Monday, May 20, 2013

All Day Singing and Dinner on The Ground - Part I (by Cindy Hester)

"Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!" Psalms 100:4
I count myself fortunate to have been born in 1961. Looking back I have gained an appreciation of what a threshold in time it truly was. I have memories which encompass the values, traditions, and practices prior to the technological advances of today. Many of those traditions and practices became extremely rare or extinct within a few short years of my childhood. The transition occurred in such a short period of time that even my younger brother who is 16 years younger than me did not have the opportunity to enjoy many of these experiences. Among other things, I remember the personal touches of local family-owned businesses lining main street. I remember my grandmother churning butter while singing on the front porch steps as my sister and I played in the yard, and I remember those good old Sundays spent singing all day with dinner on the ground.
 Downtown Livingston, Texas

While there have been many important advances for good in areas such as social equality, technology, and medicine, I feel we as a society have progressed in many areas while digressing in others. Businesses have become incorporated and less personal. Communication devices, while offering wonderful opportunities to be digitally connected, have somehow drawn us farther inside ourselves and often tend to inhibit personal, human connection. While great strides have been made toward human equality, values and morals have declined. We live in such a fast-paced, crazy time that I feel compelled to slow you down if for but a moment and share what I witnessed before crossing over that threshold into the modern world we enjoy today.
Before I talk about the Sunday singings with dinner on the ground, I want to tell you about another phenomenon still practiced in the early to late 1960's - the local singing schools. I have read that one of the main reasons for the early development of singing schools was to teach individuals to sing hymns so they could partake in congregational singing. It makes sense to reason that congregational singing became commonplace after the proliferation of Protestant churches. This is about the extent I know of the history behind them, but I can testify personally about how people took what they learned in these singing schools and enjoyed it to the fullest at the all day singing and dinner on the ground!
The Stamps-Baxter music company is a good example of a southern gospel music company well known for conducting singing schools, sponsoring Southern Gospel quartets, and publishing "convention" song books. They still hold a two week singing school at The Stamps-Baxter School of Music in Nashville, Tennessee as a continuation of the tradition of convention-style southern gospel music (
Back in the day, however, people of the local community would gather together at a similar style singing school. There they learned to read music and sing harmony according to the "shaped note method" made popular in the various convention song books like those published by Stamps-Baxter.

 An example of the shaped note method of learning music.
My Maw Maw Hood would be totally confounded if she attended
a church where the notes were round. Shaped notes were how she read
 One such convention songbook was the Heavenly Highway hymnal. I don't know how many of you are acquainted with the Heavenly Highway Hymn book. Let me just say that here in the rural south, it ranks right up there just below the King James version of the Bible. Many song leaders have been accused of slipping away from God's ordained commandments when suggesting a different hymnal for the congregation. Katie bar the door if they suggest bringing praise songs into the worship service which are in no way a part of this sacred song book! What I found humorous in my reading was the fact that the schools were often conducted to teach the "new" songs published in this Heavenly Highway Hymnal.
Please understand, I mean no disrespect to any of you who hold this hymnal and its beautiful songs near and dear to your heart. I too love those good old southern gospel songs. I cut my teeth on many of them as a child while attending gospel singing schools with Momma and Daddy on Friday nights at some local church.

 Singing schools in the rural south were considered social events, and people from all over the community attended. The evening began with greetings and hugs and proceeded with learning, joyful laughter, and music. Daddy often led the opening song, and Momma would play the piano. If memory serves me right, an instructor would often be brought in for the music lesson portion of the evening. Regardless, I enjoyed these gatherings.

I so treasured the feeling of being surrounded by a church full of friends and family learning, laughing, singing, and praising the Lord together through this beautiful, comforting southern gospel style music. I could always tell when the school was coming to an end by the smell of coffee percolating in the church kitchen and the sound of dishes being arranged with assorted desserts baked by the ladies in attendance.
As for singing all day and dinner on the ground...stay tuned for my next writing. In the meantime, I would love to hear from any readers who may remember these days. You can post your memories here under "Comments", or post them on Facebook on my Cinderella's Corner Facebook page. You can also feel free to send them by email to I always love hearing from my readers, especially when reminiscing about precious days gone by. Have a blessed week, and don't forget to be watching for my next post to read more!

Example of the type of music learned and sung at the singing schools:

A Poem for Bear By Maw Maw Cindy My dear little Bear who sleeps soundly and tight So peaceful and trusting, your cares free...