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#4194: Theme & Variations: Idumea

ear variations on the theme of the American shape note, or sacred harp tune, “Idumea.” Listen to versions from Sufjian Stevens, drummer and composer David T. Little, guitarist Gwennifer Raymond, and the singer Clodagh Simonds, Kitka, and many others.

The shape-note singing tradition dates from the early and mid-19th century, with tunes and texts originally notated in "shape notes" (square, round, triangular, and diamond-shaped note heads) that enabled non-music reading congregations in New England and the southern United States to sing them. This type of singing was also known as “sacred harp” singing, which was the name of a tune book, a hymnal, commonly used. The focus for this show is on the melody known as “Idumea” or, the land of the Idumeans or Idumaeans, with a melody associated with text called, “Am I Born To Die.”

Hear versions by Sufjian Stevens, and Bonnie Prince Billy, along with an instrumental version by the Welsh multi-instrumentalist Gwenifer Raymond. There’s also a version by Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn. Then, listen to the women’s vocal ensemble, Kitka, from the Bay Area who specialize in folk music of the Balkans and of Europe. They take a Greek folk song, “Fly, Trembling Spirit”, and arrange it to include “Am I Born,” also known as “Idumea.” Plus, hear a performance of “Am I Born to Die” as sung by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, along with music based on that shape-note singing by David T. Little, performed by the Brooklyn Philharmonic, both recorded at the 2011 New Sounds Live concert.