“I love to hear new songs,” Clint Cornett says, “and I like shape notes because they help me learn new songs fast.” Clint has been the choir leader at the Mountain Dale Baptist Church in western Watauga County since the summer of 1954, and he teaches his church choir and music camps and schools around the region how to read music notation written in shape notes.
Clint Cornett grew up in the Mountain Dale community. His family was active in the local Baptist church, where he and his father were first introduced to shape notes. “Father was a shape note man,” Clint remembers. Clint’s father also became a preacher, and he had a large chart that explained the rudiments of shape note singing that he carried all around the county and region. Clint and his father first learned to read shape notes by singing old songs they already knew that were written out in shape notes. “It’s pretty simple when you get into it,” Clint says.
Clint was always interested in singing and music. “We’d sung all our life,” he says, “and shape notes were a great way to learn new songs.” Clint was living in Toledo, Ohio, shortly after he got out of the Service and married. He and his wife returned to Watauga County for a vacation in 1953, and while attending church, Clint heard the song “The Rapture Day.” The song had a lot of “after time,” or syncopation, and it intrigued Clint. “I could hear it for weeks after we went back to Toledo,” Clint remembers. “That song rang in my ears.” Clint wrote to shape note publisher J. D. Vaughn, and Vaughn sent him a booklet that taught rudiments of music. Clint says he learned the timing of notes from that booklet, and from there he taught himself to use shape notes.
When Clint and his wife returned to Watauga County to purchase his grandfather’s old homeplace, Clint became the leader of the Mountain Dale Baptist Church choir. The church gets a new songbook with shape notes every year, and they have no problem quickly learning the new songs.
In addition to leading the church choir, Clint leads a week-long music school at his church every year, when they practice and perfect shape note singing. Clint has worked with dozens of churches in the area, helping them learn to sing shape notes. “I’ve taught many shape note schools,” he says. “I’ll talk with anybody, anywhere, any time about shape notes.” He has been actively involved with the Tri-City Gospel Music Camp in Kingsport, Tennessee, a two-week camp dedicated to teaching shape notes, and he has also written a few gospel songs in the shape note style.
Clint Cornett is happy to talk with people about shape note singing, and he is an experienced shape note teacher and leader. He offers demonstrations, lessons, and classroom programs.