When: Sat., March 5, 9:30 a.m. 2016
SATURDAY, MARCH 5
NORTH CAROLINA SACRED HARP CONVENTION
Since its publication in the mid-1800s, The Sacred Harp songbook has profoundly influenced American music, particularly in the South. Sacred Harp singing, or shape-note singing, is an instrument-free form built around religious songs, the roots of which date to the late 1700s. Fervent religious revivals in the 1840s and The Sacred Harp's publication re-invigorated them. Sacred Harp singing has close ties to Protestant congregations, as churches became meeting spaces for sings that served as community socials.
The "shape note" name comes from the notation style, which uses simple shapes to denote the music's relative movement. The shapes lend themselves to easy sight-reading, so it's easy for singers with no formal training to learn unfamiliar songs.
That's why, at this weekend's North Carolina Sacred Harp Convention, newcomers are welcome; Sacred Harp singing is built for such a situation. A local crop of Sacred Harp enthusiasts will sing from The Sacred Harp and The Shenandoah Harmony, a collection of Shenandoah Valley songs from the nineteenth Century. (And in a nod to tradition, the all-day sing also includes "dinner on the grounds.") Singers, grouped by range, sit in a square arrangement facing one another rather than outward. The thrill comes from being involved in the music, not standing idly by.
These shapes aren't some esoteric tradition. The little notes also had a big impact on secular music—children who learned the Sacred Harp's system of harmony grew up to forge their own songs. This cast included The Carter Family's A.P., Sara, and Mother Maybelle, meaning this music has trickled into country, bluegrass, and beyond. We can read books, listen to records, and watch movies about music history, but rarely do we get the opportunity to sing it ourselves. —Allison Hussey
PULLEN MEMORIAL BAPTIST CHURCH, RALEIGH 9:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m., free, www.ncshapenote.org