Kedron (SH 48) is known to most Sacred Harp singers as a lovely, stark and simple minor-key tune. So I was startled to see that the original version, in the United States Sacred Harmony, is strikingly chromatic in a way unlike anything else I’ve encountered in the modern shapenote repertoire.

System Message: WARNING/2 (\new StaffGroup << \new Staff = "treble" { \set shapeNoteStyles = ##(la mi fa #f la fa #f) \key e \minor \relative c'' { b2 b4 b4 | g2 g | a4 c b2| b b4 b | b2 a | g4 e b'2 b b4 e | d2 e | b4 b d2 | d d4 c | b2 g4.( a8) | b4 b b2 } } \new Staff = "alto" { \override Accidental #'color = #red \set shapeNoteStyles = ##(la mi fa #f la fa #f) \key e \minor \relative c'' { e,2 e4 e e2 \once\override NoteHead #'color = #red g fis4 e \once\override NoteHead #'color = #red fis2 \once\override NoteHead #'color = #red d2 e4 e e2 d2 \once\override NoteHead #'color = #red b4 \once\override NoteHead #'color = #red cis \once\override NoteHead #'color = #red d2 g2 fis4 g d2 e d4 \once\override NoteHead #'color = #red d \once\override NoteHead #'color = #red d2 fis2 g4 \once\override NoteHead #'color = #red fis e2 e \once\override NoteHead #'color = #red dis4 \once\override NoteHead #'color = #red dis e2 } } \new Staff = "tenor" { \override Accidental #'color = #red \set shapeNoteStyles = ##(la mi fa #f la fa #f) \key e \minor \relative c'' { g4.( fis8) e4 e | b'2 b | a4 g fis2 | g4.( fis8) e4 e | e'2 f4( e) | d c b2 e2 dis4 e | \afterGrace b2 { \once\override NoteHead #'color = #red a8 } g2 | d'4 \afterGrace b4 { \once\override NoteHead #'color = #red a8 } a2 a b4 e, | \afterGrace g2 { a4 } \afterGrace b2 { a4 } | g4 fis e2 } } \new Staff = "bass" { \set shapeNoteStyles = ##(la mi fa #f la fa #f) \key e \minor \clef bass \relative c { e2 e4 b | e2 e | d4 e b2 | b e4 e | g2 d | \once\override NoteHead #'color = #red d4 e b2 e b'4 b | g2 b | g4 e d2 | d g4 g8.[ fis16] | e2 e | b4 b e2 } } \new Lyrics \lyricsto "alto" {\lyricmode {Thou man of grief re - mem - ber me}} >>)

lilypond exited with error: [stderr] GNU LilyPond 2.19.15 Changing working directory to: `/var/folders/05/6rw3pz3n6n57db3pqf5r5pg00000gn/T/tmpajcaesua’ Processing `/var/folders/05/6rw3pz3n6n57db3pqf5r5pg00000gn/T/tmpajcaesua/’ Parsing... /var/folders/05/6rw3pz3n6n57db3pqf5r5pg00000gn/T/tmpajcaesua/ warning: no \version statement found, please add \version “2.19.15” for future compatibility Interpreting music...[8] /var/folders/05/6rw3pz3n6n57db3pqf5r5pg00000gn/T/tmpajcaesua/ warning: cannot find Voice `alto’ \new Lyrics \lyricsto “alto” {\lyricmode {Thou man of grief re - mem - ber me}} Preprocessing graphical objects... Finding the ideal number of pages... Fitting music on 1 page... Drawing systems... Layout output to `music.eps’... Converting to PNG...dyld: Library not loaded: ./bin/../sobin/libgs.8.70.dylib Referenced from: /Applications/ Reason: image not found fatal error: GS exited with status: 6 [stdout]

The tenor line is the same as the familiar one, except for two grace notes and two accidentals — but what accidentals! The first of the two, the lowered mi in bar 5, is totally unique as far as I know: you occasionally hear a lowered mi in a major-key tune, but I’ve never seen one in this tradition in minor. Technically speaking, the effect is to take us temporarily out of standard Aeolian minor and into the Phrygian mode. Aesthetically... well, I think it’s haunting, though also quite unfamiliar-sounding (and hard to sing, at least for me).

The alto line has quite a few changes, but there are two that jump out. I’m very fond of the so in bar 4, which changes the harmony: it is now a G major chord rather than an E minor. The raised fa in bar 6, on the other hand, clashes so dramatically with the melody that it is almost unsingable unless you raise the melody’s fa as well — which some singers would do anyway.

It’s also interesting to see the extra grace notes in the tenor line — and this time it’s not because they’re unusual, but because they’re so ordinary. At least one of the two, the one in bar 9, I’m fairly certain I’ve heard sung before: it is a sort of embellishment that many modern traditional singers add without thinking, and seeing it written in here makes me wonder if it was already part of the tradition then.