Shaped Note (Singing)
In the late 1870s, a normal
school was founded to teach a system based on a seven-shaped
musical note scale (known today as shaped notes). This made it
possible for everyone to learn to follow the musical score and sing
- even if they couldn't read. It also provided a completely
different style of harmony and distinct sound. The songs
representing the Christian life and worship were sung mostly at
community gatherings --in churches, outside, or in large auditoriums.
These events were at the heart of social engagement and entertainment
for communities in our area in the early years. See The Heritage of
Okaloosa County, FL. Volume II for a more detailed history of this
Sung in churches this group
singing was also known as "FA SO LA". Each of the musical notes
on the scale had a name - "doe, re, me, fa, so, la, ti, doe" a
song leader gave the pitch or key the song was
to be sung in - often
using a tuning fork which was tapped against a hard surface. The leader
sounded out the sopranos, the altos, tenors and base singers their first
note of the song. Particiants sounded out the notes of the song
("fa, so so, so, fa, so") and then sang using the words instead of the
note names. Songs were sung a capella. During the songs some voices
stand out above others (to adjust their pitch and keep the tempo as the
group sounded out their harmonies). See the Sacred Harp Hymnals in the
museum's exhibit room. This type singing was featured in
Convention Singing began in
the churches and was an outgrowth of the Sacred Harp tradition.
However, singers were usually accompanied by piano or
guitar. Everyone sang from a particular song book. There were
several series of these books.
Each participant bought or brought their
own songbook. It is also known as Stamps-Baxter singing. The
Stamps-Baxter Publishing Company sold the little paperback books by
mail order. (usually priced under fifty-cents, each, they were
affordable for groups to purchase and use at all locations.) Most often
these 'singings' were combined with
dinner-on-the-grounds - preaching in the morning, then lunch, then
afternoon singing. Eating at the church lessened the travel time
and provided time to socialize and visit. As a rule, most locations
selected a particular Sunday of the month to
have a singing, eg., 3rd Sunday singing at Antioch; 2nd Sunday singing
at Crowder. This way they didn't need to keep posting individual
dates. Folks already knew when and where.
"Singing Schools" were conducted - by
a gifted musician in the community or a curcuit rider from one of the
publishing companies - in the various communities. Both children and
adults attended and the schools were usually held during the summer -
avoiding the planting and harvesting seasons when folks were too busy
to attend. They learned how to read the music, how to keep time, how
to determine the notes and their sound.
An outgrowth of convention
singing were the popular quartet groups which sprang up throughout the
country - the Happy Goodmans, The Blackwood Brothers, The Stamps Quartet, The Dixie Echos, The Florida Boys and many more. The groups
traveled from town to town performing together in auditorium and church
sanctuaries - any building that had a stage and large amount of
seating. There was a small admission fee and many of the quartets
sold their sheet music and records. On occasion a larger town
held an "All Night Singing" - guartets tooktheir turns on stage
singing from 8:00 pm to midnight. One particularily popular All
Night Sing was held, annually, at Bonifay, FL. It was outdoors in
an open field. A flat bed truck served as a stage. People
from all over the Florida panhandle and south Alabama attended.
Many brought lawn chairs and blankets - the children could play
and sleep on the blanket spread in front of the lawn chairs where the adults sat and enjoyed the music. Unlike its 'cousin' convention
singing, quartet music was performance oriented and it became a very
good business for many. Most quartets had their own particular
sound and various Christian life message-songs. There was the
Singing Cloud Family (they were Native American and sometime the lead
singer wore his headdress); The Blackwood Brothers had smooth,
like-colored suits and tie. Other personalities you might
recognize were: Hovie Lister, Jake Hess, Dottie Rambo, J.G.
Whitfield, The Spear Family and the Oak Ridge Boys (pre-country music
vintage), Martha Carson and others.
Country Music. 1940s & 1950s Known for its lyrics of hard
times, hard living and difficult relationships, these traveling
singers came as soloists, groups and instruementalists. To name only a
few: Chet Atkins, "Little Jimmy" Dickins, "Minnie Pearl," Eddie
Arnold, sang their tunes and told jokes at the Nashville, TN.
Ole' Opry. Folks throughout the southeast could listen in over WCKY
radio on Saturday nights.
Baker Block Museum. Corner Rt 4 & Hwy 189, Baker, FL. (850)537-5714