Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sacred Harp Shaped Notes Convention

For our second year we spent an enjoyable day at the local convention of Sacred Harps singers. There were several hundred singers, plus several more hundred people who were there just to listen. They provide loaner hymn books, so we tried to follow along as best we could while they called number after number and sang on and on. They started singing about 9AM or so, took one morning and one afternoon break, and stopped for lunch, but the rest of the time until about 3PM they were singing their hearts out.

This is a music tradition that has been preserved in the Deep South for the last 200 plus years. It has found new life as people all over the United States, and even in other parts of the world, have taken up the singing of these ancient Christian hymns. It's based on 4 shaped notes: fa is a triangle; sol is an oval; la is a rectangle; and mi is a diamond. The whole octave goes like this - fa sol la fa sol la mi fa, unlike music notation most people are used to that goes do, re, mi,etc.

It's a little hard to explain just how powerfully some of these hymns hit me. I could feel tears welling up, as I was taken to a level of praise of God that I rarely feel from music. Now I'm not saying I like all the hymns, but my hubby and I both enjoyed ourselves immensely! It made for a wonderful Date Day.

We bought a cd set that is supposed to teach the rudiments of Sacred Harp music, so maybe by the time next year's convention comes around we'll be able to sing along more than our weak attempts this year. Yes, both of us made efforts to sing with quite a few of the hymns - pitiful, but still better than we did last year.

One thing's for sure, those of us who were not participating in the convention didn't have to worry about our voices "ruining" the sound of the singers. If there's a one word description for this style of music ... it's LOUD! We get there early so we can sit on the back pew of the church, and it still reverberates in the ears. I don't know how their voices can sustain such a long day of singing at that volume, but they do.

Our first introduction to this ancient singing was from the movie Cold Mountain. There were several Sacred Harp hymns in the sound track, if you have it. One is sung by a group in Alabama, where we live. I prefer the slower, more majestic tunes, but a lot of them are very lively.

If you'd like to learn more about this ole time singing style, the Wikipedia entry on Sacred Harp music is excellent.


Berean Wife said...

Dirty Butter,

My comment about singings losing their heart is due to 40 years of singings. I grew up attending them. While many still sing for the right reasons many of the young are just singing for the faddish culturalness of it. They need the true reason for singing - the Lord Jesus Christ.

This link has several regular singings listed but not really any near Shelby County.

Fasola also has listings of singings.

The best source for singings is to have a minutes book.

For $10.00 you can get a book that lists all the previous years singing information plus the upcoming singings.

Minutes Book Order
c/o Jeff & Shelbie Sheppard
617 Ayers Drive
Anniston, AL 36207

Minutes is a downloadable link to different year's minutes.

Berean Wife

Dirty Butter said...

Thanks for the links BW. I found a singing in Anniston this Friday, thanks to you!!

CyberCelt said...

I will have to look on YouTube and see if I can find some Sacred Harp singers.

Dirty Butter said...

Thanks for stopping by CyberCelt. There are quite a few Sacred Harp songs on Youtube. The singers we have heard in person are better than most of those, but their hearts are in the right place.