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American Harmony—the ultimate shape-note tunebook, with 176 pieces, 100 illustrations, and a leading scholar's commentary.
145 backers pledged $37,433 to help bring this project to life.
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How This Project Began

I’ve been active in the area of early American sacred music (known today as "shape-note music") for over 40 years now, and in that time have become an internationally known expert, with several major publications in the field, many musical performances and lectures, interviews on the BBC, etc.  What’s remained constant throughout my long love affair with this music is my conviction that it possesses a special power and beauty that really can’t be compared to any other musical repertory.  

I started my exploration of these pieces as an undergraduate at Harvard in the 1970s, and made it my business to sing through every one of the (ca.) 5,000 pieces of sacred music published in American tunebooks through 1810.  Since then I’ve expanded my knowledge by coming to know thousands more compositions dating from the 1810s through the 1850s.  Very few people—if any—have looked at so much of this music, or considered it so carefully.  

My anthology American Harmony—in the works since 1976—contains the cream of the crop, including pieces that are widely known among shape-note singers, and many pieces that have not seen publication since they first appeared in some obscure early tunebook.

I’ve had the great good fortune to secure the commitment of David R. Godine, Boston publisher of extraordinary and extraordinarily beautiful books, to this project.  In fact, Godine first said he’d publish the book in ’76!  But then life (graduate school, doctoral dissertation, family, jobs, etc.) intervened...until 2009, when I returned to the project in earnest and Godine signed on again (in fact, he’d never signed off). 

What is American Harmony?

American Harmony will be the most elaborate, one of the largest, and likely the most expensive books that David Godine has produced—the projected cost totals at least $35,000—and Godine is determined to keep it as affordable as possible.  It will contain 176 pieces of music—psalm and hymn tunes, anthems, carols, elegies, patriotic songs, and more—printed in shape notes, with multiple verses of text underlaid (sometimes as many as eight verses or more).  Click below to hear the anonymous tune "Attention," published in 1790:

The book will contain over 100 beautiful illustrations, directly related to the music and reproduced according to Godine’s extraordinarily high standards. 

There will also be

  • an historical introduction,
  • an enormous Critical Commentary,
  • biographical sketches of all the composers and musical arrangers (an unparalleled biographical resource covering over 100 pages),
  • two bibliographies,
  • six indices,
  • and a CD with 35 of the book’s pieces performed by my chorus American Harmony. 

The size of the thing requires two volumes, which will be printed on high-quality paper, with sewn bindings and a handsome slipcase. Nevertheless, we hope to keep the price down to $75!

Recognizing and Rewarding Our Supporters

Early American tunebook compilers often sought subscribers whose up-front contributions permitted them to bring their original musical productions into print.  Occasionally a subscriber list was actually printed in the tunebook itself.  If possible, we’d like to include the names and hometowns of all our “subscribers” in American Harmony.  But whether the timing of the book’s publication permits this or not, there is a range of “rewards” that I’d like to offer my generous supporters, as a way of thanking you for your generosity and your belief in this project.

An Unprecedented Contribution to American Culture

There has never been a collection of early American sacred music like American Harmony.  And I am bold enough to state here that it will likely be a long time before anything comparable in this field appears on the publishing horizon.  I invite you to assist in its birthing, and in the process, to link your name with its title, so that you may be able to say, “I was one of the people who made American Harmony possible.”  Thank you so very much! 

What Do the Experts Say?

The uniquely American language of early psalmody has never been so powerfully represented as in this splendid anthology.  Nym Cooke not only draws on his unrivalled knowledge of early New England music, but shows how its special character has survived until today through all the vicissitudes of Western musical culture.

       --Nicholas Temperley, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

 Nym Cooke’s American Harmony, clearly a lifetime labor of learning and love, is an anthology aimed especially at people who relish choral singing in the psalmody vein.  A New England-based scholar and choral director steeped in a homegrown tradition of sacred composing from pre-Revolutionary days to the present, Cooke offers authoritative scores of 176 of his favorite pieces, plus advice on how you might sing them and what you should know about the lives of the psalmodists who wrote them.         

