Minutes of Sacred Harp Singings

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St. Paul’s Chapel Singing School

St. Paul’s Chapel, New York, New York

Saturday, December 1, 2012

At the invitation of St. Paul’s Chapel and Trinity Wall Street, Aldo Ceresa taught a singing school, with dinner on the grounds and open singing following.

The class was called to order by Aldo Ceresa leading 56t. Rev. Emily Wachner offered the opening prayer and welcomed the class. Aldo spoke of St. Paul’s as a welcoming space, and a refuge; he mentioned that it had once been a country chapel and was now surrounded by the city, just as Sacred Harp singing may be thought of as rural music now dwelling in the city.

He noted that Sacred Harp is a living tradition, not a dusty relic, just as St. Paul’s Chapel is home to a living congregation, in addition to being a historic site and a monument to the September 11 attacks. Aldo noted that the roots of Sacred Harp music reach beyond the 1766 construction of St. Paul’s, and commented that it was likely that some tunes that appear in the Sacred Harp were sung in the chapel in the eighteenth century. He emphasized that though the tradition started as a means to reform church singing, it soon expanded beyond its original purpose to become the collegial group singing it remains today.

Aldo then led a lesson focused on the three departments of music: time, tune, and accent, including the seven modes of time. First, he reviewed the relative lengths of notes and rests as found on page 15 of the Rudiments. Second, he taught the fa, so, la syllables and their shapes and asked the class to sing scales and intervals, concluding with exercises at singing in thirds and building a chord to demonstrate harmony. The class sang 49b, reviewing all parts, and 45t, reviewing and recognizing the tenor.

Next, Aldo discussed the importance of defined accent in the singing of Sacred Harp music, especially its practical value in keeping the class together and in rhythm. He reviewed each of the modes of time with reference to pages 15 and 16 of the Rudiments: 2-2, leading 49t; 2-4, with its march quality and accent on the first beat, leading 274t; 4-4, the most common time signature, with its “rocking” feel and primary and secondary accents, leading 159; 3-2, slower waltz time, leading 47b; 3-4, quicker waltz time, leading 68b (noting that composer Thomas Hastings lived in New York and is buried in Brooklyn); and the compound times, 6-4, leading 62, and 6-8, leading 134. He then led 209 to introduce the fuging tune. Rev. Wachner invited the class to lunch, and offered grace before the meal.


Aldo Ceresa called the class back to order leading 105. Leaders: Diane Mennella 300; Dan Adams 89; Jon Giles 203; Ian Quinn 500; Ellen Lueck 498; Erin Johnson-Hill 384; Naomi Kaye 347; Terry Ryan 344; Dean Jens 377; Leon Pulsinelle 434; Becky Wright 411; Gwen Gethner 481; Nancy Mandel 564; Rachel Speer 229; Douglas Fower 227; Jacob Lee 81t; Emily Hale-Sills 485; Merv Horst 63; Charles Biada 42; Carol Huang 77t; Cory Noel 189; Rebecca Blumenthal 386; Ann Sleeva 66; Sam Kleinman 171; Paula Picton 528.


Ian Quinn brought the class back to order leading 131b. Leaders: Abby Beshkin 472; Charlotte Ehrman 365; Angharad Davis 371; Sarah Kessler 457; Al McCready 182; Eric Xu 328.

Guidance in leading was offered by Aldo, and taken up by the following six leaders: Gwen Gethner and Nancy Britton 183; Sarah Kessler 112; Al McCready 306; Dean Jens 245; Naomi Kaye 504. Open singing continued with these leaders: Sue Peters and Charles Biada 178; Dan Adams 179; Jon Giles 448t; Sam Kleinman 567; Leon Pulsinelle 271t; Ellen Lueck 72b; Erin Johnson-Hill 200; Diane Mennella 30t. Two group lessons followed: Visiting singers from Connecticut, Philadelphia, and Chicago 150; Aldo with singers new to the square 187.

After thanking St. Paul’s and Trinity Church for the opportunity to sing in the chapel, Aldo led 62 as the closing song. Rev. Wachner dismissed the class with a prayer.

Chairman—Aldo Ceresa; Secretary—Nancy Mandel