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Tim Eriksen Brings Americana To Pensacola

Michael Murphree

Tim Eriksen is an ethnomusicologist, American Traditional music performer, and professor. He’s visiting Pensacola this week. Invited by the University of West Florida, Eriksen will give a public concert on Tuesday, Mar 24.  On Wednesday, he’s scheduled to conduct workshops with UWF music and archaeology students.

Tim Eriksen has a wide range of musical styles and interests from American Roots to Punk Rock, and more.

“I’ve always been interested in music, in social music making; what I grew up with in my family, especially harmony singing and hymn singing,” said Eriksen.

During his visit to Pensacola, Eriksen says he plans to stick to Americana or historical or traditional American music that ranges from old New England ballads and southern Appalachian banjo tunes to sacred harp/shape-note singing, which is a community-based harmony singing style that dates to the 18th and 19th centuries, and is still very lively today,” said Eriksen.

Eriksen is a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University and has taught classes at colleges and universities across the country and in Poland and the Czech Republic. Much of his studies have focused on shape note music in the mid-19th century New England.

“It was a tradition in which senior citizens decided in the 1850s that they wanted to sing the sacred music of their childhood…which had been more or less shunned from the churches and relegated to the private and domestic sphere. But, it’s just a wonderful music and it forms the oldest part of the canon of shape note music.

Eriksen says many of those songs they were singing in the 1850s were in the four-part harmony tradition of The Sacred Harp.

“This Sacred Harp, this Georgia tune book from 1844, that has music of a number early genres of sacred harmony singing and it’s just a fantastic collection and a whole set of traditions have grown up around it,” Eriksen said. “My interest isn’t that it’s tradition; but that it’s brilliant. It’s a fantastic format for social singing, for harmonizing.”

According to Eriksen, the shape note in shape-note music refers to a notational system developed around 1800 and is used in The Sacred Harp and other song books.

“The note heads get different shapes to tell you which solfedge syllable they are in the old English way of singing the scale before ‘do re me fa sol la ti do’ became popular. And, we still do that when we sing from The Sacred Harp, we always sing ‘fa so la fa so la me fa’ before we sing the words,” said Eriksen.

A good example of The Sacred Harp tradition is the song “I’m Going Home” which Eriksen helped produce for the 2004 Oscar-winning film “Cold Mountain.”

The Sacred Harp, which has roots in the south, is the oldest surviving American musical genre. It’s been experiencing a resurgence in recent years.

Credit Lauren Holloway
Tim Eriksen at Americana Festival.

Eriksen is founder of what is currently the world's largest Sacred Harp singing convention, in Northampton, MA. And, after fading out in the 1950s, Sacred Harp singing is also making a comeback in Pensacola.

During his visit this week, Eriksen will share his expertise during workshops with UWF music and archaeology students. Also, he’ll be paying a visit to the UWF Archaeology Institute.  

“I have a background of interest and some experience in archaeology and particularly looking at some of the musical artifacts from right there in Pensacola, some Jews harps (jaw harp) from a (1559 ship) wreck, and hopefully being able to connect some live music with some local history.” Some of the artifacts to be examined are from the Emmanuel Point Shipwrecks from the Luna expedition.

Eriksen’s public performance will be held Tuesday evening, Mar 24 at 6:30 at Old Christ Church located at 405 S. Adams St., Pensacola.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.