(I also believe that these tendencies are related to the growth of so-called "contemporary Christian" music in the liturgy, but that is for another post.)
Bringing together a church choir and shape-note singers presents challenges. There are differences in technique and culture that require translation so that each group of singers understands what the other is doing. Here's an outline of the problems that have to be solved:
- How do you choose material that singers from both groups can share?
- Do you sing the shapes? If so, how do you teach singers in the church choir to do it?
- Do you use piano or organ to accompany, or try to go without instruments as in a singing convention?
- Are pieces led and pitched by the choir director, or by rotating individuals from the ensemble?
Finding common ground in repertory is easier than it used to be. Since at least the publication of The Hymnal 1982 by the Episcopal Church, denominational hymnals have added many items also found in shape-note books. For our service, we used these three hymn tunes, which are in both The New Century Hymnal and The Sacred Harp:
- Martyrdom (in NCH) / Sacred Throne (in SH)
- The Promised Land
- Organ prelude: "Dove of Peace," arranged by John Barr in The Organist's Companion, July 2012
- Introit: "Devotion"
- Response after Lord's Prayer: "Ragan"
- Anthem: my own composition, "All Good Gifts" (currently unpublished, but may appear in print in the future)
- Offertory: "Sherburne"
- Benediction: "Parting Hand"
- I allowed shape-note singers to set the pitch for some items sung without instrumental accompaniment.
- For the benediction, we used the traditional closing song, "Parting Hand," and invited the congregation to shake hands with each other. Most of them did!
- Instead of an organ postlude, I invited the visiting shape-note singers to have a "mini-convention" by selecting several songs and leading them themselves.