Shape note singing began in Protestant churches in New England in America’s early years, and it survived in the rural South and became recognized as an American art form in the 1960s. Today, local singers still gather twice a month in the Triangle to share the music and fellowship of the Shape Note Sing. No prior experience is necessary to participate – beginners and experienced singers are all welcome. Singers in this tradition sing a cappella (without accompaniment) and sit arranged by vocal part in a “hollow square,” facing one another across the square and taking turns at leading.
Sacred harp singing is another name for this style, referring to vocal chords; early practitioners of this musical style viewed vocal cords as the only instrument necessary. An 1844 songbook is titled Sacred Harp, which gives the music its name and helped spread it by using shapes (triangle, circle, square and diamond) to help singers identify the four notes used in each song.