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.