to the friendships that we can build and the force for good that can result from our coming together.


There is a new singer, who came to me during a break to express her thanks and gratitude for finding us. She has been going through a hard time; yet, in the square she is finding relief from the heavy load and joy for her soul.

The music needs all four parts to achieve fullness; and, the better we learn, the better results we get, musically. But, there is greater work than we do at the same time. It's right there in the songs:


"Tune my heart to sing thy praise."


"Give me tears for others' woes and patience for my own."


Any time human beings come together, there will be all manner of situations arise over personal preferences, opinions, and all the shortcoming inherent from our fallen condition. But, the tradition we share gives us a place to lay that aside and focus on the nnedful things. What a blessing! What a gift!



In 2010, we had snow. In 2011 it was dense fog and singers were. agaon. just a bit delayed in arriving. But, by 10:30 we had around 30 singers, comprising four strong parts. We came from Roan Mountain to Sevierville, from Black Mountain to Possum Hollow. Julianne and I had arrived early to find all the chairs arranged and the tables set up, completely. Again. my thanks to Chad and the staff at Sycamore for their constant support for the singing. We received the distressing news of an auto accident involving Park Manager, Jennifer Bauer. Thankfully, while she was pretty badly injured, she is now back home and recovering.

We sang a session from Christian Harmony, then one from New Harp. The afternoon sessions were leaders choice.


Speaking of New Harp. I wish more of the Old Fields singers would take advantage of the monthly singings in Greeneville (last Sunday of the month).


I have not seen the minutes, but it seemed to me we sang a lot of songs. I know that by 3:00 I was "sung out." I cannot neglect mentioning the Dinner, when once again, the Old Fields demonstrated our growing reputaion for laying out a world class spread; so much so that Jeff decided to call "This Heavy Load" for right after.dinner.


And, also, it's especially "special" when we have a young 'un present and you will see the pics of the Garden baby who hung in with us all day long!

Headrick's Chapel - Sunday, September 25, 2011

I have mentioned before that Headrick's Chapel was the place where Julianne and I first heard shape note singing over twenty years ago. I was asked today if it were true that we were driving by the church, heard the singing and pulled in. No, that did not happen. Either she or I read a story in the newspaper and we decided to go. Our firstborn son was eleven months, not walking yet. We sat in the back and he slept between us. We just attended the afternoon session. Before we left, Larry O had taken our name and address and we received the Old Harp newsletter for several years when we were unable to participate.

So this singing has a very special importance to us.

We left Johnson City at 7:30 and drove in and out of dense fog. As usual traffic was light, even through Sevierville and Pigeon Forge. I have not seen so few orange barrels in many years! I always breathe a sigh of relief at the turn onto 321. Though that two lane road is heavily travelled. there are not a whole lot of places to stop (relatively speaking); and one can still see the land - that lovely valley with the mountains towering behind. I think of the people who have lived and died there. I think of those who have sung from the same book I will be singing from in a few minutes. I came to the tradition too late to know the "old timers" but I am coming to know people who knew them. That is my connection to a treasured and valuable past.

At singing time the sun was shining and a cool dry breeze wafted through the opened windows. I think people feel better in fine weather like this and that good feeling is reflected in the singing. The space itself is so rewarding to sing in. The room itself (all wood over a hundred years old?) becomes a most amazing sounding board. Again, I think of what sounds have been absorbed into those old boards over the years. The renovations that were recently done not only beautified; I believe the acoustics are better than ever.

David Sarten moderated the morning session and everyone who wanted to lead had opportunity in the moening session. At noon we had dinner. One word about that. Delicious from start to finish. Well, five words.

We reconvened for the afternoon session and it was warming up a bit. Hand fans were made available and used. My thought went to the old days before we had climate control everwhere we go. Folks got along with things as they came along.

I switched from bass to lead on a few songs and very much enjoyed that.(Mr Walker encourages that in The Rudiments.) At the recess, I shared with Paul Clabo my position on basses singing the lead: "It's like a dog walking on his hind legs. It is generally not well done; but one is surprised to find it done at all."

We sang straight through the afternoon session, which was moderated by Bruce Wheeler,  concluding with "Old Hundred" all four verses plus the "Doxology"

. Leaving is bittersweet as we anticipate a full year before we can come back to this unique and most excellent place. However, we can look forward to soon gathering in other places with some of the same singers and others who were not with us today in other places where we build the square. Here's a real and worthwile way to "pay forward."  

