Sacred Harp Singing
| Home | Directions | Calendar
of RI (and nearby) Singings | About Sacred Harp (FAQ) |
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
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
18th century New England. In fact Stephen
Jencks, one of the early composers in the
1700s, came from Providence.
- 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
an antique reference to the human voice. Sacred Harp singing
is unaccompanied vocal music in three or four parts.
- Are there audiences
at a Sacred Harp singing to make me self-conscious and nervous
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.
- 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
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 -
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.
- 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.
- 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
- If I come to a singing
and like it, am I committed to showing up for regular rehearsals
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
can I learn more about Sacred Harp singing?
The best way to learn about Sacred Harp is
to come to a singing.
- Some online resources
about Sacred Harp singing
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.
www.fasola.org and www.mcsr.olemiss.edu/~mudws/harp.html
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
Journal article about Sacred
Harp in Rhode Island
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
through the email address info -at- ri-sacredharp.net (replace the -at- with @).
or listen to NPR's All
Things Considered program about Sacred
or listen to NPR's Here
and Now program about Sacred
Harp and Cold Mountain
of videos (about 604!) of
Sacred Harp singing on youtube.com
Page last updated on
26 March, 2009