William Walker, Shaper of Southern Song

Charlie W. Steele

Thursday, June 23, 8 AM

An important facet of America’s heritage has been preserved in the shape note tunebooks of the nineteenth-century. One of the most important compilers of a shape note collection was William Walker (1809-1875) of Spartanburg, SC. His collection, Southern Harmony, was first published in 1835 and had several subsequent editions. The collection was popular in its day; Walker claimed that over 600,000 copies of the book were sold. Walker’s significant contributions to hymnody include the pairing of the text Amazing Grace with the tune New Britain and the first known publication of the tune Wondrous Love.

The workshop will explore biographical information about Walker, the significance of his work, and its effect on hymnody even today. A basic history of shape note singing will be presented. Class participants will look at and sing some shape note tunes in their original version as notated and harmonized by Walker. The workshop will examine the use and appearance in modern hymnals of shape note tunes from Walker’s collection. The session will conclude with a brief consideration of organ literature based on shape note tunes found in Walker’s Southern Harmony. Handouts of a repertoire list of organ works based on Southern Harmony tunes will be made available to participants.

Charlie W. Steele serves as minister of music/organist at Brevard-Davidson River Presbyterian Church, Brevard, NC. He holds BA (With Honors) and MA degrees in music from Radford University, Radford, VA, and earned the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Kentucky. Steele has been a presenter at a regional AGO convention and a national AGO convention, as well as at a Hymn Society convention. An article by Steele, which focuses on William Walker and Southern Harmony, appeared in the January 2011 edition of The Diapason. Steele has also been an adjunct music faculty member at Brevard College.