Minutes - Recorded by Bob Richmond

Minutes, annual Headrick Chapel Singing, Sunday, September 25th, 2011.
A remarkably good singing, with many singers from surrounding
traditions. Moderator was David Sarten in the morning, Bruce Wheeler
in the afternoon. We sang 62 songs, not quite a record. I have written
down the verses sung in some cases.

107 - Holy Manna - David Sarten
opening prayer - David Sarten
180 - Whitestown - Ann Strange
 13 - Reflection - Joe Sarten
115 - Northfield - Bruce Wheeler
 99 - Morning Trumpet - Sharee Green
 14 - Mear - Christy White
 20A - Fairfield - Claudia Dean - 1,2,5R (repeat)
146 - Edom - Nathan Rees
163 - New Topia - Andrew Whaley
183 - Long Ago - Paul Clabo
121 - Seaman - Mary Baumeister
 53B - Dundee - Julianne Wiley
 74 - Never Part Again - Robin Goddard
 52A - Evening Shade - Tina Becker
114 - Zion - Leslie Booher
154 - Yarmouth - Chris Wilhelm
143 - Wondrous Love - David Sarten - 1
 68T - Paradise - Judy Mincey
 30 - Sion's Security - Bob Richmond
117 - Coronation - Kathleen Mavournin
122 - Summer - Jonathon Smith - 1,2
 40 - Aurora - Jeff Farr - 1,2
 35 - Ninety-Fifth - Gid Fryer
132 - Lischer - Don Wiley - 1
 80B - Shawmut - Bill Gaithergood
 70 - Brooklyn - Nate Zweig - 1, no R
111 - Hamburg - David Carlton - 1,4
178B - Invitation - Steve Stone
112 - Humility - Andrew Whaley
prayer before dinner - Bruce Wheeler
107 - Holy Manna - Andrew Whaley
 61 - Leander - Nancy Olsen - all verses
 53B - Dundee - Rick Johnson
 94 - Devizes - Sara Melton
125B - New Haven - Reba Clabo
134 - Indian's Farewell - Don Wiley - 1,4
 81B - Golden Hill - Nate Zweig
 18 - Windham - David Carlton - 1,2,3,4
144 - Rowley - Judy Mincey
 39T - China - Leslie Booher
 52A - Evening Shade - Tammy Heinsohn - 1
 12 - Albion - Julianne Wiley - 1,2,5
113T - Sutton - Chris Wilhelm - R
154 - Yarmouth - Mary Baumeister
 24 - Salvation - Jeff Fahr - 1,2,5,6
 20 - Hebron - Bruce Wheeler - softly, crescendo on 2
 22 - Detroit - David Sarton - 1,2,3,4R
110 - North Salem - Nate Rees
 56T - Heavenly Armour - Jonathon Smith
 39B - St. Martins - Kathleen Mavournin
124 - The Saint's Adieu - Bob Richmond
162A - David's Lamentation - Steve Stone
 23B - Duke Street - Julianne Wiley
 99 - Morning Trumpet - Nancy Olsen
131T - Marston - Janet Whaley
 47 - The Promised Land - Ann Strange
 48 - Christian Contemplation - Joe Sarten - 1R, 6R
 67T - Soda - Claudia Dean
 44 - Idumea - Christy White - 1,8 no R
 51 - Mount Olivet - Paul Clabo
 21T - Rockingham - Sharee Green
206 - Western Mount Pleasant - Andrew Whaley - no R
 11 - Old Hundred - Bruce Wheeler - 1,2,3,4,D
Paul Clabo - dismissal

Yarmouth - page 156
After we sang the notes, the leader lowers the pitch. This is easily done since we use a relative pitch for all our singing. We want the pitch to be best for all the singers in all four parts.
Yarmouth - mp3.mp3
MP3 Audio File 3.0 MB
HC 2011 pt 1.mp3
MP3 Audio File 49.5 MB
HC 2011 pt 2.mp3
MP3 Audio File 39.3 MB
HC 2011 pt 3.mp3
MP3 Audio File 39.2 MB

Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion - Sunday, September 18, 2011

It was a fine, clear morning with more than a hint of Fall in the air. Julianne and I arrived in Bristol shortly before nine o'clock. After finding our way to the Dance Tent, we immediately saw John Taff amd Tony Treadway. While they set up the square, I went back to the car to get books.

There was a stage at one end of the tent. I  walked up on it and considered making the square there. But we decided to set up away from the stage, on the asphalt, near the sidewalk on State Street. That was a good decision, because listeners were able to form a circle around us in the square.

Singers began arriving soon, and after a while, we decided to begin singing early. I called "Morning Light". Even though this was an outdoor venue under an open sided tent, and there was a fresh, chilly breeze blowing through, we already had four strong parts and a decent sound. After a couple more songs, we had at least thirty singers, probably more, and I led "Holy Manna."

