What is Sacred Harp Singing?
Sacred Harp Singing tradition grew out of Colonial America and took root in the southern region of the United States. Sacred Harp music is part of a larger tradition of shape note singing. Sacred Harp music is performed a cappella (voice only, without instruments). Developed in the early 1800's, the shape-note method of writing syllables, in which "fa" is represented as a
"sol" a circle
"la" a square
and "mi" a diamond
made traditional note reading unnecessary. Combined with the "fasola" technique, shape-notes allowed singing masters to teach people who could not read music how to sing.
Coker has Sacred Harp Singing on campus on a monthly basis for our in-town community and an annual Sacred Harp Singing Convention in February that draws singers from around the country. All events welcome beginners and newcomers, with no musical experience or religious affiliation required.
More information regarding Sacred Harp is below, and there are many web sites to visit as well.
Here are a few we recommend:
Sacred Harp singing is an anthology of lively hymns that have been in continuous publication since 1844. The music is printed in four different shapes for the note heads to the syllables of the scale, "fa sol la fa sol la mi fa" to help people to learn to sight read. In the traditional style, the music is first vocalized by singing through the tune using the fa-sol-la syllables, followed by singing the words to the hymn. Many of the hymns are familiar and are found in most church hymnals. The hymns are sung unaccompanied, and the singers typically face each other sitting on four sides of a hollow square. The music is sung with strong voice and strong beat.
Everyone is invited to sing! No prior experience is necessary. Sacred Harp books will be available for singers to use or to purchase. There is no cost to attend; however, a freewill offering is accepted to defray expenses associated with the singing.
In the introduction of his book, The Makers of the Sacred Harp, David Warren Steel wrote the following about Sacred Harp Singing: Sacred Harp singing is a community musical and social event, emphasizing participation, not performance, where people sing songs from a tune book called The Sacred Harp, printed in music notation using four shaped notes. It is the preeminent living reflection of the music of early American psalmody. While not identical to the congregational singing of the eighteenth-century New England, it preserves several fundamental characteristics of that era, including a complex of musical skills learned in singing schools and an eclectic repertory of religious part-songs by European and American composers, printed in an oblong book.
Sacred Harp singing is an American tradition with roots in New England before George Washington was elected president. We have tunes written by American born William Billings who was born in Boston in 1746. We have poetry written by Isaac Watts in more songs than any other author, and the second largest collection of hymns written by John Wesley. The tunes in Sacred Harp were written from early America to present day composers. Sacred Harp has always been a nondenominational community singing event. It has never been associated with any denomination nor used in regular church congregational singing.
There are over 300 Sacred Harp singings each year in the United States. Sacred Harp has been sung in Texas for more than 150 years. This required early settlers to bring their Sacred Harp tune books with them in the wagons which were used to move west.
Sacred Harp singers from many areas of Texas will be present. We have singers from other states who travel to sing with us at Coker each year. This year we expect to have a couple from the UK joining us to sing.
Since 2008 Sacred Harp has been sung at Coker United Methodist Church. It was first introduced as a part of the 125th Anniversary Celebration of the establishment of Coker UMC.