Sacred Harp Singing

Sacred Harp singing is a non-denominational community musical event emphasizing participation, not performance. Singers sit facing inward in a hollow square. Each individual is invited to take a turn “leading,” i.e. standing in the center, selecting a song, and beating time with the hand. The singing is not accompanied by harps or any other instrument. The group sings from The Sacred Harp, an oblong songbook first published in 1844 by B.F. White and E. J. King. The music is printed in “patent notes,” wherein the shape of the note head indicates the syllables FA (right triangle), SOL (oval), LA (rectangle), and MI (diamond). The repertory includes psalm tunes, fuging tunes, odes and anthems by the first American composers (1770-1810), and also settings of folk songs and revival hymns (1810-1860). The current 1991 Edition contains many songs in these styles by living composers.

This style of singing stems from singing schools in the colonial period. Preserved in the rural South, Sacred Harp singing (also called fasola singing or shape-note singing) is making a major resurgence in cities and campuses throughout North America and beyond. North Mississippi is fortunate to have traditional all-day singings within easy driving distance. Most singings last from about ten in the morning till three in the afternoon, with an hour break at noon for dinner on the grounds.

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Warren Steel (mudws@olemiss.edu)

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Last modified 28 March 2014
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