I'm afraid I can't help here, but I have a related query.
Can anyone explain the significance, if any, of the shapes?
c

It was a system devised supposedly to help people with no musical training to read the tunes and sing at sight. The shapes represent sol-fa syllables, and the original four-shape system seems in some ways closer to the old European medieval/renaissance hexachord system than to the modern "movable Do" system (not much used in music education now, but brought to popular knowledge in the song from The Sound of Music)
Read all about in Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shape_note

But I guess you knew that Chris. If your question is why those particular shapes - I have no idea. When I led a group in singing some of those hymns - people who didn't read music much but were used to seeing normal notes, the shapes just confused them and complicated things, so I prepared versions in conventional notation, and they learned the parts by ear the same as the other carols we were doing. I think maybe more experienced music readers could ignore the shapes more easily, whereas to use the shapes as they were intended you have to have been trained in that system and nothing else. Philip


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