     --Richard Crawford, author of America's Musical Life: A History           

This is fine music, rigorously and faithfully edited, with suggestions for performance and detailed sketches of the composers, often including portraits or facsimiles of their work.  The selections from the New England repertory are unusually varied, based on Cooke’s unparalleled knowledge of the five thousand surviving pieces from that era.  American Harmony is the culmination of a lifetime of study, and represents the compiler’s favorite examples of the genre; many singers will find new favorites here as well.

      --David Warren Steel, University of Mississippi

Nym Cooke has assembled a collection of early American choral gems with an eye for both singers and scholars.  Of particular note is the inclusion of an assortment of folk hymns from the early 19th century, culled from the shape-note books of Wyeth and Davisson.  Tunes from Walker’s Southern Harmony and from The Sacred Harp—some classic favorites and some not so well known—are here as well.  Many of the book’s pieces have multiple verses underlaid, and appear in their original harmonizations, taken from earliest printings.  Shape-note singers will enjoy the chance to discover the original part-writing of Jenks’s “Evening Shade,” Pilsbury’s “Morning,” and others, while scholars will find the extensive critical commentary and composer biographies to be comprehensive and thoroughly researched.  In short, this collection presents a welcome and firmly grounded jumping-off point for ongoing study and performance of this important body of American musical literature.

     --Thomas B. Malone, University of Massachusetts at Lowell 

The Musical Contents of American Harmony

A shape-note singer was curious as to what pieces are contained in the book.  Here is a complete list.  Singers and scholars will recognize quite a few titles; the familiar tunes and anthems have been supplied from the composers' own tunebooks wherever possible, and very carefully checked for accuracy.  (Thus, for example, Jeremiah Ingalls's own 1805 printing of his "Jerusalem," rather than the variant "New Jerusalem" which appeared in other collections, is found here.)  Many who have been singing shape-note music for years will likely not recognize at least 50 titles; to my ears, these pieces are every bit as beautiful and powerful as their better-known companions.  In this list, sacred-texted pieces have their titles in large and small capital letters (following hymnological convention), and secular-texted pieces have their titles in upper- and lower-case letters.


ADVENT                                      Supply Belcher

AMANDA                                    Justin Morgan

The American Hero /

     A Sapphic Ode                      Joseph Stone

AN ANTHEM FOR EASTER        William Billings

AN ANTHEM: PSALM 42            William Billings


     SONGS, CHAPTER 2ND        William Billings


     FROM PSALM 100                 Hezekiah Moors

THE APPLETREE                        arr. Jeremiah Ingalls

ATTENTION                                 anon.

BABYLON                                   Asahel Benham

BEHEST                                      Abraham Maxim

BENNINGTON                            Ebenezer Child

BENNINGTON                            Abraham Wood?

BERNE                                        Uri K. Hill

BETHLEHEM                              William Billings

BETHLEHEM                              Zedekiah Sanger

THE BIRD                                   William Billings

BLOOMING VALE                       [J. P.?] Storm

BREVITY                                     Abraham Wood

Bunker Hill / A Sapphic Ode      anon.

BURLINGTON                            Ebenezer Child

CALVARY                                    Daniel Read

A CANON OF 4 IN 1                   William Billings

Chester                                       William Billings

CHINA                                        Timothy Swan

CHRISTIAN SONG                     Jeremiah Ingalls

CHRISTMAS EVE                       Eliakim Doolittle


     A HYMN FOR EASTER          William Billings

COMPLAINT                               [Barnabas?] McKyes

CONCORD                                 Daniel Belknap

CONSOLATION                          Walter Janes

CORONATION                            Oliver Holden

CRUCIFIXION                             [Barnabas?] McKyes

DAVID’S LAMENTATION             William Billings

DECAY                                        Stephen Jenks

DELIGHT                                     Simeon Coan

Despair                                        Justin Morgan

DEVOTION NEW                         Walter Janes

DYING CHRISTIAN                     Ebenezer Child

EDOM                                         Elisha West

ELEMENT                                   Charles Robbins

EVENING SHADE                       Stephen Jenks

EXALTATION                               Walter Janes

EXHORTATION                            Eliakim Doolittle

EXPERIENCE                              arr. Jeremiah Ingalls

FAREWELL HYMN                      Jeremiah Ingalls

FRAGILITY                                  Nathaniel Billings

GLAD TIDINGS                           Walter Janes

GLOOM                                       B[arnabas?] McKyes

GRATITUDE                                Oliver Holden; arr. Elisha West?