"All is vain unless the Spirit of the Holy One comes down..."

 I then called leaders - Julianne Wiley, Jeff Farr, Leslie Booher, Ann Strange, Tina Becker, Teresa Sandoval, Rhodyjane Meadows, Steve Stone,  (missed calling Gary Poe, but I was so pleased that he came over to add to a fine bass section). I do apologize for not keeping minutes. I can report that Jeff Farr led "Easter Anthem." If I missed mentioning a leader, I am sorry for that.

We were all very excited for the good turnout early on a Sunday morning. The singers all brought good energy and sweet spirit that made it a most memorable event. I think we sang almost two hours (with a short break). I had several conversations with listeners who shared their connections to "shape note" and their pleasure at listening to us.

My outreach for this was a printed handout of "Angel Band." John Hollingsworth had kindly provided me a copy in which he added the shape names to the music. I added some information about the Old Fields Singers. I passed out fifty copies and we sang it twice. In the days leading up to the Bristol event, we also got specific mention in local media; so the word continues to get out.

And, so far as there needs to be a "point" that is it. Get the word out and "Come sit a spell. "Let's sing".

103rd Etowah Singing - September 3, 2011

I think we had twelve singers. A small number once was a disappointment to me. Big numbers usually bring an energy - not always. Small numbers can make it seem more like work. But, the term "labor of love" definitely applies.


I often recall the words of Larry Olzeski, "The tradition is a gift and when one receives a gift, he should pay it back ten times." Every time we make a square and open the books, we are paying back. And that is a good thing.


Somehow, I missed geting a picture that included a  newcomer, whose name I did not ask either, though he did fortify the bass section. I also did not photograph Robert Kelley, who also fortified the bass section when I tried to lead.

Calvary Singing - Fletcher, North Carolina Saturday, June 11, 2011

Calvary Episcopal Church is certainly one of the nicer venues that we sing in. Today I learned that the little section we sing in, The Old Well Hall, was built over a - well, a well. I also heard a story about Boiling Springs, NC, but, I do digress.


The great blessing of the day wes welcoming Ted Yoder back to the square after his successful liver transplant. To God be the glory!


Also, it was good to have Michael Walker with us along with everyone else. I got to share my recipe for pimento cheese, which was my Plan B food, after the peaches I bought turned tout to be less than ripe.


My photos are a little strange. On the way, we diverted off 240 toward the Farmer's Market for a pit stop and I snapped a few of the signs. I bought a bottle of "Smart Water." I don't think it works; or maybe I did not drink enough. I could not figure out how to open the little pop up nipple-like cap. So I had to unscrew the whole thing.


Also, I took a couple of the fabulous kitchen - it's the best kitchen I have ever seen in a church - which includes a few Greek Orthodox who know a thing or two about cooking.


Sound files to come.

New Bethel Singing - Greene County - Saturday, June 4, 2011

There is much to enjoy around an all day singing. When we first began going, the attraction was this new (to us) thing - this sound that regular people could produce from these old books. It seemed so natural to the singers and so mysterious and difficult to us. That first time, at Headrick's Chapel, we sat in the back and listened. It was on that day that we met Larry Olszewski. He took our cintact information and we began to receive the Old Harp newsletter through the mail on a regular basis. It would be several years before we could do much besides read the newsletter.


My thoughts are of Larry because of what he said about his efforts to preserve and promote the singing tradition. He said that the singing was a gift and "when given a gift, one should try to repay it ten times."


That repaying can be done in many ways. and as we try to do that, we experience the truth that "it is more blessed to give than to receive."


I am grateful to each and every one, some known to me, many unknown, who have given of themselves to bring this tradition to me. It's the best thing I know.




It was a quite warm day with bright sunshine, with a good breeze outside. The class had sufficient numbers for four strong parts and a few newcomers - both listeners and singers joined us. And I filled up with gasoline that was twenty five cents cheaper than I could find in Johnson City.


Singing School - Roan Mountain - Sunday, May 1, 2011

I am amazed when I hear of folks who live in New York City who have never seen the Statue of Liberty.. It's not exactly the same - but I never knew there WAS a Main Street in Roan Mountain. The fellow at the Subway who also lives in Johnson City thought 19E was it. Well we went back and forth, saw several churches, but not one was Methodist. So I asked a couple of fellows eating a footlong and they sent me off in the general direction. I love how folks give directions - about half of it is "Don't go that way." 


