Recorded at Lindsay Chapel, Emmanuel Church, Boston, MA, November 16-20, 1992;
Campion Center, Boston, MA, August 20-22, 1994.

Erato CD 0630-12711-2


Anne Azéma, soprano
Margaret Swanson, soprano
Elizabeth Anker, contralto
William Hite, tenor
Daniel McCabe, bariton
Nori Nke Aka, bass
Joel Frederiksen, bass

Robert Mealy, violin
Emily Walhout, Cello
Megan Henderson, Harmonium
Jesse Lepkoff, flute, guitar
Joel Cohen, guitar

Assisted by:

Frederick Jodry, conductor

Notes for "Trav'ling Home"

As urban America of the nineteenth century grew and prospered, it became anxious to show itself civilized and "cultured" along the lines of established European culture. And so it was that the music of America's founders -- the untutored but vigorous religious music of Colonial America, and the rugged, folk-derived spiritual song of the countryside -- was more or less banished from polite society. The middle classes preferred (or were told to prefer) major-key hymns in "correct" four-part harmony. Funny stereopticon slides were published showing country yokels at an old-fashioned "singing school," presumably caterwauling some anthem by a disgraced eighteenth century like Billings or Read. Standard American music history texts, some even in use today, wrote off these repertoires, dismissing them in a few lines, or even ignoring them entirely.

Fortunately, the diluted musical tastes of the bourgeoisie never succeeded in permeating what is, after all, a very large, diverse, and free country. Though the Northern singing schools died out, their traditions continued to flourish in the South; and now, as the twentieth century draws to a close, interest in the roots of American spirituality is undergoing something of a revival. Shapenote and related repertoires are studied in earnest by musicologists and cultural historians. More important still, a younger generation of Northerners travels to Southern shapenote conventions to sing along with those communities that have preserved an authentic American art, changing fashion notwithstanding, for over two centuries. In a related phenomenon, Shaker music is emerging into the general public consciousness for the first time (see the recording Simple Gifts , Erato). And even for those parts of the repertoire that have ceased to be current, the testimony of the old hymbooks is there, and the music within is waiting to be sung again by performers both amateur and professional.

The present program draws on a number of sources: Southern shapenote songbooks still in use today, long out-of-print hymnals from the North, early manuscripts, and occasionally oral tradition. The songs and hymns are fascinating and important from a historical perspective, but most essentially, they are beautiful works of art, emanating from that which is best and truest in the American soul. The texts we sing frequently invoke the metaphor of life on the North American continent as a spiritual quest or journey; such images were clearly very important in the early decades of our history; and despite the technologisation of American life, they still bear meaning today.

Notes on individual pieces


From an eighteenth-century manuscript preserved at the public library of Newburyport, Massachusetts. This setting was praised by the American Vocalist's compiler D.H. Mansfield, a man who fought the genteel, "reforming" style, as one of the best of the old tunes: "Hatfield..will make them weep, while modern compositions produce little or no effect."

We tend to think of early American hymnody as first of all, worship music and secondly, primarily intended for the delectation of the performers themselves. Both notions are only partially true; these songs had (and many still have) a human context that complements their religious aspect. Singing schools and singing conventions after all, were (and are) social gatherings with a spiritual dimension, rather than formal worship services. Furthermore, the concept of public performance for an audience is also present in the aesthetic of Billings' time, as the words to this charming piece point out.

The Pilgrims
Many early spirituals develop the notion of a difficult spiritual journey or pilgrimage. Our setting is from The Revivalist, a key source of early American camp-meeting songs. This evocative text was also sung by early nineteenth century black congregations, perhaps to this tune, perhaps to another one now lost.

This kind of penitential text is very prominent in the eighteenth-century repertoire; like the poem, the craggy, archaic musal setting avoids "easy" solutions.

Like so many settings by Boston tanner and composer William Billings, this one evokes both the biblical Song of Solomon and the ethos of the Elizabethan lovesong.

Harvest Hymn
The harvest of souls at the last judgement is another frequently-utilised theme of early American sacred song. This tune, in a setting by Vermont's Jeremiah Ingalls, is possibly derived from a secular "Harvest Home" tune of a type prevalent in England, and emulated by Henry Purcell in his King Arthur.

Pessimistic, minor-keyed pieces of this sort were part and parcel of the musical ethos in colonial America. They were occasionally reprinted in nineteenth century songbooks as "old folks' music," before being nearly buried at centuries' end by a flood of major-key, keyboard-derived gospel songs. Fortunately, Calvary and other precious pieces by Reed, Billings, and other early New Englanders still live on in the southern Sacred Harp tradition.

The Vermont tavernkeeper Jeremiah Ingalls is best known for his folk-like settings of strophic spiritual songs, among the first of their kind in America. This intense, madrigalesque snapshot of the Day of Judgement shows his native musical power in another vein, that of the fuguing tune.

While Angels strike
The gapped minor scale and the wide interval skips derive from English and Scottish folksong. Is there also a hint of black musical style in this #E6DDCC spiritual? Both races were in attendance at the camp meetings where songs like this were created and sung.

The five-note, plagal melody makes a beautiful fit with the moving text. This setting is sometimes sung at Sacred Harp memorial services.

An early and delightful example of the optimistic, major-key style that came to predominate in "popular" church music. Contemporary audiences immediately recognise this idiom as "American."

