Two Books

Two Traditions


         There are, as there has been for many years, two traditions of Christian Harmony singing. The 2015 Folk Heritage Edition is our focus here and represents a continuation of the practice of singing from William Walker’s 1873 second edition of the Christian Harmony using reprints published in the Carolinas. These reprints have been referred to as the "Carolina Book," reflecting its use primarily in the western Carolinas and neighboring areas of  East Tennessee and and North Georgia. It retains the original content and the original 7-shape notation system devised by its author, William Walker.

           A parallel tradition now sings from the "Christian Harmony, 2010 Edition,"  a descendant of the so-called "Alabama Book,"  a major revision of Walker's original work. This latest printing  (2010) restores the tunes that were removed in the 1958 revision while retaining songs added  then and in later revisions.  These added songs often reflect more modern sensibilities and many have roots in the gospel music of the first half of the 20th century.  The original Walker 7-shape notation was abandoned in the 1958 "Alabama Book" revision in favor of the Aiken 7-shape notation popular  in mid-century gospel singing. The 2010 edition, now published in Georgia, is freshly typeset and continues to use the Aiken 7-shape notation system.

            Since the publication of the 2010 book,  which now includes the content of the original Walker book (albeit with altered pagination and a different notation system), the lines between the two traditions have become a bit blurred. Why then do we not abandon the old book in favor of the new? The reasons for reprinting the 1873 edition yet again are both preservationist and practical. It reflects a desire to preserve a living tradition of singing from the last edition that Walker personally edited before his death. It is done in the hope of  extending a nearly 150-year unbroken tradition of singing the Walker shapes in the region where they were first sung. It is a special book  cherished by a special segment of the shaped-note community. It's publication (November, 2015)  will provide books for dedicated Walker book singings, both old and new. The goal of the new reprint  has been to balance enhanced readability and originality while maintaining an appearance as close as possible to the original. It is designed to be complementary to other editions and in no way competitive.