Sacred Harp Singing in Europe: Its Pathways, Spaces, and Meanings
Sacred Harp singing—a printed form of a cappella sacred music developed by 18th, 19th, and 20th century Americans for the purpose of worship and social networking—has experienced significant participatory growth in the past eight years, with new community groups formed in twenty countries world-wide. The majority of Sacred Harp singing’s transnational spread has concentrated in Europe.
Several factors have encouraged the flourishing of European participation both at the local level and within the international Sacred Harp singing network. These factors include strong international support from traditional Sacred Harp organizations in the U.S. Another factor has been the charismatic and enabled leadership from within European communities. The third factor is the utilization of current media which promotes an inclusive network that extends to Sacred Harp singers everywhere.
Balancing the ethnographic placement of European Sacred Harp singing within this dispersed network, I investigate the subject through three primary considerations. I first look at Sacred Harp singing’s historical and recent pathways to and from Europe, including 17th and 18th century exchanges of English language poetry and music, and 19th century German language tunebooks in the Mid-Atlantic states. I then explore the 21st century pathways that The Sacred Harp took to form communities in Europe, including its pathways to the United Kingdom, Poland, and Ireland. Secondly, I look at local, transnational, and created spaces that Sacred Harp singing occupies. Here, I contextualize my concept of the affinity interzone, a nebulous category of socially constructed space, where participants are encouraged to engage in internationally interpreted organizational choreography, social codes, and nuanced performativities. Finally, I investigate meanings that Sacred Harp singing takes on for European participants, including religious and secular meanings, a sense of belonging to a community, and the experience of transformative emotions. I include four ethnographic profiles which contextualize these meanings and consolidate points made throughout the paper.
I draw on theoretical concepts from ethnomusicology and sociology to develop my analytical perspective. This dissertation will provide new insights and models to the growing body of ethnomusicological studies on transnational musical networks, musical affinity groups, music revivals, and contemporary Sacred Harp singing.