Thursday, March 22, 2012

Arkansas Living History Association Annual Conference hosts two shape note programs

The effort to spread the word about Sacred Harp singing as a traditional form of folk singing seemed to be a great success. Dan Brittain led a three hour workshop entitled "Historic Shape Note and Sacred Harp Singing" at the Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park on Friday afternoon, March 2nd. The workshop drew six participants and plus three regular Shiloh Singers in addition to Dan. Several of the workshop participants were already quite accomplished singers and soon filled the meeting room in the old log barn with song.

Just before lunch on Saturday, March 3rd, a shorter 45-minute concurrent conference session gathered 16 participants for a quick introduction to the history of Sacred Harp singing in Northwest Arkansas using the 2009 video made with a grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council and the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale. Dan then involved the group in singing a few shape note songs followed by a spirited question and answer session. Dan answered as many questions as asked and nobody missed lunch, but if questions asked are a measure of participant interest, I think both session participants and the local singers enjoyed the concurrent session.

A special thanks to our hosts from ALHA, the Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park staff, and the Shiloh Museum staff who helped us at the workshops and conference sessions. We appreciated everyone's hospitality and all that was done to make the conference sessions a success for participants and presenters.

Of course, we welcome any of the ALHA participants to any of our monthly singings and two area singings in May and October. More about the May event  below.

NW Arkansas had nine singers at the Missouri Convention

The Missouri State Sacred Harp Singing The Missouri State Sacred Harp Singing Convention was one for the record books. Not a cloud was in the sky at 9:00 A.M. as we arrived at St. Johns United Church of Christ near the Missouri River about 20 miles NW of Washington, MO on Saturday. Syd Caldwell and other Arkansas singers were already saying "hello" to friends and singers from as far away as Wisconsin and Georgia and Alabama. By 10:00 A.M. on Saturday, the best educated guess on participants was over 140 people had arrived to sing. Singers were using the balcony and of course more arrived or had to leave for other commitments during the day, but Saturday was a wonderful day for Singing. Sunday's rainy weather started to build up toward the west, so several of our Arkansas singers decided to travel home in as much daylight as possible.  

Click on individual pictures in the slide show or print pictures from the Picasa album.

The St. Louis Shape Note Singers and convention participants provided an abundance of food for Saturday and Sunday's Dinner on the Grounds and hosted a Saturday night social with BBQ and desserts for those singers staying in the Washington, MO, area overnight. I commented to one of the St. Louis singers that the meals were as well organized as any I had seen at a Disney World convention. Thanks to all our St. Louis hosts. They really know how to put on a wonderful event.

The Northwest Arkansas Sacred Harp Singing Convention scheduled for Saturday May 5, 2012

The NW Arkansas spring singing convention will the held in the parish hall of St. Johns Episcopal Church in Harrison, AR. A pot luck Dinner on the Grounds will be provided, so you can bring your own special dish or dessert. An information sheet in PDF format includes a list of AAA rated motels and phone numbers in Harrison. We appreciate Dan Brittain's efforts to make the arrangements again this year and I'm sure more details will be discussed at the March and April singings. Please mark the date on your calendar and share the information about the singing convention with anyone who might be interested in attending.

Special March Bonus - Sound & Spirit does Sacred Harp

Several days ago, Alexis Walker asked about a public television program on shape note singing. While I couldn't find the exact program information she requested, I did stumble across a link to a 59 minute episode of Sound & Spirit, "Sacred Harp," a WBGH radio presentation. Ellen Kushner, the program host, weaves musical examples of early American hymns with discussion of the Sacred Harp and other collections of American mountain folk hymns, how singing masters conducted singing schools and even examples of concert music from American composers inspired by the rough and ready American hymns. I even learned that Abe Lincoln sang songs from the Missouri Harmony as a young man in Illinois. The program and a link to a separate play list can be found at

I ended up playing to program while consulting the play list in a separate browser window so I could easily see the name of the song, the composer, and the name of the record, CD or group singing each tune. If you get a chance, check out some of the many musical variations that have sprung from such simple beginnings, and check out some of the other program offerings available from WBGH.

Thanks Alexis for being the catalyst that led to finding such an interesting website. We never waste a good Google search!