Shape-note and Bluegrass Music in the Choral Curriculum: An Experiment in Implementation of Potential New Genres
Rutherford, John Eric
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University of Washington Abstract Shape-note and Bluegrass Music in the Choral Curriculum: An Experiment in Implementation of Potential New Genres John Eric Rutherford Chair of the Supervisory Committee: Giselle Wyers School of Music Bluegrass and shape-note music provide an important link to our musical past. When examining the diversity of choral music available for the classroom, shape-note singing and bluegrass folk genres are underrepresented. We should offer students a window into the origins and historical significance of this music and open the door for enhanced musical study and appreciation of the cultural importance of shape-note and bluegrass genres. Bluegrass and shape-note music are both worth preservation and inclusion in the standard repertoire of any high school or collegiate choir. Both genres provide easily accessible material that can be tackled by beginning choral groups, but yet allow enough room for interpretation to challenge the more advanced ensemble. Inclusion of these genres provides the following benefits: improvisation, sight reading skills, technical flexibility, historical context, and collaboration. The purpose of this study is to examine the history and performance practices of these genres, to develop a program for shape-note and bluegrass music in the choral classroom and to evaluate the feasibility of this program by using it in a choral classroom. Choral directors will gain a better understanding of what benefits bringing these genres into the classroom might entail and what challenges they might face. By selecting performance practices and traditions best suited to classroom incorporation, it is possible to reap the benefits bluegrass and shape-note bring to performance and study. The nature of both genres produces a sense of American history while providing possible opportunities for cross curriculum collaboration. I found that the inclusion of these performance practices heightened the experience for both the audience and my students. Incorporation also yielded educational benefits. From the possibilities of shaped notes as a sight singing tool to collaborating with a diverse instrumental ensemble, my students increased abilities and skills.
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