Something new
The excellent tune exists in a quick-tempo, Southern shape-note version, and also in a contemplative, close-harmony setting from the North; it is this latter one that we perform here.

The young convert
Much of the early American repertoire has a strange-yet-somehow-familiar "feel" to modern ears. This energetic setting by Ingalls recalls the Millerite hymn "The Midnight Cry" (adapted as well by the Shakers, and still in print in The Sacred Harp. --this latter version recorded by the Boston Camerata on An American Christmas , Erato) But a "psychoanalysis" of The young convert reveals an even more surprising connection -- delving down into nearly every American's childhood memories, we discover a relationship between this spiritual and the nursery song Old Macdonald had a farm.

Bruce's addres -- Scots wha ha'e ye
Both the sacred text and its music derive from the well-known and warlike Scottish song; the Scots text in the version by Robert Burns.

Saw ye my hero -- Crucifixion
Widely known as a "Negro spiritual" (and popularised as such by the great American contralto Marian Anderson) this is in fact a secular Scottish tune, Where are the joys , adapted as a political elegy to George Washington, and re- adapted yet again to a sacred text. "Why should the devil have all the good tunes?" queried Martin Luther some generations and an ocean removed from these examples; but he was surely thinking of cases like this.

Farewell ye green fields -- Greenfield
This very popular English song of the late eighteenth century remained current in the U.S. well into early twentieth century. It also gave birth to a number of religious imitations. This one, about Joseph and his brethren, comes from a Pennsyvania Mennonite book in shape notes; both the German and English texts we sing here are present in that source.

Prince William's March -- The Paralytic
The Paralytic is a "miracle" ballad whose tune derives from an eighteenth century English march popular in colonial America.

The three Gypsies -- Christian Race
This tune, of English origin, is related to several American spiritual songs. Besides its folk-derived melody, Christian Race is remarkable for its very "archaic" two-voice setting; the stark cadential intervals of fifths and octaves may recall to some listeners the early polyphony of twelfth-century Limoges, France.

The model, of course, is Rule Brittania by Thomas Arne (1710-1778). The song's title, Liberty, and the content of the poetry, evoke the text of Arne's original: "Britons never, never, never shall be slaves."

The theme of pilgrimage once again evoked in both the German and English texts, which are printed side-by-side in the original source. foursquare phrase structure and full cadential stops recall the Germanic roots of much American Mennnonite hymnody.

This tune, perhaps a Scottish folksong, appears in a number of songbooks from the pre-Civil War period.

"Doctor Watts is now in Heaven," said Shaker leader Ann Lee, referring to the English minister Isaac Watts (1674-1748), author of this hymn text, and countless others as well. We perform William Billings' energetic setting in responsory fashion, with each strophe of the tune "lined out" in unison before it is echoed in partsong.

Weeping Pilgrim
Thanks to the film industry, the image of the Lonesome Cowboy has become an American archetype, familiar to the point of caricature (e.g. the French cartoon Lucky Luke). This astonishing piece from The Sacred Harp brings a spiritual, and intensely moving dimension to that worldly metaphor. At the passage "I weep and I mourn and I move slowly on," the author or arranger makes unusual (in this context) and very effective requests for both a meter change and a soft dynamic.

These notes are © by Joel Cohen

Track Listing

note: some sound clips to Trav'ling Home are available by clicking here

1. Hatfield
2. Invocation
3. The Pilgrims
4. Ballon
5. Richmond
6. Harvest Hymn
7. Calvary
8. Pennsylvania
9. While Angels Strike
10. Cusseta
11. Confidence
12. Something New
13. The Young Convert
14. Scots, Wha Ha'e
15. Bruce's Address
16. Saw You My Hero
17. Crucifixion
18. Fare Well Ye Green Fields
19. Greenfields
20. Prince William's March
21. The Paralytic
22. The Three Gypsies
23. Christian Race
24. Liberty
25. Ontario
26. Scotland
27. Warren
28. Weeping Pilgrim

from Répertoire (Paris, France), October, 1996
rating: 9 (out of 10 possible)

"Once upon a time in America..." The history of American musical traditions still remains to be uncovered, so tenacious are the clichés and stereotypes surrounding the subject.

What is often remembered are the hymns, anthems, and spirituals that the 19th century, citified bougeoisie watered down, to the detriment of the authentic vein, which is naive, rural, and colorful. Today, the new frontier in America, whose recent developments are well known, is the rediscovery of these historic roots.

Joel Cohen and his Boston Camerata participate in this movement, as they uncover in the attic of history a rich tradition of unexpected early music. (Remember An American Christmas and The American Vocalist. ) By examining early manuscripts of the 18th and 19th centuries (notably shape-note sources from the South), and by paying attention as well to oral tradition, Joel Cohen has built a fascinating program, without the slightest concession to the syrupy nonsense which has been -- and is still -- passed off in this repertoire. Life explodes, in all its raw power (listen to the hymn Richmond, sparkling with witty energy and verve), by turns intimate and convivial. Confidence is the very prototype of American music, in which Protestant piety unites with the depths of the human soul; behind the facade of an extremely simple compositional style hides the melancholy image of an entire, distant world, still to be conquered.

You have already guessed it -- this recording is a moment of pure happiness, and these songs are preferable, a thousand times over, to all those anthologies of spirituals sung by our dear, over-packaged divas. Thanks to Joel Cohen for having given us this moving "American Way of Music."

Sylvain Gasser