The “Ins” and “Outs” of Revision

Editor’s note: Raymond C. Hamrick wrote this previously unpublished article on the revision and publication of The Sacred Harp: 1991 Edition in August of 1995. He hoped that the essay—the first on the revision of any edition of The Sacred Harp written by a music committee member—could be useful to members of a future committee tasked with revising the songbook, remarking that “maybe someday when they’re doing another revision, they might want to know how in the world that y’all did so good on it and didn’t have any complaints.”1 Alan Jabbour, founding director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, wrote to Hamrick after reading the essay that “It is just the sort of account we’d all love to have for the early revisions, but at least we have it now for the 1991 revision.”2

Hamrick offers a detailed description of the extraordinary song selection and removal process the committee designed, including measures taken to avoid bias toward particular composers and to keep from alienating singers when identifying songs to remove from the book. Hamrick reports on the committee’s strict exclusion of gospel music (a departure from mid-twentieth-century editions of the songbook), the inevitable creeping in of “some elements of modern composition,” and the deliberate inclusion of songs by northern and western singers given the “vastly increased field of endeavor” that had resulted from Sacred Harp singing’s then-recent spread across the United States. The essay also discusses the many aspects of revision aside from its “ins” and “outs,” such as researching the song and hymn writers, reworking the book’s “Rudiments of Music,” and arranging for its printing.

Hamrick was satisfied that the music committee had succeeded in its goal of “maintain[ing] the musical integrity of the book.” The continued popularity of the 1991 Edition today, twenty-five years after its publication, is a testament to his and his fellow committee members’ efforts.

When first appointed to the Revision Committee for The Sacred Harp in 1987, I felt honored but apprehensive. I knew nothing of the problems to be faced and handled but took comfort in the fact that six other dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists were to be with me. Hugh McGraw was chairman and had had some experience in a previous minor revision in 1971. I had the greatest confidence in his abilities, the full scope of which I was to learn during the five years we spent on this project. Other members were Jeff Sheppard of Alabama, a pillar of the tradition if there ever was one; Toney Smith of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a fine singer and a man I came to like very much; Terry Wootten of Sand Mountain, Alabama, another fine singer and a prominent member of the well-known Wootten singing family; Richard DeLong of Carrollton, Georgia, a singer all his life and a fine teacher; and David Ivey of Alabama, a young computer expert and a staunch traditionalist.

Together we brought about 200 years of experience to the task. Another plus was that we were all very compatible, most of us having been friends for many years. We also all felt that the Book was in need of a full revision, not having had one since 1935 when the Denson edition was brought forth. Also, within the past twenty years, Sacred Harp had spread slowly but surely out of its 150-year secluded home in the South to New England (its birthplace), to the Midwest (especially the Chicago area), and even to the West Coast, where small groups had been trying to sing the music with only a few tattered books of one sort or another. We had a vastly increased field of endeavor now and it was deemed imperative that we do what we could to ensure loyalty and love for what we were to bring forth.

So, the word went out—

A revision is going to be done and you are invited to submit tunes of your composition for possible consideration. The songs must be in dispersed harmony and similar in every respect to the style found in the book already. No gospel music style!

We had immediate response, albeit a trifle thin. Our first step was to call together a picked group of twenty-[three] singers from over the United States—people who could read shape notes like professionals. About half of the group consisted of singers from all over the country—even to California. These singers are listed at the end of this article.

Raymond C. Hamrick’s copy of the anonymized manuscript of his “Invocation” (p. 492), from the singing held to record songs submitted for potential inclusion in the new revision of The Sacred Harp.

We met on a Saturday morning at the Samford University music department in Birmingham, Alabama. Hugh passed out a stack of music to each participant—about ninety-three pieces to the stack. I had suggested that all reference to composers be removed and numbers be assigned to each piece so that no personal consideration could enter into the impressions we had of the suitability of each piece. I was doubly thankful for this having been done when I discovered that Hugh had included twenty-one pieces of my composition in the package. I insisted on removing two anthems, leaving nineteen to be considered. For several years Hugh and I had indulged in composing tunes and swapping back and forth and singing them in pick-up quartets. To my surprise I found he had saved them all and put them in the pot with the rest. When I told him I didn’t want all of those to be considered, he asked, “Don’t you at least want to hear how they sound with a good singing group?” I had to admit that would be nice, so the nineteen songs went into the list.All of the ninety-three songs were taped with professional equipment and the results were excellent. We ran through each song once and then taped. The ability of that group to read music cold was remarkable.

We spent all day Saturday and until 3 PM Sunday and wound up tired and hoarse, but on fire with the realization that we had an endless body of music to choose from. Each member of the group later received a copy of the tapes made at that session.

We of the Committee were directed to sit down at home, listen carefully to the tapes, and make recommendations as to which numbers we considered suitable for inclusion in the revision.

Raymond C. Hamrick’s “Invocation” (p. 492) at the January 17, 1988 practice session. 

