The big news is that my trip to Berea, Kentucky was an overwhelming success. Songs of Slavery and Emancipation now has the official endorsement of Berea College Berea, moreover, will furnish practical support of various kinds. This includes financial aid, use of facilities such as rehearsal rooms and performance space, as well as contributing to the publication and dissemination of the book and cds toward which this entire effort is directed. Most important, however, is the active participation of the music department. Professor Kathy Bullock, chair of the Berea College Music Department and leader of the Black Music Ensemble, has graciously offered her assistance in helping to arrange and rehearse the music as well as introducing me to her colleagues in the Music Department, Al White and Elizabeth DiSavino. Dr. Bullock is an accomplished musician and scholar in her own right but her leadership is evident both in helping me to get this complicated process organized, and more particularly, in her directing the Black Music Ensemble. The BME will be the core of the voices singing the slave songs in our repertoire. Joining them will be Al White of the Bluegrass Ensemble and Elizabeth DiSavino of the Folk Roots Ensemble. These two groups will provide voices as well as instrumental accompaniment where it is called for. (many of the songs will be sung “a capella”) The next step is getting a time plan in place but the aim is to begin recording in the Fall.
Meanwhile, another musician and scholar, Tim Eriksen, has agreed to help us bring our project to fruition. Tim is a banjo player, fiddler, guitarist and singer. He is also the leader of a shape-note singing ensemble in Amherst, Massachusetts. Shape-note singing, for those unfamiliar, is an approach to choral singing which became very popular in the United States in the early 19th Century. Among its characteristic features are democratic seating arrangements (four sides facing each other) and rotating song-leaders (any member can and will lead a song). Then, of course, the “shape-notes” themselves, which were designed to facilitate equal participation by everyone. These shapes are a circle, a square, a triangle and a diamond. Arranged on a musical staff, they are used to designate intervals, not particular pitches (as in conventional tablature). For those interested in shape-note singing (or the Sacred Harp, another name by which this music is often identified) see the wiki link:
Shape-note singing has a particular significance for the abolitionist songs in our repertoire. For one thing, many shape-note singing groups were comprised of active abolitionists. For another, participatory singing was a major component of public gatherings organized by the abolitionist movement. Hence, some of the repertoire of shape-note groups either explicitly or by association opposed slavery and supported the struggle against it.  Songs of Slavery and Emancipation would therefore not be complete without representative samples of both this style and its songs.  Tim has kindly offered to help us record his group in Amherst in May this year.
Finally, we are still raising funds. Travel, accommodations, recording and other expenses all add up fast. The grant we received from Kanton Schaffhausen was substantial but mainly covered research and assembly of the material. Now we need  a similar sum to cover arrangement, rehearsal and recording of the music. The next few months will therefore be devoted to raising $20,000 to cover these costs. Please contact me directly if you can be of assistance: