Sacred Harp singing was taught by singing school teachers who went from community
to community showing young and old how to “read the notes,” “walk time,” and “sing
the scale.” As a special treat, students occasionally performed a “drone” or human
bagpipe, unique to southeast Georgia, with a central core of singers carr ying the tune,
surrounded by three moving circles of singers who held the first, fifth, or eighth note
of the scale. Singing school teachers usually lacked formal musical training but were in
much demand as renowned and powerful singers. Lazarus Dowling, pictured at right,
was the first in a line of Hoboken-area singing school teachers that includes Martin
Dowling, Bill Guy, Silas Lee, Wilson Wainright, Clarke Lee, and David Lee. A century
ago, parents required their children to attend these schools and paid the teacher for his
effor ts with money, or more frequently, with food and goods produced on their family
farm. Singing schools were scheduled according to the availability of a singing school
teacher and ran for six or more consecutive weekends. Present-day singing schools are streamlined into two or three sessions.
Photo courtesy of Elvera Dowling Lee..