March 4th , 2013 9:37 am Leave a comment

Don Wiley and Old Fields Singers keeping traditional singing method alive

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By Maria Fredericks
STAR Intern

When Don Wiley tells people he enjoys singing the shapes, some of them might give him an excusably puzzled look.

Shape note singing, however, has been around for some time. This form of musical notation, introduced in 1801, became a popular teaching device in American singing schools. Shapes were added to the note heads in written music to help singers find pitches within major and minor scales.

Today, Wiley and his group of fellow musical enthusiasts, are working to preserve the tradition of singing the shapes. Known as the Old Fields Singers, the group meets every third Sunday at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park.

Wiley, a Johnson City resident, explained that, unlike traditional musical notation in which a note is placed on the musical staff to represent the pitch, shape note singing takes a different approach.

Photo by Maria Fredericks The Old Fields Singers

Photo by Maria Fredericks
The Old Fields Singers

Wiley said the shape of the note represents the pitch. For example, in the seven-note system the “do” is represented by a triangle.

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