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Arts & Culture

For All Your Southern Sound Needs, A Sonic Dictionary

Alex Granados

Duke University Junior Tom Shelbourn got his own version of culture shock when he took the Sounds of the South English class last semester.

He is from England, and when he attended a performance of the Fisk Jubilee Singers and listened to them sing  "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," he knew he'd heard the song before. But not like that.

"It's actually a chant that you will hear at every international rugby game," he said. "You will hear that song often louder than the national anthem at times."

Turns out some English school boys started singing it at a rugby game after hearing it during chapel services. The song stuck and became canon.

Shelbourn chose both the song and the rugby chant as sounds that he included in a new project, a sonic dictionary developed by English Graduate Student Mary Caton Lingold.

Lingold teaches the Sounds of the South class. As part of the class, she had her students collect sounds that were typical of the south. Those sounds became part of an online exhibit, but they were also added to the sonic dictionary.

Credit Alex Granados
Sounds of the South English class at Duke University

She came up with the sonic dictionary during a class a few semesters back. She was trying to find a music reference to send her students to.

"This idea came about when I was teaching a course on music genres and working with students who were non-specialists in music to describe the sounds of musical instruments and distinguish particular genres," she said. "We found this could be challenging because there's not any reference sources that students can turn to..."

Check out the sonic dictionary for yourself.

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