Old School Baptist Church program June 8

Sacred traditions and music will merge on Sunday, June 8 when the Historical Society of the Town of Middletown (HSM) presents “The Good Old Way: Music and Memories of the Old School Baptist Church,” at the HSM hall, 778 Cemetery Road, Margaretville.

The free presentation begins at 2 p.m. Grounds will be open at 11 for those who would like to picnic by the pond.  

Presenter Ben Bath encourages anyone who would like to share memories, songbooks, photos or memorabilia from Old School Baptist (OSB) churches to come early and chat with him. Locally, OSB congregations met in Halcottsville, Vega and Stratton Falls. All three simple, unadorned churches and their adjoining burial grounds are listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

The Vega church is now a performance venue of the Roxbury Arts Group. OSB meetings are still held annually at the “Yellow Church” at Stratton Falls.

Presenter Ben Bath, a graduate of Bard College, is an ethnomusicologist who has extensively studied the musical traditions of the Old School, or Primitive, Baptists, as well as other early American sacred and secular music.

His 2 p.m. presentation will focus on the OSB doctrine and how that translated into their music. In 1832, hard line Gospel followers, led by Elder Gilbert Beebe, split from New School, or Missionary elements of the Baptist Church who wanted to form Sunday Schools and missions. The “Beebe Baptists” used a hymnal published by Gilbert Beebe that matched religious poetry and scriptural passages to familiar tunes. The elder would intone a line, and the congregation would sing it together slowly, a technique called “lining out a hymn.”

While New School Baptist churches allowed instrumental music, Old School adherents did not, so hymns were sung without accompaniment.

The June 7 talk will cover how tunes were transmitted to large crowds during open air camp meetings of the Second Great Awakening, and how the rise of itinerant singing school teachers meant four-part harmony began to replace lined-out hymns.  Local OSB congregations later adopted the 1886 Durand & Lester Primitive and Old School Baptist Hymn and Tune Book, which had tunes written out in four-part harmony. 

During the June 8 program, eight local singers will demonstrate the different singing styles and everyone will be encouraged to participate in the old method of lining out hymns. 

 This program is the closing element of the weekend-long Headwaters History Days, a celebration of heritage, folklife and community in the East Branch Delaware River towns of Middletown, Andes and Roxbury. www.headwatershistorydays.org.

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