Sunday, 11 November 2012

Sacred Harp/ Shape Note singing


I find this kind of music utterly marvellous and deeply spiritual.

It was originally English, went to New England then spread to survive mainly in the Deep South.

But this is a truly great poem by Charles Wesley - "And am I born to die?" done by an American Indian choir.

What happens is that the choir breaks into the four voices (treble, alto, tenor, bass) in an inward-facing square. (The music is designed for participation - not passive listening).

First the choir tunes to a chord, then sings the notes in a kind of tonicsolfa, then sings the words: you need to read the words as you listen.

The style is almost wholly based on block chords, with not much in the way of melody.

Lots more on this website




AlexT said...

Beautiful. Reminds me of the line-out singing that the old regular baptists use.

Mild Colonial Boy, Esq. said...

You might appreciate this piece of sacred harp singing at

SonofMoses said...

Bruce, As you will know, there is a wealth of material on shaped note or sacred harp singing on Youtube and a lot of stuff on the internet generally.

I have been following this culture for a while now.

In case you missed them, and for anybody listening in, here are the urls of some more substantial documentary materials, together with an index of words for the hymns.

The Sacred Harp of Hoboken (part 1 of 2)

The Sacred Harp of Hoboken (part 2 of 2)

"Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp" Movie Trailer

Index of Titles (which will take you to the words or music of each)

Alan Lomax on the Sacred Harp (1982)

I was particularly struck by the way these communities retain the songs as an ever present background to their lives and faith.

I could detect little in the way of tv or other signs of modern corrupt culture.

The agricultural setting and simple Christian faith of these people is truly inspiring, and so is the way the children are drawn in in such a natural fashion.

A sign of their simple unquestioning faith is the way they end their sessions by going round during the final song greeting each other as they sing, the whole thing evidencing their genuine Christian love for each other. It is clear that no one is left out. This must have an enormously beneficial effect in leavening their life as a Christian community.

Will S. said...

Are you sure it's all that English?

It sounds a lot like some Irish music I've heard.