WHAT IS SACRED HARP MUSIC?
The term "Sacred Harp" refers to a tradition of choral shape-note music. It has nothing to do with harps--or any other type of instrumentation. It is a capella vocal music which traditionally has no further accompaniment. For a much more detailed explanation of Sacred Harp music, please visit the fasola.org website, since any basic information I relate here may seem redundant by comparison.
IS THIS RELIGIOUS MUSIC?
Yes. It is sacred music. However, there is also a small body of patriotic Sacred Harp tunes. On the whole, though, it is music meant for use during Christian services, and the lyrics tend to be quite profoundly religious in nature.
ARE THERE ANY CHURCHES STILL USING SACRED HARP MUSIC TODAY?
Yes. Some Primitive Baptist (and other) churches still use Sacred Harp. But Sacred Harp is still a somewhat rare musical form, and often survives in "singings"--gatherings specifically devoted to the performance of Sacred Harp and other shape-note music.
WHY DO THE NOTES HAVE FUNNY SHAPES?
The shaped notes in Sacred Harp music are there for a reason. Different shapes were originally assigned to notes in order to teach beginners how to sing. The traditional notes in four-shape singing (such as you'll find in most Sacred Harp music) include "FA" (a flag-shaped note), "SOL" (a round note), "LA" (a square note) and "MI" (a diamond-shaped note). If this information seems complex, please don't worry. It's not as difficult as it sounds. Really.
WHAT IS A SINGING SCHOOL?
A singing school is a very useful Sacred Harp tradition, in which new singers are introduced to the rudiments of Sacred Harp singing. Many singing schools are conducted across the nation. They usually only last a day or two, so most people can find the time to attend these lessons.
DO I HAVE TO ATTEND A SINGING SCHOOL IN ORDER TO BEGIN SINGING SACRED HARP?
No. You can also learn Sacred Harp from recordings, or by going to local singings. The singing school helps, but certainly isn't mandatory.
DO I HAVE TO BE A MEMBER OF A CHURCH TO SING SACRED HARP?
Not at all. Nobody's checking your credentials at the door. Just show up and sing along. You'll always be welcome, regardless of your background.
MOST SACRED HARP MUSIC IS REALLY OLD. DOES ANYBODY STILL COMPOSE THIS TYPE OF MUSIC TODAY?
Yes. There are a number of excellent contemporary composers working within the Sacred Harp style, including one of our own singers here in the Shiloh group. There are beautiful hymns being written in this musical tradition today. These modern compositions still fit within the well-defined and traditional concepts of Sacred Harp music.
I'VE HEARD SACRED HARP SINGERS MENTION THE "COOPER BOOK" AND THE "DENSON BOOK". WHAT ARE THOSE?
The Cooper and Denson books (also known as the B.F. White Sacred Harp Revised Cooper Edition and The Sacred Harp 1991 Revision, respectively) are the two most commonly used books in Sacred Harp singing. There are other books, but these are the most widely used.
WHICH BOOK DO THE SHILOH SINGERS USE--COOPER OR DENSON?
We are Denson Book (1991 Revision) singers. However, we also travel to Cooper Book and other types of shape-note singings.
WHY DO SACRED HARP SINGERS SIT IN A SQUARE WHILE THEY'RE SINGING?
This seating arrangement is known as "the hollow square". The conductor stands in the middle. Altos and tenors face one another. Trebles (we don't say "sopranos" in Sacred Harp) and bass singers also face each other. It is a traditional arrangement. It also makes for some wonderful accoustics during larger singings.
I DON'T FEEL COMFORTABLE SINGING YET. CAN I JUST COME AND LISTEN?
ARE THERE OTHER SHAPE-NOTE TRADITIONS ASIDE FROM THE COOPER AND DENSON BOOKS?
Yes, there are. Old Harp, Southern Harmony, Harmonia Sacra, Colored Sacred Harp, Norumbega Harmony, to name a few. But the Cooper and Denson books appear to be the most commonly used books in the United States.
WHY DOES THE BEGINNING OF A SACRED HARP SONG SOUND ODD? WHY CAN'T I UNDERSTAND THE LYRICS?
Generally speaking, there are no lyrics being sung at the very beginning of a Sacred Harp tune. Instead, people are "singing the shapes". Syllables (fa, sol, la, mi) are being sung instead of the words. The song is sung like this once and then the actual words are used.
HOW MUCH IS ADMISSION TO ONE OF THE SHILOH SACRED HARP SINGINGS?
It's totally free of charge. Come on out and see us!
STILL HAVE QUESTIONS?
Send a note here and we'll try to help you find an answer!