GREENFIELD                              Lewis Edson

GREENSBURG                           Joseph Stone

HAPPY CHOICE                         arr. Jeremiah Ingalls

HARVEST HYMN                        arr. Jeremiah Ingalls

HATFIELD                                    [Thomas?] Baird

THE HEAVENLY VISION              Jacob French

HERALD                                      John Bushnell

HIDING-PLACE                           Smith

HOLLAND                                   Timothy Swan


INTERROGATION                        Ebenezer Child

INVITATION                                  Jacob Kimball

JERUSALEM                               Jeremiah Ingalls

JUBILANT                                    Supply Belcher

JUDEA                                         William Billings

JUDGMENT                                 Benjamin Leslie

JUDGMENT ANTHEM                 Justin Morgan

KITTERY                                      William Billings

Lamentation                                Jeremiah Ingalls

LEGHORN                                   Timothy Swan

LENA                                           Daniel Belknap

MEDITATION                               Elisha West

MELODY                                     Lewis Edson

MONMOUTH                              Jacob French

MONTAGUE                               Timothy Swan

MONTGOMERY                         Justin Morgan

MOREEN                                    Timothy Swan

MORNING                                  Amos Pilsbury

MORTALITY                                Daniel Read

MOUNT-HOLLY                          Hezekiah Moors

MOUNT SION                             [Bartholomew?] Brown

NEW JORDAN                            Nehemiah Shumway?

NEW-UNION                              Oliver Holden

NEWPORT                                  Daniel Read

OCEAN                                       Supply Belcher

OHIO                                           Samuel Holyoke

PENNSYLVANIA                          Jeremiah Ingalls

PENNSYLVANIA                          Joseph Stone

PLEASANT VALLEY                    Justin Morgan

PORTLAND                                 Abraham Maxim

PROVIDENCE                             Daniel Read

PSALM 146                                 Benjamin Leslie

RAINBOW                                   Timothy Swan

REPOSE                                      Abraham Wood?

REQUEST                                    Charles Robbins

RESURRECTION                         Walter Janes

RESURRECTION                         [Barnabas?] McKyes

RICHMOND                                 William Billings

RONDA                                        Timothy Swan

RUSSELL                                     Timothy Swan

RUSSIA                                        Daniel Read

ST. LUKE’S                                   Supply Belcher

SALISBURY                                  Oliver Brownson

SEPARATION                                arr. Jeremiah Ingalls

SHERBURNE                                Daniel Read

SHILOH                                        William Billings

SHIRLEY                                       Hezekiah Moors

SOLITUDE                                    Lewis Edson, Jr.

SOLITUDE                                    Walter Janes

SONG OF PRAISE                        Elisha West

Sorrow’s Tear                                Stephen Jenks

SOUNDING-JOY                          J. P. Storm

SURPRISE                                    [Barnabas?] McKyes

SWANTON                                    Hezekiah Moors

Sylvia                                            Truman Spencer Wetmore

WALPOLE                                     Abraham Wood

Warren                                          Abraham Wood

WASHINGTON                             William Billings

WEEPING NATURE                      Stephen Jenks

WEST-END                                   Zedekiah Sanger

WESTFIELD                                  W. Newcomb

WINDHAM                                    Daniel Read

WOBURN                                     Jacob Kimball

THE YOUNG CONVERT              Jeremiah Ingalls


ALABAMA                                    Alexander Johnson;

                                                     arr. Ananias Davisson;

                                                     alto by William Walker

THE BABE OF BETHLEHEM       William Walker

BABYLON IS FALLEN                  arr. William Edward Chute

BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY            Elkanah Kelsay Dare

BIG SKY                                       Seth Houston

CONCERT                                    White?

DANIELS                                      Neely Bruce

DESERT SORROW                      Seth Houston

DETROIT                                      arr. [William?] Bradshaw

ETERNAL DAY                             John Palmer Reese;

                                                     alto after Anna L. Blackshear

EXULTATION                                [R. D.?] Humphreys

FIDUCIA [2 voices]                      J. Robertson

FIDUCIA [4 voices]                      J. Robertson

FIRMAMENT                               Bruce Randall

GLORIOUS SIGHT                      Bruce Randall

GREEN-MEADOWS                    arr. [William?] Nicholson

HALLELUJAH                              William Walker

IDUMEA [3 voices]                      Ananias Davisson;

                                                    arr. William Walker?

