Idumea

[Originally published on May 4, 2004.]

Several years ago, someone from the New Harp of Columbia singing community said that the song “
Paradise”, page 68 of the New Harp, was the quintessential shape note song. (He didn’t use the word “quintessential” but he said something like that.) We incorporated it into Oberlin Harmony (page 9) and have enjoyed singing it ever since.

When I read that, I immediately thought of "Idumea" (
1991 Sacred Harp, page 47b.) For me, that is the Ideal Proto-Example of Sacred Harp songs. If you want to know what Sacred Harp singing is like, sing that song in a big group!

The tune is one of the Appalachian arched-melody minor tunes that sound like they came directly from some Celtic tribe. The tune fits so well that it could have been written specifically for Charles Wesley’s words. (Charlie Wesley, we call him.) The words are both existentialist and apocalyptic at the same time and call up something deep and terrified in me every time I sing it. The phrase “What will become of me?” is especially moving. In fact it is rhetorical and answered by the next phrase, but when I sing it I don’t care, I take it as it stands. The phrase at the end, “To see the flaming skies”, is also terrifying. I think it is not good to do the repeat there, you should be left shaken after singing it once!

This tune also calls up memories for me.

It was used effectively at the beginning of Cold Mountain, accompanying pictures of the Battle of the Crater, one of the most horrible battles fought anywhere in the nineteenth century.

It was used in a play produced in
Cleveland in the 1990’s, and that verse was sung by a soprano with a beautiful, clear voice, playing a character that was doomed. The phrase “What will become of me” still sounds in my head in her voice.

Even more moving was the time at the very end of one of the Midwest Conventions, on Sunday afternoon in Ida Noyes Hall, when Jane and I and our friend Andrea stood in the back of the hall as everyone sang Idumea as it was led by Chandler York and two of his brothers, facing three different directions and getting us to sing as I rarely remember singing before. Idumea will have these meanings for me for the rest of my life. (I also remember that when
Chandler sang with us in Oberlin he wanted us to stand when we sang it.)

Notes: (
1) Full disclosure time: I never heard a song that came from a Celtic tribe. I don’t care, they must have sounded like Idumea!

(
2) Idumea is the Latin form of the Biblical name Edom, which means “red”. It is a hilly land south of the Dead Sea that is now in Jordan, and includes the ancient city of Petra . When Moses wanted to enter the land of Canaan via Edom the rulers of Edom wouldn’t let him.

(
3) Outside the south people pronounce it "Eye-du-MEE-a". Many southerners, but not all, pronounce it "Eye-DEW-mee-a" or "Eye-DEW-mee" at singings, but not necessarily when reading the Bible aloud. (By the way, in the King James Version it is sometimes spelled Idumaea). Note that southerners pronounce both "eye" and "dew" differently from people in most of the rest of the country!

More about Idumea

[Originally published on May 7, 2004]

Many people on the Fasola Discussions list gave me other pronunciations of "Idumea" that they had heard, including many in which the first syllable had a short i, sounding like "id". Another southern pronunciation, found by Dick and Val Dunagan is "Ida May", and they said there is a town in
Kentucky with that name near a town that was formerly called "Canaan". Not only that, but a town named Primrose is nearby, as this map shows (it is 4.4 meg).

In classical Julius Caesar type Latin, "Idumaea" would have been pronounced "eed-oo-MY-ah". In what is called "Church Latin", it is pronounced as "eed-oo-MAY-ah".

Church Latin is the pronunciation used by most American church choirs. It is really "Italian Latin", Latin pronounced more or less as if it were Italian. In German speaking countries it is pronounced as if it were German, for example in Bach cantatas, and similarly for other European countries.


 [Originally published on May 4, 2004.]

Several years ago, someone from the New Harp of Columbia singing community said that the song “Paradise”, page 68 of the New Harp, was the quintessential shape note song. (He didn’t use the word “quintessential” but he said something like that.) We incorporated it into Oberlin Harmony (page 9) and have enjoyed singing it ever since.

When I read that, I immediately thought of "Idumea" (1991 Sacred Harp, page 47b.) For me, that is the Ideal Proto-Example of Sacred Harp songs. If you want to know what Sacred Harp singing is like, sing that song in a big group!

The tune is one of the Appalachian arched-melody minor tunes that sound like they came directly from some Celtic tribe. The tune fits so well that it could have been written specifically for Charles Wesley’s words. (Charlie Wesley, we call him.) The words are both existentialist and apocalyptic at the same time and call up something deep and terrified in me every time I sing it. The phrase “What will become of me?” is especially moving. In fact it is rhetorical and answered by the next phrase, but when I sing it I don’t care, I take it as it stands. The phrase at the end, “To see the flaming skies”, is also terrifying. I think it is not good to do the repeat there, you should be left shaken after singing it once!

This tune also calls up memories for me.

It was used effectively at the beginning of Cold Mountain, accompanying pictures of the Battle of the Crater, one of the most horrible battles fought anywhere in the nineteenth century.

It was used in a play produced in Cleveland in the 1990’s, and that verse was sung by a soprano with a beautiful, clear voice, playing a character that was doomed. The phrase “What will become of me” still sounds in my head in her voice.

Even more moving was the time at the very end of one of the Midwest Conventions, on Sunday afternoon in Ida Noyes Hall, when Jane and I and our friend Andrea stood in the back of the hall as everyone sang Idumea as it was led by Chandler York and two of his brothers, facing three different directions and getting us to sing as I rarely remember singing before. Idumea will have these meanings for me for the rest of my life. (I also remember that when Chandler sang with us in Oberlin he wanted us to stand when we sang it.)

Notes: (1) Full disclosure time: I never heard a song that came from a Celtic tribe. I don’t care, they must have sounded like Idumea!

(2) Idumea is the Latin form of the Biblical name Edom, which means “red”. It is a hilly land south of the Dead Sea that is now in Jordan, and includes the ancient city of Petra . When Moses wanted to enter the land of Canaan via Edom the rulers of Edom wouldn’t let him.

(3) Outside the south people pronounce it "Eye-du-MEE-a". Many southerners, but not all, pronounce it "Eye-DEW-mee-a" or "Eye-DEW-mee" at singings, but not necessarily when reading the Bible aloud. (By the way, in the King James Version it is sometimes spelled Idumaea). Note that southerners pronounce both "eye" and "dew" differently from people in most of the rest of the country!

Charles Wells

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