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2016 North Carolina Sacred Harp Convention

Saturday, March 5, 2016 @ 10:30 am
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Jam Session

Join the Shape Note Singers of the Reserach Triangle for the annual North Carolina Sacred Harp Convention. The convention is open to anyone: people who want to sing or to just listen. No prior experience or musical background is necessary to participate.

Festivities include a traditional “dinner on the grounds” potluck at noon, bookended by community singing sessions from 9:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. and from 1 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. Participants will be singing from The Sacred Harp (Denson Edition, 1991) and The Shenandoah Harmony (2013). Organizers will have loaner books and books to purchase at the event; you can also purchase the books in advance via the links below. There is no admission charge to attend this annual gathering, but a freewill offering will be taken.

Order The Sacred Harp 

Order The Shenandoah Harmony

Singers in the sacred harp or shape note tradition sing without accompaniment and sit arranged by vocal part in a “hollow square,” facing one another across the square and taking turns at leading. The songs are sung loudly, with spirit and enthusiasm, and rich four-part harmonies fill the room.

The shape note singing tradition was born from colonial “singing schools,” whose purpose was to teach beginners to sing. Modern shape note groups continue to further this goal.

Sacred Harp “singings” are not performances. There are no rehearsals and no separate seats for an audience. Singers sit in a hollow square with one voice part – bass, alto, tenor, and treble – on each side, all facing inwards so singers can see and hear each other. Visitors are welcome to sit anywhere in the room and participate or listen.

Sacred Harp singing is the largest surviving branch of traditional American shape note singing. Singers in this tradition sing a cappella (without accompaniment) and take turns leading from the middle of the square. The leader of each song sets the tempo with a simple vertical arm movement, and singers sitting in the square often beat time with the leader. Many songs feature three-part and four-part harmonies and rounds (same words, different start times).

The music is marked with “shape notes,” a music notation designed to facilitate congregational and community singing. Shape note singing is based on four primary notes: Fa (represented by a triangle), So (circle), and La (square), with the occasional Mi (diamond).

The notation, introduced in 1801,  became a popular teaching device in American singing schools. Shapes were added to note heads in written music to help singers find pitches within major and minor scales without using more complex information found in key signatures.

Songs are sung from a book called The Sacred Harp, first published in 1844 and continuously updated since then. It includes more than 500 a cappella hymns, odes, and anthems. As the name implies, Sacred Harp music is religious music – it originated as Protestant Christian music. Many songs in the book are hymns that use words, meters, and forms familiar from elsewhere in Protestant hymns.

While the origins of this music can be traced back to Renaissance England, the singing tradition reached a peak of development in early New England, as traveling singing masters set words to hymns, ballads, and folk tunes and taught their songs in singing schools.

Shape note singing really took root in the American South, which is now home to many singing conventions, including some that date back more than 100 years!

Last year, the Triangle Shape Note Singers were honored with an Outstanding Group Project Award at a banquet hosted by the Historic Resources and Museums (HRM) Program. The nomination for the group cited the important role they have filled in varoius programs at  Mordecai Historic Park over the past year, including their participation in events such as “Fall Back in Time” and “Mordecai Holidays.” Read more about the award presented to the Shape Note Singers

The Shape Note Singers sing the fourth Sunday of each month at the Mordecai Historic Chapel from 2-4 p.m. and the second Sunday of each month at the First Presbyterian Church in Duhram.
The Sacred Harp Convention and the monthly sings are free of charge, and pre-registration is not required.


Saturday, March 5, 2016
10:30 am
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Pullen Memorial Baptist Church
1801 Hillsborough St
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