The NC Shape Note Singers‘ monthly sing in Durham is a great place to learn about this unique style of singing and making music! No prior experience is necessary to participate, and the session is open to singers and non-singers alike. Singers in this 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 Shape Note Singers were honored last month by the City of Raleigh’s Historic Resources and Museums Program for their work educating the community about shape note singing – the singers also meet the fourth Sunday of each month at the historic chapel in Raleigh’s Mordecai Historic Park.
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. Sacred harp singing is another name for this style, refering 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.