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About Northern Harmony Tunebook


The Northern Harmony, Fourth Edition: Plain Tunes, Hymns and Anthems from the New England Singing School Tradition tunebook includes 116 songs largely by early New England composers, from the decades following the American revolution. The book also includes over thirty contemporary shape-note songs. Haunting melodies, stark, open harmonies, rhythmic counterpoint, and the fierce rhymed poetry of Isaac Watts. The book is prefaced with an invaluable historical introduction to the singing shool ("shape-note") tradition in colonial America.

The songs in Northern Harmony are 3- and 4-part polyphonic pieces written using shape note notation. Although traditionally performed by unaccompanied voices, the music is well-suited to have instruments (particularly woodwinds) replace singers on one or more parts. The tunebook, other tunebooks, and recordings are available directly from Northern Harmony Publishing Company.

Many of the songs within its pages were written by the great colonial American tunesmiths, including Jeremiah Ingalls and Timothy Swan. Most of these early pieces date from 1770 to 1820 by itinerant singing masters or local writers.

Others songs date from the 1990's -- a period in which four-part shape note music was (and is!) enjoying a revival in New England. Composers such as Seth Houston, Megan Henderson, Glen Wright, and Neely Bruce typify the modern New England style of shape-note hymnody.

Northern Harmony is part of a living tradition of singing as participatory music-making. While there are some excellent recordings of shape-note singing, it is best enjoyed by joining in. There are many local singings throughout the United States. Shape-note singing in New England has been nurtured by many groups, including Norumbega Harmony, the Western Massachusetts Sacred Harp Convention, and Northern Harmony.


Northern Harmony Tunebook Index