Gospel Singing Conventions
Since the late nineteenth century, the tradition of gathering together at singing conventions to "make a joyful noise unto the Lord" has been an important part of the social and cultural life of many Georgians. The vocal and instrumental renditions heard at these conventions, first referred to as gospel music, is now known as southern gospel music.
The songs that are sung at these conventions appear in printed form set to a written musical system called seven-shape notation. This system, invented to make it easier to read music, was an early Sacred Harp. Because of its immense popularity in the South, the seven-shape notational system became a defining characteristic of southern gospel music. The shapes employed in the seven-shape notational system are as follows: equilateral triangle = do, semicircle = re, diamond = mi, right triangle = fa, oval = sol, rectangle = la, and quarter circle = ti. Southern gospel singing is also characterized by instrumental accompaniment and differs in that respect from Sacred Harp singing, which is performed a capella.
The Irwin County. The success of this endeavor soon gave rise around the state to numerous other local singing conventions, which were usually organized as regularly occurring countywide events. Jasper, the seat of Pickens County, for example, hosted a biannual convention that attracted hundreds of partcipants during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Singing conventions are audience-participation affairs, but they are organized in such a way that those with the talent and desire are allowed to take their turn leading the congregational singing. The annual supply of new songs provides the means for honing sight-reading skills.
In the days before television and the proliferation of motion picture theaters, local singing conventions provided
Contributing to J. M. Henson of Atlanta and A. J. Showalter of Dalton. Currently the publishers of the songbooks used at the Georgia singing conventions are located in other states. Georgia composers whose songs became early standards of southern gospel music include J. M. Henson ("Watching You"), Andrew Jenkins ("God Put a Rainbow in the Cloud"), Charles E. Moody ("Kneel at the Cross"), A. J. Showalter ("Leaning on the Everlasting Arms"), and Charlie D. Tillman ("Life's Railway to Heaven"). Compositions by many of Georgia's gospel music singers, active during the latter part of the twentieth and early part of the twenty-first century, appear regularly in the annual output of convention songbooks. Among these songwriters are K. Wayne Guffey, Hansel Hunter, Mildred Johnson, Cheryl Truelove Pass, Eloise Phillips, Byron Pollard, and Fred Rich.
In the early
Community-based Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland. The curriculum includes music theory, harmony, sight-reading, ear training, conducting, composition, piano, and voice.
Today there are fewer local singing conventions than in the past, but they are not totally extinct. Among Georgia counties still carrying on the tradition with local singings are Bartow, Carroll, Crisp, Gilmer, Gordon, Haralson, Heard, Paulding, Rabun, and Worth. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the annual Georgia State Singing Conventions were attracting several hundred singers and listeners.
Media Gallery: Gospel Singing Conventions