As much as the people who sing Old Harp have changed over time, so have the places where we sing. From huge gatherings and popular Singing Schools in the mountains, to the current monthly and annual singings in various counties, this tradition has deep roots in East Tennessee. But our ancestors would be more than a little surprised to know this tradition is now “performed” live on the radio and TV! These days, more people get their Old Harp information from the internet or the listserve or Facebook than by mail or phone calls. And although East Tennesseans have always welcomed visitors, now we also go visit other singings and learn about other shaped-note traditions.
I think of our “year” starting with the Sugarlands Visitors Center singing as part of the “Festival of Christmas Past” when the mountains feel like they did before the national park. We still have many of our traditional singings in or near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park—Pigeon Forge and Sevier County, Townsend and Blount County, Cades Cove and Wears Valley. I am excited that this year we will return to the Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse where Robin Goddard is the “schoolmarm” and loves to share Old Harp with her visitors each week along with the spelling bee competition. Robin also is our hostess at the singings at the Townsend Spring Festival and Cades Cove, where we recently moved from the Missionary Baptist to the Primitive Baptist church but since we’re the congregation, the singing is just the same.
Our annual singing at Dollywood in October at the
chapel some Old Harp singers helped donate and restore.
We don’t sing in some of the places we used to and I miss them although we certainly have a busy calendar. The Museum of Appalachia wanted a more regular performance than our Saturday morning singings and we had a good discussion about it but we couldn’t work out the schedule and tickets. We don’t have a Christmas singing at Kathy Jones because, after surviving brain cancer for many years, she passed away this year. We also lost Connie Clabo but sang at his funeral. We happily welcomed three babies this year—Ethan Lawrence Green, Claire Annaliese White, and James Jeremy Shipp.
We didn’t sing in Pittman Center last year but the Wilderness Wildlife Week is a big hit and David Sarten is a fine moderator there and also at the monthly Sevier County singings which continue to grow. When I first started singing, we met at Helen Hutchison’s house in Knoxville every Sunday night. When she passed, we moved to the Laurel Theatre but not weekly. Now we just meet once a month and are asked to pay a modest rent but it is still the home of the Epworth Old Harp singers and Tina Becker is a fine President. We continue to miss Larry O but combining his annual memorial service with the Thanksgiving Eve singing has proved popular.
Andrew Whaley leads at the Laurel Theatre in Knoxville,
Tennessee, traditional home of the Epworth Old Harp singers
I’m sorry we don’t have a monthly singing in Blount County right now but the annual singings are going strong.
I believe Cora Sweatt, in Athens, Tennessee, sells more Old Harp books than anybody else. She is a tireless promoter of Old Harp even though her family is well known in the Sacred Harp tradition and I regret that we don’t support her enough. She organizes the Old College singers who last year sang for the Polk County Historical Society, the First Baptist Church Sunday service, and an old fashioned downtown Christmas, and have plans to sing for schools and a music club this year.
Eddie Mash is often crossing the country each weekend looking for singings of any kind, preferably the ones that last all day or two days. He was the Chairman for the United Sacred Harp Convention held in Nashville last year and was a good representative for East Tennessee. He also is an organizer of Camp Do Re Mi held in August in the mountains of North Carolina. Tennessee continues to hold the number one spot for attendance at the Camp. Several of us have gone each year to learn more, share more, and spend three days with the best folks in the world in one of the prettiest o host the event, welcoming everyone, making sure books are available, coordinating food, setting up and taking down tables and chairs, and sweeping up after the singing is over. Please remember to let them know how much you enjoyed the singing and support them by showing up. You know who is responsible for each singing by the “Contact” information on the calendar.
Leaders at Camp DoReMi.
The Board of Directors continues to monitor the book situation because our book will need to be reprinted pretty soon. Your donations are spent to keep this tradition alive which involves having books to loan at each singing and books for sale. This annual newsletter is pretty expensive to print and mail also.
The tradition continues because enough people care to show up and sing and encourage others to sing. We had fun sharing the tradition on the radio with the WDVX Blue Plate Special and singing at Blount Mansion in Knoxville which was included in WBIR’s Heartland Series holiday TV special. Participation in this tradition can lead to surprising places!
The Old Harp tradition was spread around the world thanks to
our appearance on Knoxville’s WDVX radio’s Blue Plate Special.
We could sure use some help with social media information about Old Harp singing. If you can help upload photos and videos and make clickable links for each singing, we could use your skills. And I can’t do this newsletter forever by myself. It may be the year you decide to become more involved with this tradition. As someone that Larry recruited and pushed along, I can guarantee you that you will reap more than you sow. So thank you for continuing this tradition and let me know if you want to get involved in other ways.