Nym Cooke began studying shape-note music over forty years ago as an undergraduate at Harvard, and it is not an overstatement to claim that he has made this study his life’s work and himself among the foremost authorities on the subject. Beginning his research in 1976, he has sung every one of the 5,000 pieces published in American tunebooks through 1810, researched the composers’ biographies, and determined not only how the music should be presented in print, but also how it might best be performed in person.
American Harmony, his magnum opus, is the result: a selection of the cream of early American choral music, here published in two volumes, the first covering New England compositions from 1770 to 1815, the second volume covering a wide range of locations from 1813 to the present. Containing full musical scores and underlaid, complete verses for 176 pieces of music, 100 illustrations, over 100 pages of biographical information about composers and musical arrangers, and five indices, this is the ultimate reference work on the subject, a book that belongs on the shelf of every serious music library, performer and student. Also included is a CD with recordings of 35 pieces performed by the author’s own chorus, not coincidentally called ‘American Harmony.’
In addition to the music, the author’s historical introduction and detailed critical commentary provide context, and the two sewn volumes, contained in a sturdy slipcase, make this edition both singable and portable. Four years in the making, this is among the most outrageously elaborate and ambitious books ever undertaken by David R. Godine, Pulisher.