Monday, June 09, 2008

Monday link: Sacred Harp

Back in April Tom Ashbrook, host of On Point, did a show on Sacred Harp singing (aka shape-note singing.) I finally got around to listening to it, and it's an interesting introduction if you don't know anything about this type of American choral singing. Check it out!

Hat tip to my mother.


  1. Just found your interesting blog. Sometime after 1836 two of my great-great grandfather's brothers led a singing school in the farming area of Illinois near the Spoon River. They taught shape-note singing, but they used a book called "Missouri Harmony." I was able to get a copy of that same book at one of the University Presses. That book, similar to the Sacred Harp book, came out of Missouri in the 1820s. Here in Riverside, California we have a small Sacred Harp singing group and I shared my Missouri Harmony with them. Some of those older folk who attend said it was the book that was used when they were growing up. I am fascinated with shape-note singing; it is said that it is singing for the singers, not for the audience. You will understand that approach the first time you participate and immerse yourself in the sounds, which are actually very unchoral-like. Amazingly, there are now thousands of shape-note singing groups all over the country, and many are made up of young people who are just discovering this part of our country's musical heritage.

  2. @ bobbygail:

    What a fascinating family history!

    I have been to a number of shape-note sings, and also introduced shape-note singing to some of the choruses I conducted. The tone production is certainly not in line with Western choral singing, but it does remind me a lot of other types of choral singing - for example, the really bright forward sound reminds me of the Bulgarian women's choir I heard last week. And even my Western-trained choirs get a huge kick out of trying to produce a new sound!