IDUMEA [4 voices]                      Ananias Davisson

LAMENT                                      Thomas B. Malone

LAWRENCE                                 Seth Houston

MERCY’S FREE                           Leonard P. Breedlove;

                                                     alto by William Walker

MESSIAH                                     anon.

THE MORNING TRUMPET          Benjamin Franklin White?;

                                                     alto by Wilson Marion Cooper

THE MOULDERING VINE            James P. Carrell

NEW BRITAIN                              anon.

NEWFIELD                                   Neely Bruce

NORTHFIELD                              Nym Cooke

OXFORD                                      arr. John Massengale;

                                                     alto by Wilson Marion Cooper

PARTING FRIENDS                      arr. John Gordon McCurry

PEACE AND JOY                         Paine W. Denson

POWER                                        White

PRIMROSE                                   Amzi Chapin

THE PROMISED LAND                 Matilda T. Durham

RESIGNATION                              anon.

ROCKBRIDGE [3 voices]              [Lucius or Amzi] Chapin

ROCKBRIDGE [4 voices]              [Lucius or Amzi] Chapin;

                                                      arr. Ananias Davisson

THE SAILOR’S HOME                  William M. Caudill & William Walker

SAMANTHRA                                anon.

SAWYER’S EXIT                           arr. John Massengale

SHEPHERDS REJOICE                Leonard P. Breedlove;

                                                      arr. Burwell Stephen Aikin;

                                                      alto by Seaborn McDaniel Denson

SOAR AWAY                                 Alfred Marcus Cagle

SPRINGHILL                                 anon.

STAR IN THE EAST                       anon.

SUFFIELD                                     Nym Cooke

SWEET PROSPECT                      William Walker

TENDER THOUGHT                      Ananias Davisson

TRIBULATION                                Ananias Davisson?  

                                                       Amzi or Lucius Chapin?

WATERGATE                                 Jeffrey Quick

WAYFARING STRANGER             arr. John Marion Dye

WEEPING MARY                          John Gordon McCurry

                                                      & William Thomas Power

WONDROUS LOVE                       arr. James Christopher



Risks and challenges

David R. Godine is committed to publishing American Harmony, and all the book's pages have in fact been laid out and set in type by veteran (and virtuoso) designer Susan Marsh. But the costs of printing and binding--both labor and materials--are extensive, and DRG funds are limited. Kickstarter support is key to ensuring that the book appears in 2017--the announced publication date, eight years after I returned to intensive work on it and 41 years after it was first conceived. So there are really no risks here. It's just a matter of time, with contributors' generosity being the key figure in determining how much or how little time we have yet to wait!

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $25 or more About $25

    "Compiler's Favorites"

    PDFs of my favorite ten pieces from the book, with critical commentary and composer/arranger biographies for the particular compositions, and the book's entire introduction

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    "Compiler's Favorites" plus CD

    The "Best Of" selection described above, plus a CD containing 35 pieces from American Harmony (over 77 minutes of music), recorded by a top-quality chorus directed by compiler Nym Cooke. The CD will be included with the published anthology, but this copy is yours for the stated pledge amount.

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    Copy of American Harmony with CD

    American Harmony will be a visually beautiful, highly useful, and impeccably researched collection of the finest sacred part-music from early America. It has been compiled by a leading scholar in this field, a musician who knows these pieces as well as anyone alive. It will make history in the publishing of early American sacred music. Contributors of $100 or more will receive an autographed copy of the anthology, along with the companion CD (see description above).

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    Pledge $500 or more About $500

    Combination Special!

    Your own autographed copy of American Harmony with companion CD, PLUS an invitation to attend one of the "launch events" when the book is published. Each launch event will include a concert by the chorus American Harmony under author Nym Cooke's direction and a reception where copies of the book will be available for purchased. Note: all launch events will likely occur in Massachusetts.

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    Pledge $1,000 or more About $1,000

    Extra-Bonus Combination Special!!

    All of the above, plus a workshop with or talk by the compiler. The location of the workshop or talk needs to be within 100 miles from central Massachusetts.

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Funding period

- (45 days)