At our next meeting in Carrollton, the tapes were played and each tune assigned a number on a scale of one to ten, ten being our first choice. Anything below eight was not really considered. Early on, we found that we were having so many tens that an effort had to be made to cut down this figure since we would have more music than space in the new book. We therefore used “ten plus” and most of the tunes that eventually made the cut were in this category.

We found many tunes that had such an authentic sound that we had difficulty in telling whether they were new or quite old. Some elements of modern composition did creep in inevitably as some of the new composers were trained musicians rather than the amateurs of previous generations. Some of it was quite good, however, and we included it for that reason and also to give our northern and western singers an interest in the book to be published. This has proven to be the right decision.

The second and most difficult aspect of our work now appeared—what to take out of The Sacred Harp book so as to have room for this new material. The book was already as large as we wanted, so the weeding-out began. Computer print-outs of the minutes for the previous ten years showed what songs were never or very rarely used and from these print-outs we compiled a list of those songs that had to go. A strong effort was made to ensure that no song that was a favorite of any living singer would be removed. Also, the pagination was not to be affected for the rest of the book.

Contributors to The Sacred Harp: 1991 Edition at the singing unveiling the book’s new songs, Birmingham, Alabama, December 15, 1990. Seated (left to right): P. Dan Brittain, Jeff Sheppard, Judy Hauff, Raymond C. Hamrick, Charlene Wallace, Joyce Harrison, Ted Mercer. Standing, front (left to right): John Hocutt, Glen Wright, Neely Bruce, Bruce Randall, Hugh McGraw, David Ivey. Standing, back (left to right): Phil A. Tabor, Ted Johnson, Richard DeLong, Terry Wootten, Toney Smith, Jim Carnes. Not present: Timothy R. Gilmore, David Grant.

Some changes were made that were considered beneficial to the singers, such as the printing of titles and poetry being standardized and an intensive perusal for errors in spelling and note placement, which resulted in several hundred corrections. It was suggested, and agreed upon, that the footnotes which had first been put in place by Joe James in 1911 would be left out. The material in these footnotes in many cases was incorrect and repetitive and we felt that the added space achieved could be used to put in more new music. This, I think, is probably the only step that brought some degree of criticism—mostly, I think, from academia. The singers themselves seemed not to mind.

At the time, the idea was that a “Companion to The Sacred Harp” be issued at a later date and these footnotes and biographies of the composers be included. To date, this has not been followed up—there having been little demand. [Singers’ interest in a companion to the songbook did build, leading eventually to the 2010 publication of David Warren Steel’s Makers of the Sacred Harp, available from the Sacred Harp Publishing Company.—Ed.]

At any rate, the weeding-out process proceeded and some sixty pages were made available for the new music. The public was given ample opportunity to protest any tune being removed but no objections were recorded and we moved ahead with filling in the slots. Each member of the Committee was given a group of new music to study and asked to make recommendations to the full committee. Each song was played, the recommendations made, and discussion among the members took place. There was a surprising unanimity of opinions on practically all of the compositions. We finished this with most of the music selection completed. Other music had been trickling in, however, and it was decided to have a second session of recording at the headquarters building in Carrollton. At this time, a somewhat different group of singers recorded the later submissions and several of these were deemed good enough to be added to the original selections.

Daniel Read’s “Mortality” (p. 50t) at the trial session in Carrollton, Georgia.

With the selection process completed, the burden then shifted to Hugh and two or three of the committee who had some experience in layout and printing. Every song, old and new, was closely checked for accuracy in spelling and in note placement. Several hundred corrections were made. Also, Dr. [Warren Steel] and Dr. [William J.] Reynolds and Mrs. [Mary Lou] Reynolds were asked to provide up-to-date corrections on composers and dates. This turned out to be a very complex and time-consuming operation—and one in which a huge vote of thanks was due these researchers. [Read Michael Hinton and David W. Music’s tribute to William J. Reynolds, a recipient of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company’s posthumous citation, in vol. 4, no. 1 of the Newsletter.—Ed.]

It was also felt that the rudiments needed re-working, these being somewhat jumbled and incomplete. Dr. John Garst of the University of Georgia at Athens, a widely known and knowledgeable student of early American music, was asked to do this job. His first submission was a remarkably complete treatise on music. The only drawback was that there was not space available for the complete work. Additionally, some parts were too advanced for the usual singing school. Asked to re-do it and compress it into a smaller package, he agreed and produced a model of brevity but with all the essential ingredients.

Now the emphasis was on printing, and Hugh began a long series of trips to Tennessee to choose the paper, the cover, the type, and the thousand other details that had to be settled. In this phase I began to appreciate the remarkable talents of Hugh McGraw, and the tremendous dedication of the man. He showed why his influence has been so strong throughout the years—not only in the Sacred Harp heartland, but in the emerging areas especially.

Packet featuring the new songs added to the 1991 Edition.

