Singing school tradition renewed at Cleveland First Baptist

Cleveland First Baptist Church, for the third time in four years, will offer a singing school for adults and children (first grade and above), beginning at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 3. The first session will last until 7 p.m., with supper provided by the church. The school will continue for the next four evenings, Monday through Thursday, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. A nursery will be provided for preschool children.

The school is open to anyone who would like to learn to sing hymns, to sing parts other than melody, and to read, lead, and, if they wish, conduct music, according to Chris Green, music minister at the church and singing school organizer. The school is free, although an offering will be taken to cover expenses, he said. What’s a singing school?

In years past, before the advent of Vacation Bible Schools, the singing school was an annual event, held daily for one or even two weeks at a church in nearly every community each summer. For generations in Blount County and across the rural South, many children learned to sing, to read music, and to sing “parts” or harmony – soprano, alto, tenor, and bass – in such schools. It was a skill that formed the background for church choirs, not to mention gospel quartets and country and gospel music generally, right up to the present.

Many of those children have retired in recent times from the choirs where they have sung faithfully for years. Singing schools declined after the 1960s, so the art of harmony singing is fading as well. There are all too few recruits in most churches to replace the singing school graduates of the past. Reviving the tradition

“What this school hopes to do is revive the gospel music tradition in this area by teaching the fundamentals once again,” Green said in 2010 when he launched the first singing school in a number of years. “We can’t give a full music education in five days, but we can at least begin to reverse what we’re losing.

“This will be a school for beginners. If you have a little bit of knowledge of music, it will be a refresher course. One of the best ways you can learn harmony singing is to listen to people who are doing it. So, we’d also like to have some people there who can sing and teach by example,” he said.

“I want to emphasize that this school is open to people from other churches in the community – just as the old singing schools used to be. It’s to learn music, but it’s also to promote fellowship. So, it really is for everyone. I hope people from all around will take this opportunity to develop a new interest and enrich their experience,” he said. Professional instruction

Leading the school will be two professional musicians, both of whom have worked with the Alabama School of Gospel Music at Snead State Community College.

Charles Towler of Cleveland, Tenn., is the former music editor and director of music for the Tennessee Music and Printing Company, a gospel music publishing house. He has composed more than 300 gospel songs, as well as Christmas musicals. He teaches church music schools throughout the year. He is also owner and manager of Gospel Heritage Music Publishing Company in Cleveland, Tenn., which updates and publishes a gospel music hymnbook annually. That book will be used in the music school.

Tracey Phillips of Nashville is an accomplished pianist, recording artist, and singing school accompanist throughout the Southeast. She has been a featured artist for the Bill Gaither Homecoming Series and the National Quartet Convention. She produces and arranges music and performs in a dynamic gospel piano style. Private piano sessions will be available on a first-come, firstserved basis for those interested, Green said. How to sign up

If you’re interested in attending – and to help them be prepared – notify Chris or Pam Green in any one of the following ways: mail your name, age, address, phone number, and e-mail address to 1515 Barwick Rd., Blountsville, Ala., 35031, or e-mail your information to, or phone it in to (205) 429-3210.