Lumi (gordianaut) (lumin_esc) wrote,
Lumi (gordianaut)

shape notes and earnest old white men with big noses

I was raised Christian in Appalachia -- Missionary Baptist. My parents were modern, I guess, in that they actually allowed their ability to think interleave with their faith instead of just blocking logic out. They defied my dad's family by bringing my outcast gay great-uncle (and his adorable partner Larry) over for Thanksgiving dinner every year. My mom, I think, endangered her status in the church by asking our minister so many questions about Saint Paul and wtf was up with his attitude on women. Still, she played organ or piano for services, and directed the choir sometimes. My father was a deacon and would sing sometimes in the choir because he had a nice voice, but not an especially good grasp on pitch, since he was raised Methodist. Insert lol here.

Anyway, I was pretty devout for a lot of my childhood, then started realizing that, hey, I've been missing out a lot on life because of some of these weird beliefs, and experiencing a ridiculous amount of guilt. I realized one day that I just couldn't believe a god so kind could have these cockeyed opinions about whose desires were more okay when they were equally well-meaning. So I quit going to church services around 16... hilariously, about two years after I discovered Ozzy Osbourne and Schlitz malt liquor. That was fast!

The one thing I've always missed, though? The music. Our church used the Broadman Hymnal, which I guess was made of part Southern slave hymns, with some dignified white people manners mixed in. It was neither the jumping up and down screaming "praise Jesus" thing, nor the super-solemn Catholic strategy. Like... if an old man was feeling particularly worshipful while singing, he might raise his hand in the chorus, and perhaps be saucy and say "amen brother" when it ended. It used at least four parts of harmony, and would sometimes stray to six or so, if an enthusiastic old tenor reached up for a higher note. And -- I wish I knew anything about music theory -- it had a very unique way of harmonizing and progressing through chords. I've heard a little bit of influence through older bluegrass, but I'm not sure where else it came from. We sang from "shape notes," which I always figured was pretty widespread, but it turns out it's largely a Southern, Baptist thing. The crowded harmonies and minor keys made it sound kind of... haunting, at times, but hopeful and joyous.

It's frustrating because, well, I don't think many churches sing like that anymore. In some cases it's even the same songs, except with cheesy synthesizers and electric guitars (here's a sample), which makes me throw up a little in my mouth. That's like members of N-Sync getting plowed in their butts by hairy gay men while covering Nat King Cole. I wonder if I could just start calling local churches and asking what they do for music. I'd like to hear some of it again, but I'm even having trouble finding recordings on the lazytubes.
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