About Sacred Harp Singing


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  1. Is Sacred Harp music "sacred"?
    While the majority of the texts of the music are religious, Sacred Harp singings may be considered either sacred or secular events. Some singings have religious affiliations and agenda; some do not.  The important point is that each singer is left to find his or her own relationship to the religious, historical and literary aspects of the texts. While it may not be considered religious by some, it is generally considered to be spiritual by all in that it has the uplifting power of a community raising its voice in song. A singing is a community experience that has its roots in the "singing schools" of 18th century New England. In fact Stephen Jencks, one of the early composers in the 1700s, came from Providence.
  2. Is Sacred Harp music performed on the harp?
    No. There are no harps in sight. A commonly accepted explanation for the name is that "sacred harp" is an antique reference to the human voice. Sacred Harp singing is unaccompanied vocal music in three or four parts.
  3. Are there audiences at a Sacred Harp singing to make me self-conscious and nervous about singing?
    Sacred Harp singing is a community participatory experience. The singers sit in a "hollow square" formation and sing for the group or "class." The best "seat" in the house is standing right in the middle of the hollow square where the leaders stand. There is no audience.
  4. Do I have to read music to sing Sacred Harp music?
    It's a help, but it is also certainly not a prerequisite. In fact, there are lots of singers who learn to read music by singing with Sacred Harp groups. The music uses standard musical notation with the difference that the note heads are not all oval. They are various shapes from which the other name by which this music is known --American Shape Note music. An example of Sacred Harp music is at the top of this page. Fa -- has a triangular note head, sol - - is oval, la - - is square and mi - - is diamond-shaped. "What about do, re and ti?" you may be wondering. They don't exist. Come to a singing and we'll explain.
  5. What if I don't have an attractive voice when I sing?
    Who cares? The style of singing is loud and forthright and you are always singing in a group so no one even really hears your voice except maybe the people sitting next to you and they'll be too busy singing to care. The people who participate in Sacred Harp singing are not by any means professionals. They come from all walks of life, are of all ages and mostly are people who love to sing and love the harmony aspect of this music.
  6. Do I have to audition or be accepted as part of a Sacred Harp singing group?
    No. All you have to do is walk in the door. While this may sound shocking to people who only want the "best" voices in their chorus, in Sacred Harp singing if you want to be there, you ARE the best voice.
  7. If I come to a singing and like it, am I committed to showing up for regular rehearsals and singings?
    No. In the first place there are no rehearsals (what could be better than that?). Secondly you are committed to no set schedule. You are encouraged to come as often as possible because then the singing is stronger and more fun, but there can be a singing with three or four people if necessary.
  8. How can I learn more about Sacred Harp singing?
    The best way to learn about Sacred Harp is to come to a singing.
  9. Some online resources about Sacred Harp singing
    There are two notable national web sites that explain everything you want to know about Sacred Harp singing as well as listing local singings and singing conventions all over the country... and other parts of the world.

    and www.mcsr.olemiss.edu/~mudws/harp.html

  10. The New Georgia Encyclopedia has a wonderful article in its Folklife section on Sacred Harp music with video clips of Hugh McGraw, explanations of the notation, pictures of singings. It's an interesting and informative piece.
    Providence Journal article about Sacred Harp in Rhode Island
    Reading this article requires registration on the Providence Journal site. The paper does not share this information in any way, but only uses it internally to track >what parts of the web site are getting interest and traffic. If you still are reluctant to register, the paper has an "email to a friend" option in which the entire text can be emailed. If you would like to have the text emailed to you, please request a copy through the email address info -at- ri-sacredharp.net (replace the -at- with @).

    Read or listen to NPR's All Things Considered program about Sacred Harp Read or listen to NPR's Here and Now program about Sacred Harp and Cold Mountain

    Lots of videos (about 604!) of Sacred Harp singing on youtube.com

Page last updated on 26 March, 2009