Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"This Song of Love" - Middle Georgia Singing Convention No. 1


Set Two: Social Music; Disc Two; Track Five: "This Song of Love" performed by Middle Georgia Singing Convention No. 1. "Vocal group unaccompanied." Recorded in Atlanta on December 10, 1930. Original issue Okeh 8903 (W404656).

Nothing is known about the Middle Georgia Singing Convention No. 1, other than that they were presumably from Georgia and that they recorded six songs in Atlanta, Georgia in December of 1930. Another song from this session, the similar "Bells of Love" can be heard on the Yazoo collection The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of: The Dead Sea Scrolls of Record Collecting. Super Rarities & Unissued Gems of the 1920's & '30s.

The song "This Song of Love" is equally obscure. It does not seem to have been recorded by any other group. Searches of lyric clusters from the song have similarly come up blank. It doesn't seem to be part of any standard hymnal. Was this song composed by a member of the group? If anyone has any further information on this song or on the Middle Georgia Singing Convention No. 1, please e-mail me at wheredeadvoicesgather1@gmail.com or leave a comment below.

I have made my best effort to transcribe the lyrics to "This Song of Love," however the results are incomplete. There are several words that I can't make out, even after multiple listenings. Part of the problem is the poor quality of the original recording. Part the problem is the polyphonic nature of the performance. There are several voice overlapping. Most of the time, they seem to be singing the same words, but there seem to be some exceptions. These are the lyrics I've been able to make out:

I am walking home to heaven,
That land where comes no night
This is a sign (Yes Jesus!) I've made a start.
All my sins have been forgiven
I'm walking in that light.
A song of love is in my heart.

Now a song of love (a happy song) is in my heart,
My glory land, I've made a start.

Big bells are ringing and Hosannas singing.
This song of love is in my heart.

Then will [something] no more confound me.
I'm on the higher way, I'm walking now,
With singing heart.
The light of heaven now surrounds me
And changes night to day.
This song of love is in my heart.

Now a song of love (a happy song) is in my heart,
My glory land, I've made a start.
Big bells are ringing and Hosannas singing.
This song of love is in my heart.

Now a song of love (a happy song) is in my heart,
My glory land, I've made a start.
Big bells are ringing and Hosannas singing.
This song of love is in my heart.


Thanks to Harry Campbell for helping to decipher these lyrics.

At the beginning of the recording, the singers "tune up," singing the melody and substituting the singing syllables (do-re-me-fa-sol-la, instead of fa-sol-la) for the lyrics. In this, the group seems similar to a Sacred Harp singing group. The group is divided into four vocal parts (tenor, alto, treble, bass) with each part overlapping the others. The song also employs the "fuging" technique heard in the last selection when each of the four vocal parts enters separately at the end of the chorus.

The lyrics that can be made out tell a simple story of eventual salvation in a "heaven" the speaker is "walking" towards. This is similar to the travel metaphor employed in "Rocky Road". Unlike that song, however, "This Song of Love" does not speak of trials on the road to heaven. Instead, it talks of walking in "the light of heaven" that "turns night to day." All obstacles have been removed, and the speaker is continuing to heaven in "glory," with "bells" "ringing" and "Hosannas" "singing."

The word "hosanna" derives from the Hebrew "hoshanna," which means "please save" or "save now." In Christianity, the word "hosanna" is the cry of praise or adoration offered when Jesus enters Jerusalem ("Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!") as related in Matthew 21:9,15, Mark 11:9-10, and John 12:13. It is a cry for help, but one with a generally positive connotation.

The performance on this record seems somewhat mechanical by contrast with the previous selections. The highly syncopated style creates an almost clockwork regularity. The most prominent voice on the recording (a tenor) has an almost bleating quality. The bass voice is also quite prominent, while the higher voices are relegated to the background and are harder to make out.

In his notes, Smith states that the words to the song probably date from the 1920s, but that the "precise method of performance quite likely preceded the 'looser' style heard" in the two Sacred Harp performances. No explanation as to why this earlier style survived in what is appears to be a performance by an African-American group is offered.

Sacred Harp singing does seem to endure primarily among whites. It is possible that while both white and black groups started out singing in a similar style (as brought over from England), a divergence might have occurred at some point due to the segregation of black and white congregations. What became Sacred Harp singing might have evolved among whites, while blacks might have continued to sing in the earlier style for a longer period of time. The fact that the practice of lining (as heard in "Must Be Born Again" and "Oh Death Where Is Thy Sting") endured among blacks longer than it did among whites seems to lend credence to this theory.

This style of singing, with its syncopation, seems to point toward the Gospel Quartets that emerged in the later '30s and '40s.

Singing Conventions are gatherings at which groups gather and sing religious music. They are practiced by different denominations and many of them date back to the 19th century. Their popularity waned for a time, but they endure to this day in the South and in other parts of the country.

This selection seems to have been chosen for its "transitional" nature, taking us from the Sacred Harp selections that came before it to the African-American solo selections that follow.

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Here's an example of the later Gospel Quartet sound that the Middle Georgia Singing Convention No. 1 seems to be pointing toward. This is the Jubalaires performing a song about Noah's Ark.



Download and listen to Middle Georgia Singing Convention No. 1 - "This Song of Love"

3 comments:

  1. Surely "This is a sign... I've made a start" and "A song of love is in my heart, my glory land... I've made a start"?
    Thanks for uploading this enigmatic little number!

    ReplyDelete
  2. For "This is a sign [unintelligible] have made a start" I'm pretty sure it's actually "Yes Jesus I have made a start". Then at "A song of love is in my heart, my glory land [unintelligible]" it's "NOW a song of love [trebles sing "a happy song"] is in my heart, my glory land, I've made a start."

    All my sins have been forgiven
    I'm walking in THAT [not "the"] light.
    Big bells are ringing AND hosannas [no "are"] singing.
    Then will [something, sounds like WIND?!] no more confound me, I'm on the higher way
    I'M [not "and"] walking now, with singing heart[?]
    The light of heaven NOW surround(s) me

    Reckon that's the best I can do!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for the input, Harry! It's tough to make out at times, and as far as I can tell the lyrics haven't been transcribed before. We're making history!

    ReplyDelete