RhodyJane taught led the class with an introduction to the tradition and the shapes and we sang the major scale. We worked through "Old Hundred" with the "Praise God" after the poetry in he book. Then "Prayer Meeting" - two verses from the book and a third from Stamps Baxter.


We then concluded with learning "Parting Hand".


I did not count, but would guess 12 - 15 which included a van load of young 'uns. Teacher seemed pleased with the class and the class seemed to be looking forward to the next session.

Spring Singing at Etowah - April 30, 2011

Today, I am musing on the generosity I see in the shape note community. Unless I have missed something, no one makes money from shape note singing. Yes, there is some amount of commerce involved in making of books and CD's and camps. But, as far as I can tell, there doesn't seem to me a financial motivation to do any of this.


Yet we have books and CD's and camps and websites.People have found something that motivates them beyond personal gain. We have been given a treasure chest that never dwindles as long as we keep opening it and sharing the jewels.


I heard a prayer prayed at a singing once ' Thank you, Lord, for the people who come and share themselves." I can't say it any better than that.




We had a glorious Spring day for the 104th Etowah singing and at least 35 singers making four strong parts. This year we sang on the Fellowship Hall which made for a more spacious environment. Minutes can be found on the CH site and I will post some sound files later.


Clich for sound files

At the business meeting, we adopted the 2010 book for the September singing. We also donated $250 to the St John's Building Fund.


Epworth Old Harp Singing - Laurel Theater - Knoxville - Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Chairman, Tina Becker, had requested that we bring some seldom sung songs. I chose "Sutton" (113t). It went well, despite my fouling up the words to the fugue.


First singing my dear wife has missed in a long time. She was laid up with the flu / cold. Felt strange riding down alone. Good conversation at dinner about the history of the singing and what was happening on campus in the early 70's, when I was there.


We enjoyed lovely weather and the peasure of good singing in a fine space. If you missed it, I hope to see you next time.

5th Annual Grapevine Singing - Saturday, March 5, 2011

 Looking back over previous minutes, I realized that both the Grapevine and the Old Fields All Day Singings have their fifth birthdays this year.


Yesterday, I was struck with how quickly most of us could arrive from our homes to this place, compared wth sixty or seventy years ago when the same journey would require several hours.


The folks in the Center community (half way between Marshall and Mars Hill) are justly proud of their community center and are as hospitable as only home folks can be. We have been invited back for more singing and I am thinking about moving one of our third Sundays there. (They hold a BBQ chicken dinner on third Sundays. More to come on that.)


24 singers from 4 states comprised the class in a wonderful singing space. I was gratified to see some relative newcomers venturing across the mountain for this one and to see many old friends whose company always gladden our heart.

Larry Beveridge of Rutherfordton, North Carolina shares some thoughts

*That House Not Made with Hands*

by Larry Beveridge on Sunday, March 6, 2011 at 2:50pm

*That House Not Made with Hands*


Thank you, Don, for taking care of so many details and manifesting such a good singing.  I know it represents a lot of work for many individuals, especially for a leader tending details.  True to form, for me anyhow, yesterday's singing was like walking back into another family reunion-- singing family.  And it seems to be a powerful spiritual family for us. 


I am grateful to call you and Julianne my brother and sister.  I am grateful we all share a common path.  I am closest to that which we call Divine in the square among my brothers and sisters.


Time in the square seems to transcend differences among us all; the singing tradition would seem one of the most truly democratic and compassion-driven, living arts of our day--a wide, extended family.  Like any other family, it seems to have a life of its own, a life drawing us all together in an unending "class".


I can only speak for myself; however, I believe others might agree that each of us brings, like a unique fingerprint, his or her own personal life experiences and individual perspectives, our woes and our joys.  And together, we learn "harmony" in so many layers of meaning of that word. 


We arrive and reunite.  We build a "hollow square" with what is at hand, not unlike the temporary tabernacles or brush arbors of our ancient and our more recent forbears.  We sing and interact.  None of us is immune to errors of thought, word, or deed; pitch, volume, or timing.  We experience triumphs also, both individually and in communion.  Inevitably, we learn experientially together.  When it is time to take another parting hand, as we must, all seem to exit with something more than when we arrived.  Somehow, when all is sung and done, it seems to foster and inform the best in each of us, one beat at a time--maybe two. :-)


I am deeply grateful that I have been in just the right place, at just the right time, and have been so often greeted, welcomed, hugged, and included, just as I am, in just this right singing family, as one among unnumbered brethren, those who have passed away as well as those now present.  I have no regret for any moment of my life or energy spent involved in our singing. This is the gift we all give to one another.  I am honored to call you all my brothers and sisters as we build our own houses "not made with hands".