Academic journal article Notes

Andrew W. Johnson's the Eclectic Harmony: A Middle Tunebook in Middle Tennessee

Academic journal article Notes

Andrew W. Johnson's the Eclectic Harmony: A Middle Tunebook in Middle Tennessee

Article excerpt

In 1993, the Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University purchased from a Nashville book dealer a previously unknown central-Tennessee shape-note tunebook, the second edition of Andrew W. Johnson's The Eclectic Harmony, which was printed about twenty-five miles from Middle Tennessee State University in Shelbyville, the seat of Bedford County. (1) The preface is dated June 1847 and indicates that Johnson was living at that time in Bedford County (see fig. 1). This is an especially significant acquisition, since there are no other known copies of this edition or extant copies of the first edition. Why call this a "middle" tunebook? Johnson compiled three tunebooks, and The Eclectic Harmony is his middle one. The first tunebook, The American Harmony, (2) was printed in Nashville, and according to its preface it was published in Rutherford County, bearing the date 1 May 1839. Unfortunately, there are no known copies of the first edition of The American Harmony. Johnson's third and last tunebook was The Western Psalmodist, (5) printed at the office of the Nashville Union newspaper in 1853. The preface places Johnson again in Bedford County. In The Western Psahnodist, Johnson switched from the usual four-shape notation to a seven-shape notation of his own invention. This third Johnson tunebook appears to be his only one known to the pioneer scholar of the shape-note tradition, George Pullen Jackson:

In 1853 a now-forgotten singing-school teacher, Andrew W. Johnson of Cornersville, Tennessee, published a book called the Western Psalmodist, printed in Nashville, "at the Union Office, No. 69 Cherry Street." Johnson's "new system of notation" is shown on page 337 below [referring to Jackson's chart showing seven different systems of seven-shape notation]. The book has 126 pages, twelve of which are devoted to preliminaries and rudiments. The collection is not notable, and I have found no data as to its use. The Lawson McGhee Library in Knoxville has apparently the only known copy of it. As to the compiler, even his townspeople in Cornersville and his descendants have been unable to tell me anything about him. (4)

In eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century America, efforts to improve congregational singing on the part of musically illiterate churchgoers led to the development of shape notation and singing schools, at which itinerant singing masters taught choral music and the use of shape notation. Little biographical information is available about this particular singing-school teacher, who published three different tunebooks, two in at least two editions. Andrew W. Johnson and Susan F. Ellis were married in Rutherford County on 4 September 1838. 5) Eight months after his marriage, in May of 1839, Johnson completed his first tunebook, The American Harmony. By 1841, the Johnsons were living in neighboring Bedford County, for the local newspaper listed him as having mail to be picked up at the Shelbyville post office. (6) On 18 January 1842, Andrew W. Johnson sold to one Henry H. Collins a wool carding machine with all implements, for which Collins entered into a contract to build a "house to live in," presumably for J ohnson and his wife. (7) We also know from an advertisement in the Shelbyville Enquirer on 17 August 1844 that a firm called "Johnson & Weaver" operated warehouses for tobacco and cotton on Broadway in Nashville. In addition to purchasing and shipping tobacco and cotton, they advertised "a constant supply of groceries kept for sale at the lowest cash price." The three owners were listed as A. W. Johnson, James Johnson, and D. Weaver. Possibly James Johnson was A. W.'s brother, but this is only speculation. The Johnsons were still in Bedford County in 1847 when The Eclectic Harmony was printed in Shelbyville. The 1850 census for Bedford County lists A. W. Johnson, male, age forty-five, and Susan F. Johnson, age thirty-five. Also listed in their household are Tobith H. Ellis, age ten, and J. …

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