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