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The Sacred Harp with one verse of Isaac Watts’ metrical paraphrase of Psalm 118.22-27, a verse which is notable for its outdated and unpleasant anti-Jewish/supersessionist theology. The theology of the poem is so outdated, and so universally rejected among both Christian and non-Christian persons, that many Sacred Harp singers today don’t like to sing Stafford.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).

Other local singings

Dinkytown, Minneapolis, local singing

Carol and I are driving across the country, and I arranged the trip so we could stop in Minneapolis on the day that the University of Minnesota local weekly singing, in the Dinkytown neighborhood of Minneapolis, was taking place. I found my way to University Baptist Church after a little bit of trouble (Google Maps told me to look on the wrong side of the street). As I walked up to the church building, a man sitting outside said, “Looking for the singing? Go through that door and follow the sound.”

I heard the singing before I got to the door, and wound my way up two flights of stairs. Even though there were only a dozen or so people, the volume was already quite high; in part because it was such a live room, but also this was clearly a bunch of high-volume singers. I took my accustomed place in the back bench of the bass section, and settled in for some good singing, for these singers were not just loud, they were fine singers.

Unlike our local singing in Berkeley where we go around the hollow square giving each person a chance to lead, at the Dinkytown singing people stand up to sing when they feel like it. This is what I was used to back east, and it’s much easier for newcomers and those of us who just don’t care to lead. I noticed that the songs we sang were ones with which I was mostly unfamiliar; most of the songs were from the mid-19th century, or from the late 20th century, with the exception of one by William Billings and one by Daniel Read.