(Smartphone Users: To view the video links on this page, you will likely need to scroll to the very bottom of this screen and press the button that says "View Desktop Site." Also, this page is more easily viewed when the device is placed horizontally.)
Sacred Harp singing is a form of 'a cappella' singing that regularly takes place in communities across the United States and beyond. It has brought people together to sing in living rooms, churches, and community centers since 1844. It is rich in history and tradition, and it continues to be a thriving form of American shape note singing. Its distinctive melodies and harmonies attract many singers for a lifelong journey of singing. Sacred Harp singing made its way to Chicago thirty years ago, where it has thrived through hosting local, regional, and national singing events. You are welcome to join in the journey. To find out more, continue reading through the following sections on this Meetup page. You can also find out more information about Sacred Harp singing in Chicago at www.ChicagoSingings.org . In addition, you can discover more about Sacred Harp singing nationally at www.fasola.org .
ABOUT THIS MEETUP GROUP
This Meetup group has the following goals:
1. To introduce the general public to Sacred Harp singing.
2. To invite interested singers to visit Chicago area singing events.
3. To help newer Sacred Harp singers to get to know other newer singers and longer-term singers.
4. To create a new community of intergenerational Sacred Harp singers within the existing Sacred Harp community to help carry Sacred Harp singing forward for another thirty years in Chicago.
SACRED HARP SINGING IN CHICAGO
The Chicago Sacred Harp singing community got started thirty years ago and has thrived to this day. You can see a complete list of Chicago area events at www.ChicagoSingings.org . In the Chicago area, there are several different types of events that regularly occur:
1. Weekly, biweekly, and monthly events last for 2 hours and attract 12 to 30 singers.
2. Three annual singing events each last for 6 hours and attract 50 to 100 singers.
3. One annual convention lasts for two days and attracts 100 to 200 singers.
4. Frequent roadtrips to regional singing events.
5. Occasional singing workshops for new and experienced singers.
FIVE POINT INTRODUCTION TO SACRED HARP SINGING
1. It is 'a cappella' singing
The only instrument in Sacred Harp singing is the human voice. The name comes from the tunebook, "The Sacred Harp." Most Sacred Harp songs are written in four-part harmony. To sing these four parts, singers of a given vocal part sit together. This enables newer singers to sit next to more experienced singers, to help everyone learn their parts. The format of singing events is very different from traditional choir concerts, where all choral members face a conductor and the audience. At Sacred Harp singing events, the singers arrange themselves in a square formation. Each vocal part occupies its own side of the "hollow square." All the singers face toward the center of the square, where they can see the song leader. Besides providing a fantastic sound, the hollow square emphasizes the community aspect of this activity. Singers are able to see each other as they sing together. For a short slideshow introduction to Sacred Harp singing, Click Here. For a 7 minute video introduction to Sacred Harp singing, Click Here.
2. It is community-based singing
Singers gather together at recurring events to sing, socialize, and share meals. Sacred Harp singing is focused on group participation, rather than on performance. There are no concerts, no rehearsals, no attendance requirements, and no audiences. Nor are there any conductors. The singers, themselves, take turns leading songs. Instead of concert halls, singing events take place in singers' homes, community centers, and houses of worship.
3. It is rich in history and tradition
The Sacred Harp tunebook was first published in 1844. Throughout its history, Sacred Harp singing has been deeply rooted in the rural south. However, over the last thirty years, southern singers have graciously traveled throughout the United States, to teach this form of singing. There are now active singing communities from coast to coast, as well as in Canada and England. Many Sacred Harp songs are based on Christian poetry, and many Sacred Harp singers use this form of singing as sincere worship. However, people of diverse beliefs are welcomed and are active in this community. In addition, singers of all experience levels are welcome, including those with no prior singing experience. In fact, the origins of Sacred Harp singing were based on teaching non-singers how to sing. This has enabled many generations of people to gather together in song. You can find out more information about the history of Sacred Harp singing at the following websites: www.Fasola.org and Sacred Harp in Wikipedia.
4. It is a form of shape-note singing
For each song at a singing event, singers first sing through their parts using the syllables "Fa", "Sol", "La", and "Mi." These four syllables correspond to four different shapes on the printed page. A triangle is called "Fa", an oval is called "Sol", a rectangle is called "La", and a diamond is called "Mi." The use of various shapes in printed music is known as shape note singing. Click here for photos of shape notes. Many people have been introduced to the concept of singing syllables by the movie, "The Sound of Music." In this movie, there is a famous scene where Julie Andrews teaches children to sing, by using the syllables 'do (a deer)', 're', 'mi', 'fa', 'sol', 'la', 'ti', 'do'. A video clip of this famous scene is included at the end of this page. The syllables from the Sound of Music are different from Sacred Harp syllables. But they share the same goal of bringing people together to sing. You can find out more about the history of shape note singing at the following website: Shape Note Singing in Wikipedia.
5. It is filled with extraordinary melodies, harmonies, and rhythms
The melodies and harmonies in Sacred Harp music have been described in many different ways. Some people are immediately drawn to it, some people grow to love it, and some people want nothing to do with it. Whatever peoples' reactions, most can agree that it has a truly distinctive sound. The following video clips show different groups singing songs from The Sacred Harp. The first clip shows a famous choral group performing a Sacred Harp song in a concert setting: Video 1. The second clip shows a community of Sacred Harp singers at a very large Sacred Harp singing event: Video 2. A final video clip provides a close-up experience of what it's like to sit in the hollow square: Video 3.
VIDEOS OF SACRED HARP SINGING
(PLEASE NOTE: In shape note singing, singers first sing through a song using the syllables "Fa", "Sol", "La", and "Mi" before they sing the words of the song. This gets the melodies and harmonies fresh in singers' ears before they turn their attention to singing the words. This is why some of the songs you hear may at first sound unintelligible. For more information about shape note singing, read the above section entitled "It is a form of shape note singing")
General Introduction to Sacred Harp Singing
1. Slideshow Introduction to Sacred Harp Singing
2. Movie Trailer to “Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp”
3. Multi-generational Revival of Sacred Harp Singing
4. Solo Sacred Harp Singer Demonstrating "Fa", "Sol", "La", "Mi"
Examples of Sacred Harp Singing Events
1. An Annual Sacred Harp Singing in Alabama
2. An Annual Sacred Harp Singing in Indiana
3. An Annual Sacred Harp Singing in Alabama
4. The Midwest Convention in Chicago, IL
5. Impromptu singing in an old country church
Choral, Contemporary, and Community Versions of the Same Song
1. Choral Concert of "David's Lamentation"
2. Contemporary Video of "David's Lamentation"
3. Community of Sacred Harp Singers Singing "David's Lamentation"
Documentaries Made about Sacred Harp Singing
1. Link to "Awake,My Soul" Website - Feature Length Documentary
2. NPR Audio Documentary “Preserving the Sacred Harp Tradition”
Bonus Links: Shape Note Singing Using "Do,Re,Mi,Fa,Sol,La,Ti,Do"
1. Singing Syllables in “The Sound of Music”
2. Community-Based Version of "David's Lamentation" using "Do,Re,Mi"
(In July, 2009, Jeff Breting, of the Chicago Sacred Harp singing community, both wrote the main contents of this webpage and compiled the links to external sites. Jeff has also been responsible for minor updates to this main page up to the present day, with the last revision of the page on 3/26/2013.)