School of Music


Master of Arts in Ethnomusicology (MA)


George McDow


song ownership, seven-note shaped note singing, New Harp of Columbia, old harp singing, socio-musical variation, bi-musicality




This project explores the identity and sustainability of the shaped note singing tradition among the community of the Friends of the New Harp of Columbia. A pattern emerged in fieldwork of song ownership, songs that each member considered to be “theirs.” Songs of ownership intertwine with education, preservation, and mediation of multiple realities to provide a link between identity and preservation and between the past, present, and future. The community actively preserves their musical tradition through song ownership. The sustainability and survival of songs of ownership is emphasized in two ways: an emphasis on participation, not performance, and an emphasis on rudiment education. Participation and education are ways the old harp community is disrupting the current narrative that exists about mountain music and identity. This “end of the line” narrative of mountain music and identity is problematic because it distances the observer from the tradition, keeping it observed in the past instead of relevantly engaged in the present. A phenomenon of tune variation presented itself in the fieldwork. Hood’s bi-musicality model worked for basic acquisition of harp singing. However, due to the minutia of tune variations within the community, the fact that there is not creative agency to prove fluency per Hood, and the variations were not necessarily set systems but socially predicated variants, a companion model was needed to account for the variants within systems, especially the ones creating sub-cultures and communities. The term chosen for these variations is socio-musical variation.

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