As the publication date drew near, Hugh began to formulate plans for an elaborate introduction of the new music to the singers. This was to be in the auditorium of Samford University in Birmingham. Special books containing only the new music were printed for the approximately 350–400 singers from all over the country who were invited to attend. All contemporary composers were to be honored by leading this huge group in singing his own music. All but one composer attended and the ability of these singers to sight-read new music was phenomenal. It was professionally audio recorded and the sound is probably the best ever put on tape. Many copies were sold and singers everywhere used them to learn the new songs. It was a preparation like this that practically assured the new book of wide acceptance—and that’s what happened.

Raymond C. Hamrick leads from a special packet featuring the new songs added to the 1991 Edition, Birmingham, Alabama, December 15, 1990.

Raymond C. Hamrick leading his song “Lloyd” (p. 503) at the 1991 Edition unveiling in Birmingham, Alabama.

The 1991 edition of The Sacred Harp was first used by a Sacred Harp class at an all-day singing at Jacksonville, Alabama, on February 2, 1992.

The first printing was quickly exhausted and also the second. The third printing is now half gone. Fifty books were recently shipped to London, England, as a result of a teaching trip to England in 1994 by one of our committee, Terry Wootten.3

This, then, is a brief record of a successful and extended five-year program to complete a thorough, and, I think, memorable revision of the venerable Sacred Harp. Our goal was to maintain the musical integrity of the book and I feel we succeeded.


Hamrick directs readers to a list of the twenty-eight singers he reports as having gathered to sing the first batch of songs submitted for potential inclusion in the new revision of The Sacred Harp, but no such list is appended to the typescript of Hamrick’s that is the only known surviving copy of this article. Hamrick’s box of notes from the 1991 Edition revision process, however, includes these two lists of twenty-three and fifteen singers, respectively, at the singings of submitted songs held in Birmingham and Carrollton.


First Recording Session of Music to Be Considered for 1990 Edition
All Attribution (Tune) Removed

Music sung by select group of Sacred Harp singers in Birmingham, Alabama, January 16–17, 1988, at Samford University. From this music the Music Committee will choose the music to be put into the new edition of The Sacred Harp.

  • Texas: Tom Owens, Dr. William Reynolds
  • Mississippi: Dr. Warren Steel
  • Louisiana: Dr. Harry Eskew
  • Chicago, [Illinois]: Ted Mercer, Ted Johnson, Marcia Johnson, Judy Hauff, Melanie Hauff, Mary Rose Ogren,4 Larry Nohrwehr
  • Georgia: Charlene Wallace (Waco), Richard DeLong (Carrollton), Hugh McGraw (Temple), Raymond Hamrick (Macon), Martha Ann Stegar (Atlanta)
  • Virginia: Dan Brittain
  • Alabama: Toney Smith (Tuscaloosa), Buell Cobb (Birmingham), Jeff Sheppard (Glencoe), Shelbie Sheppard (Glencoe), Terry Wootten [(Ider)], David Ivey [(Huntsville)]

Second Recording Session, Music Being Considered for 1990 Edition (44 Pieces)
[Sacred Harp Publishing Company Headquarters, Carrollton, Georgia,] October 1989

  • Treble: Buell Cobb, Richard DeLong, David Ivey
  • Alto: Judy Hauff, Charlene Wallace
  • Tenor: Jeff and Shelbie Sheppard, Terry Wootten, Ted Mercer, Melanie Hauff, Hugh McGraw
  • Bass: Toney Smith, Dan Brittain, Ray Hamrick, Jim Carnes


Thanks to the Hollingsworth family for sharing the version of this essay that Raymond C. Hamrick shared with them—the only known surviving copy—enabling its publication in this issue of the Newsletter.

  1. Raymond C. Hamrick, interview with the author, Macon, GA, April 3, 2014. []
  2. Alan Jabbour to Raymond C. Hamrick, August 4, 1998, Box 3, Folder 7, Raymond Hamrick Papers, Archives and Manuscript Dept., Pitts Theology Library, Emory University. []
  3. Hamrick later added the following: “Note: in 1996, eight cases of books—a total of sixty-four books—were shipped to London.”—Ed. []
  4. Hamrick notes that the group that gathered in Birmingham included singers as far from Alabama as California, yet his list of singers does not include a Californian. Hamrick may have had Mary Rose—who moved to California soon after this session—in mind.—Ed. []

About Raymond C. Hamrick

Raymond C. Hamrick (1915–2014) served as a member of the Music Committee that edited The Sacred Harp, 1991 Edition and was president of the Sacred Harp Publishing Company. A watchmaker by trade, Hamrick was a prolific composer. In addition to his six songs in The Sacred Harp, hundreds of his compositions are collected in The Georgian Harmony.
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2 Responses to The “Ins” and “Outs” of Revision

  1. Janet Fraembs says:

    This was such an exciting time for me as we in Charleston, Illinois, eagerly anticipated the release of the new book. Several of us were able to attend the introductory singing in Birmingham. It was obvious, as Raymond Hamrick details, that everything about the book and its release was well-planned. It has certainly stood the test of time!

  2. In his recollections Raymond wrote, “Some elements of modern composition did creep in inevitably.” Any idea what kind of composition he was referring to with the words “modern composition”? Thanks!

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