The Methodist Harmonist: containing a great variety of tunes collected from the best authors, adapted to all the various metres in the Methodist hymn-book, and designed for the use of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States: to which is added a choice selection of anthems and pieces for particular occasions. New York: Published by N. Bangs and T. Mason for the Methodist Episcopal Church: and to be had of the Methodist preachers in the cities and country....1822.

Sacred Harp singers with a taste for research may first encounter The Methodist Harmonist on the Web in its later shaped note incarnation, as printed beginning in 1833. I have read mild deprecations of it as a four-shape book because it doesn't contain many New England or Western tunes. But this is calling the glass half empty: we should instead rejoice that Billings, Read, Timothy Swan, Lewis Edson and Amos Bull have places made for them alongside John Cole of Baltimore, the anonymous American composer of "Forest" and English Dissenter or West Gallery composers like James Leach, Thomas Clark of Canterbury, William Arnold of Portsea and Thomas Walker, as well as a host of other--at the time--well-known English composers (Boyce, Randall, Shoel, Costellow, Harwood, and so on.)

The Methodist Harmonist was assembled by a four person committee, John M. Smith, Daniel Ayres, John D. Myers and G. P. Disosway. Only Gabriel P. Disosway (1799-1868) has other bibliographic attributions--he authored a book of children's sermons in 1864, another about the earliest churches of New York in 1865, and an essay about Huguenots in America included in a larger book by Samuel Smiles, the Self Help man, in 1867. I have not seen evidence that any of the four were composers, or that they themselves altered or arranged the tunes and anthems included in the book. Most tunes included are printed in 3- or 4-part arrangements, although a handful of tenor-bass tunes are inserted here and there. The committee made excellent choices overall: in a relatively small collection (247 pages of music) they allowed in very few dull tunes. The book was planned for use in worship, not as a singing-master's textbook. As was customary throughout the period, most tunes have only one stanza of text provided, the expectation being that the singers (either as a choir or singing society) would balance tunebook and hymnbook on their knees or laps in order to sing the rest of a hymn, or a metrical alternative to the text attached to the tune.

In preparing my transcriptions I have made two particular choices you as listeners should know about: many of the tunes are pitched rather high, and I chose to transpose them down two half-steps from their original keys. Also, what by position should be alto parts are frequently written very high for most altos. My interpretation has been to treat them as second soprano/treble parts and use another flute or a recorder for the instrument heard in the MIDI file. That decision has generally made them sound a bit more natural, the second line down sounding less strained.

In exploring the tunes (and in a sample of this size, listening to all of them would not be difficult,) please be aware that in almost every case of a tune having a name identical to one in the Sacred Harp (e.g. Liberty, Sardinia, Mount Pleasant, Mount Zion) they are in fact completely different tunes by English Dissenter composers. By including dates and Hymn Tune Index (HTI) numbers, learning more about the history of the tunes prior to their publication in the Methodist Harmonist should be much easier.
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