News Release Archive

Nova Scotians of the 1700s and 1800s rebelled in chorus when they
couldn't sing their favourite hymns in church.

When some ministers banned their music from services because they
considered it too boisterous and joyful, Maritimers took to
learning this spirited music at singing schools instead.

As part of Nova Scotia's Celebrate Our Music campaign, the Nova
Scotia Museum is presenting a performance series featuring the
14-member Elastic Millennium Choir. The choir will help museums
celebrate Nova Scotia's musical heritage with music written for
and performed in the singing schools.

Originating in Boston, the singing schools spread to the southern
United States and to the Maritimes. Some could still be found in
isolated rural areas of Nova Scotia in the 1930s.

The Elastic Millennium Choir, of Halifax, specializes in 
shape-note singing, a system developed around 1812. Its inventors
described it as an improved way of instructing those with "even
the weakest capacity for music." Triangle, oval, square and
diamond symbols represent musical notes, allowing singers,
including those who were illiterate, to rely on written music
rather than memory.

This shape-note singing was the popular music of the day, said by
its publishers to be "suited to the tastes of plain folk." Sam
Slick, the fictional Yankee clock pedlar created by Thomas
Chandler Haliburton, remarked on the beauty of these 
meeting-house tunes. 

The repertoire of the Elastic Millennium Choir includes 
shape-note songs composed in Nova Scotia. Many are hymns about
death, damnation and the "billowing fires of hell" delivered in a
lively, beautiful blend of soprano, alto, tenor and bass. The
choir, a non-profit organization, funds its own research into
this music.

While shape-note music, also known as American Sacred Harp music,
is enjoying a revival south of the border, a performance group
such as the Elastic Millennium Choir is completely unheard of
there. In the United States, people do not go to "singings" of
this music to listen, but to sing themselves.

"We tend to adhere to the democratic feel of this tradition, but
have a more choir-like way of going about things to interest a
larger audience," said Marcus Merrin, chief researcher and bass
singer in the choir.
In addition to giving concerts, the choir holds singing schools
following the traditional approach of having everyone sit in a
hollow square and sing with as much gusto as they can muster.

The Nova Scotia Museum's performance series featuring the Elastic
Millennium Choir continues on:

Sunday, Sept. 14 -- Starr's Point, host Prescott House Museum
     Singing school, 2 p.m.,  St. John's Anglican Church, $2
     Concert, 7 p.m., St. John's Anglican Church, $8 for          
     employed, $6 unemployed

Saturday, Sept. 27 --Sherbrooke Village, Sherbrooke
     Singing school, 2 p.m., Courthouse, Sherbrooke Village, free
     Non-denominational church service, 4 p.m., St. Mary's        
  Anglican Church, St. Mary's River
     Concert, 8 p.m., Courthouse, Sherbrooke Village, $5 per      

Sunday, Oct. 19 --Fundy Geological Museum, 6 Two Islands Rd.,     
     Singing school, 2 p.m., $2
     Concert, 7 p.m., $6

For a preview, a CD by the Elastic Millennium Choir titled The
Better Land, is on sale at the shops in Haliburton House Museum,
Prescott House Museum, Uniacke Estate Museum Park, the Museum of
Natural History, and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. And a
second CD --titled An Old Canadian Christmas: Songs of an Honest
Age 1770-1880 --is in the works for the holiday season.

-30 -

Contact: Judith Shiers Milne
         Nova Scotia Museum

ngr                 September 9, 1997                 3:55 pm