Jo Puma – Wild Choir Music

“Sacred Harp” music represents an entire body of traditional American choral music.
Why then has it not been taught in the schools? Maybe it was not taught because the sectarian lyrics were found to be inappropriate for public schools. Maybe it was not taught because its shape-notes were not clear enough to be easily read. Maybe it was not taught because it uses standard solfege syllables in a nonstandard way. Maybe it was not taught because the harmony is just too wild and unpolished and violates too many rules.

Well, Jo Puma has resolved 3 of the 4 possible objections:
Jo Puma lyrics still have a richness in thought, but they are egalitarian and secular.
Jo Puma still uses shape-notes, but they are crisp and clear.
Jo Puma still uses solfege syllables (Jo, Pu, Ma, Bee), but they don’t clash with conventional solfege syllables.

However Jo Puma hasn’t touched the notes. The music still sounds as wild as it always has with its parallel fifths and octaves, its incomplete and second-inversion triads, its open fourths and fifths, and it’s pentatonic-flavored melodies stuck down in the tenor. Why? Because it’s fun to sing. It’s not music written for an audience, it’s music written for living, breathing singers. It’s a social, participatory activity. It’s square-dancing for the voice. Fun as it is to hear the loud and rambunctious machinery of these songs, the real joy is in the doing.

If you’re already familiar with the “Sacred Harp” repertoire, you can use the table below to find the corresponding Jo Puma songs. Click on a Jo-Puma title to download the song.

Sacred Harp Title and NumberJo Puma Title and Number
Africa (178)Reducing Pain and Suffering (23)
Amsterdam (84)May My Journey (21)
Antioch (277)Labor and Neighbor (17)
Bridgewater (276)We May Be Lost (34)
Calvary (300)Strong Teachers (28)
Canaan’s Land (101)Making Circles (20)
China (163)This Long, Long, Long Strange Trip (29)
Confidence (270)Come Pull, Pull, Pull (6)
Consecration (448)Shattered Dreams (25)
Corinth (32)Elder Tree (9)
Coronation (63)Communication is the Answer (7)
Cowper (168)I Work For Peace (15)
Exhortation (171)Each Journey Starts with Just One Step (8)
Fairfield (29)The Book (2)
Gospel Trumpet (99)Work of Art (36)
Hallelujah (146)Job To Do (16)
Holy Manna (59)Rise and Shine (24)
I’m Going Home (282)I Know the Prisoner (13)
Last Words of Copernicus (112)Up or Down? (32)
Lenox (40)We Talk and Listen (35)
Murillo’s Lesson (358)Losers’ Parade (19)
New Jerusalem (299)Bumper Cars (3)
Ninety-Fifth (36)Everybody Has a Song (10)
Northfield (155)So Count Me In (26)
Ortonville (68)Story of the Sea (27)
Panting for Heaven (384)I Saw My Child (14)
Pleyel’s Hymn (143)I Give My Voice (12)
Present Joys (318)Celebrate the End of Night (4)
Primrose (47)A Farmer Planted (11)
Return Again (335)As We Gather Our Sweet Harvest (1)
Sacred Throne (569)Tiger (31)
Schenectady (192)We Keep Our Equanimity (33)
St. Thomas (34)Lifted High (18)
Stratfield (142)Tick-Tock (30)
Warrenton (145)Choo-Choo, Chugga-Chugga (5)
Wondrous Love (159)Parents Gone (22)

A wealth of information about Sacred Harp books, recordings, activities, singing schools and camps may be found at at the Fasola website. A wonderful free audio library of hundreds of Sacred Harp songs (including all the original songs on which the Jo Puma series is based) can be found at the Boston Sing website.

The Machinists Union Press publishes books and music engineered to tear down walls between people.

Works of Secretary Michael