Sacred Harp Singings


An all-day Sacred Harp singing is a day devoted to music and fellowship. All-day singings are usually held in small rural churches, or in schoolhouses, courtrooms, or community centers. They usually take place on the same weekend every year, say, the Fourth Sunday in May, and often mark the annual homecoming for a local church or community, when local natives return from far and near to decorate the graves in the nearby cemetery, visit with friends, and enjoy the music that sustained their parents and grandparents. Some annual singings and conventions extend to two or even three days of singing, and may meet in various locations from year to year.

Typically, an all-day singing begins between 9:30 and 10:00 AM. When the singers have seated themselves by singing part (tenor, bass, treble and alto), the singing begins with an opening song, a prayer, and a brief organizational meeting. Each individual is invited to take a turn leading a lesson, that is, standing in the center of the “class,” choosing one or more songs by page number, sounding the opening pitch (or receiving the key from an experienced singer nearby), and leading the song by beating time with a simple vertical motion of the hand, first with the singing syllables (fa, sol, la, and mi), and then with the words. The officers may call a brief recess in the morning or afternoon, but the only extended break comes at noon, when everyone proceeds to outdoor tables or a fellowship hall for an abundant dinner on the grounds provided by local families.

After an hour, or when the dinner is cleared, the singers return to the main building to continue the rotation of leaders. There may be a brief “memorial lesson” in honor of singers or community members who have died in the past year; indeed some annual singings are themselves memorials to beloved singers and family members. Singings usually end between 2:30 and 4:00, depending on the number of leaders. After announcements of upcoming singings, there is a closing song and a prayer of dismissal.

Warren Steel (mudws@olemiss.edu)

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Last modified 24 August 2014
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