Singing at home

Alternate words to “Stafford”

The tune Stafford is printed in The Sacred Harp with one verse of Isaac Watts’ metrical paraphrase of Psalm 118.22-27, a verse which is notable for its outdated and unpleasant anti-Jewish/supersessionist theology. The theology of the poem is so outdated, and so universally rejected among both Christian and non-Christian persons, that many Sacred Harp singers today don’t like to sing Stafford. The pairing of this text with Daniel Read’s lovely tune is unfortunate: we avoid singing this great tune because of the unpleasant theology.

Yet Watts’ original poem had five additional verses, none of which is objectionable. It is not clear that Read wrote Stafford with the Watts poem in mind, although from what I can gather from reading scholarly sources (e.g. The Core repertory of early American psalmody vol. 11-12 ed. Richard Crawford), the tune appears to have been associated with the poem since Read’s lifetime; and in other sources, Read’s tune is reproduced with all six verses. Since the other five verses hew more closely to the original Psalm text and avoid the unpleasant theology of the first verse, why not then replace the objectionable verse with one or more of the other five verses of the original poem, a poem that Read would have known?

I typeset two verses of Watts’ poem with “Stafford” and presented it to tonight’s weekly singing in Berkeley. It sounded just fine, and the alternate words were fun to sing. Here’s the sheet music:

78. Stafford, with alternate words. S.M.

Update: I note with pleasure that the latest issue of The Trumpet contains a newly-written text for the song, based on an acrostic of the names of Watts and Read. This version is also notable for restoring Read’s original alto line. The new words are fun and singable, though I admit to liking Watts’ vigorous poetry better (but then, I’m biased: for me, Watts is the best hymn-writer in the English language).

8 replies on “Alternate words to “Stafford””

Will, I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while (as have so many of us). Over the summer, I had some time and checked two reference works on Stafford (Core Repertory, Collected Daniel Read, and my early 19th C. copy of Isaac Watts), and began thinking about what to do. As for the exact date, I just checked my computer files: my PDF version above has a date stamp of 9/19/2011.

Later in the month, I had some email correspondence with a singer from L.A. who was engaged in a similar effort, independently of both of us. I believe he got his local singing to sing through his version, but I have that email on the computer in my office, so don’t have that info at my fingertips. My guess is that there have been lots of such efforts over the years. I just hope the prominence of The Trumpet will prod more singings into dropping the present words.

By the way, I had considered providing the original alto line, but chickened out — new words, change in tune, that seemed too much. But I think you were right to both provide new words, and restore Read’s original alto line.


Thanks — the _first_ publication of the alt version of Stafford in The Trumpet used Raymond Hamrick’s alto line, but in response to a note from Warren Steele, I had it reset with Read’s line — especially appropriate because of the acrostic honoring of Read.

This is a technical question for Dan–what software did you use for setting Stafford? I am now using Harmony Assistant, but have been unable to figure out how to input more than one verse per voice (while you have been able to input two versers per voice). If you use Harmony Assistant, how did you do this?

Marian — I use Melody Assistant, which is the cheapo version of Harmony Assistant, so it’s the same basic program.

The easiest way to do this is as follows:

— Put a repeat symbol at the end of the tune. (See note below.)
— Adjust the spacing between the staffs until the additional line of lyrics appears.
— Type in lyrics, do all needed adjustments.
— Delete the repeat symbol using the “Erase” tool (which looks like a lightning bolt), and then put in a double bar using the “Add” tool (looks like a pencil).

(Note: If you need more than two lines of lyrics per staff, click on the repeat symbol with the “Select” tool (looks like a lasso). When the “Breaks Edit” dialogue box appears, look down the righthand column for the line that reads “When:” — at the far right of that line will be a box with the number “2” in it — in that box, enter whatever number of lines of lyrics you need, then hit OK — then proceed as above.)

Hope this helps! If not, let me know.

Greetings Dan –
I am most appreciative to find your comments about the hymn “Stafford” composed by my great, gt, gt, gt uncle (!) Daniel Read. I know that it is a great tune and as I am a musician based in Rhode Island, I hope it will be performed with other Daniel Read compositions during the next few years. You can be sure that the version I envision is one without the first two verses as written by Isaac Watts.

I have recently been engaged in some grant-writing that I hope will help me to bring Daniel Read’s music to life in the twenty first century. Would be delighted to know of any reading material you might recommend to me regarding his music. Any comments or suggestions related to the performance of his music? Please pass them on to me at: [email address removed to foil evil spammers]

Thanks, Otis Read

Otis, Great to hear from you! I’ll also respond to you via email, but I wanted to respond briefly to your comment here.

First, there are several groups of musicians and some musicologists in southern New England whom you should consider contacting. You could begin with Norumbega Harmony under the leadership of scholar and singer Stephen Marini have published a book of tunes from Read’s era, including a couple by Read himself; their book has notes on performance practice. They could put you in touch with other musicians and musicologists who would have an interest in Read’s music.

As far as reading material, you should obviously consult Karl Kroeger and Richard Crawford’s Collected Works of Daniel Read. That book contains some useful notes on performance practice. You should also read, if you haven’t already done so, the wonderful essay by Irving Lowens titled “Daniel Read’s World: The Letters of an Early American Composer,” which is in Lowen’s book Music and Musicians in Early America. Beyond those two works, there is a substantial literature on eighteenth century American music, and since Read was one of the most significant composers of that era, you should be able to find lots of references to him.

There are a number of recordings of Read’s music. The Tudor Choir did a recording of 18th and 19th century American choral music under the title “The Shapenote Album” which includes one work by Read, “Windham.” His Majestie’s Clerks recorded two of Read’s works on their “Early American Choral Music, vol. 2” which includes both “Windham” and “Greenwich” by Read. Both recordings consulted scholar/musicians regarding performance practice, with somewhat different results. Also check out YouTube, which has several performances of Read’s work, e.g., this performance by Quite Cleveland, which sounds quite different from the Tudor Choir and His Majestie’s Clerks.

Also, the New England Sacred Harp community has a number of people who might have an interest in Daniel Read:
Dr. Thomas Malone is a lecturer in music at UMass Lowell
Bruce Randall is an expert on early American musical performance, as well as English West Gallery music.

Finally, Tim Ericksen is a working musician who has performed in punk rock and folk/country ensembles. He has a fine voice, and has interpreted a number of old American tunes in more contemporary contexts. If you’re looking to perform Daniel Read’s music in a contemporary setting, Ericksen would be a good person to talk with. His Web site is:

Hope this helps! And if you’re ever out in the Bay area, we sing Sacred Harp music every Monday night in Berkeley — if you show up and say who you are, I can guarantee you that we’ll sing several of Read’s tunes.

Thanks for the extensive reply Dan. I have not known of your response until I checked in today. Was lucky to be in contact with Stephen Marini, Karl Kroeger, Tim Ericksen, Bruce Randall and Dr. Thomas Malone. Haven’t yet contacted Richard Crawford – is he still with us? Also have read Irving Lowens’ essay. I am so pleased to be in contact with the Sacred Harp Community and have been to a number of gatherings in Newton MA, Providence, RI and New Haven, CT. Middletown CT tomorrow!
Hope to meet you if you come east. All the best to you –
Otis Read –

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