on My First Sacred Harp Singing

Today I had a really wonderful experience. I biked 4 miles with Matt and Sol out to the New Testament Baptist Church, for the annual Sacred Harp singing that takes place there. I knew that it would be a good day when I biked the last yards toward the small white church building listening to the powerful chords emanating from it.

Sacred harp singing is a tradition of communal singing that originated in the South of the US in the mid-1800s. It is shape-note singing tradition–each shape on the staff represents a particular note of the scale, and each song is first sung through once naming the notes instead of using the words. There is a also a big emphasis on community and participation–the people present take turns leading each song, and go to lengths to help new people get up to speed. The typical seating arrangement is in a hollow square with one part on each side, all facing the leader in the middle, so this adds to the atmosphere of community. Sacred harp singers can tend to be a little obsessive about this pasttime: they will travel across multiple states for the well-known singings, and note the following picture as well. 🙂

Vanity license plates at the Sacred Harp singing

One thing that was cool about the singing is that there were people from many different backgrounds present–not just Mennonites–all united by their love for the music. Most of the songs were new to me, although I knew a few, felt at home, and did fine sight-reading (thank you J.D. Smucker, Deb Brubaker, and Assembly Mennonite Church).

I’d definitely recommend this tradition to anyone who loves singing in harmony. If you want to know more or find a singing near you (they go on year round), see fasola.org

Leave a Reply