WHO ARE THE
|The Richmond Sacred Harp Singers
were established in 1990 to carry on the Sacred Harp tradition in Central
Virginia. We meet regularly on the third Saturday of each month except
November, which is our convention month (second Saturday and following
Sunday). We have strong ties to the Northern Shenandoah Sacred Harp & Shape
Note Singers (Boyce, Virginia, near Winchester) and to the Folklore Society
of Greater Washington (D. C. area). We encourage you to join us and lift your voice in song!
link to an article about shape-not singing and the Richmond Sacred
SACRED HARP SINGING?
|Sacred Harp singing is named for
The Sacred Harp, an oblong tunebook which has been in
print continuously, in one revision or
another, since 1844. The music in the book, set to texts which are
almost exclusively religious, is a blend of set pieces by Northern
composers from around 1800, longer anthems, and hymn tunes of
Southern origin. William Billings is perhaps the best known among
the composers represented. Some of the hymn tunes can be traced
back to the folk music of the British Isles. There are also
numerous songs from the twentieth century, some by living
composers who are still
writing today. We sing from The Sacred Harp, 1991 Edition.
Sacred Harp is a form of "shape-note" singing, which utilizes
notes with specially-shaped noteheads to indicate the position of the
notes in the scale. Unlike the familiar "Do-Re-Mi" system, which
uses seven syllables for the seven tones of the scale,
The Sacred Harp uses a four-syllable system with only four distinct notehead shapes, three of which are used twice in the scale
("Fa-Sol-La-Fa-Sol-La-Mi-Fa" for the diatonic major scale).
Singings are held in a "hollow square" – an arrangement of chairs
in a square facing inward to a hollow central area. The singers sit
so that each of the four parts occupies one side of the square.
Singers take turns in an organized way, calling one or two songs per
"lesson". The singers sing into the square toward the leader. This
is in sharp contrast to "performing" styles of singing, which aim the
sound at an assumed "audience". In addition, each singer is
encouraged to sing
full voice – "blend", as in traditional choral singing, is
While listeners are welcome, Sacred Harp singing is essentially a
participatory activity. A beginner might sit in the "tenor" or "lead"
section, which carries the melody; men and women usually sing this
Men or women with high voices might gravitate to the "treble"
section, which is a higher, more decorative part. Men with low voices
usually sing in the "bass" section, whereas women
with low voices usually sing "alto". Experienced singers with wide
ranges sometimes enjoy switching from part to part.
Sacred Harp singing is many things to many people. It is a
religious, social, musical, and visceral experience – there is no other
sound on earth like the "joyful noise" at the center of the hollow
square! It has left its historic preserve in the South and spread "like
kudzu" to all parts of the United States, as well as to the United
Kingdom and Canada.