Last year I took a class at Evergreen called “The Fifties: Fab and Fraught” with Marla Elliot and Susan Precsiso (one of my all time favorite teachers). Marla taught the music portion and, towards the end, the class sang some Sacred Harp songs. Shape Note singing uses four different shapes to denote what note you’re supposed to sing, instead of the traditional music notes and the most popular book that uses shape notes is called Sacred Harp. The songs sound wild and they feel really wonderful when you sing at full volume.
Anyway, I’ve been trying to find a good audio clip to post here so that you can get an idea of what it’s like and finally I found a nice quality but more mild version of Sacred Harp singing. After a little digging, I realized that Portland has a group that meets regularly and sings, maybe I’ll give it a go! They have some links to audio clips as well and there are some youtube videos too. Check it out if you’re interested, but I think the only way you’ll really love it is if you try singing it sometime, even if it is as a class assignment. This is from the movie Cold Mountain… you can get the idea.
What, might you ask, sparked this recent interest? I was watching a PBS special, Appalachia: A History of Mountains and People when I heard a song halfway through the second episode. It sounded really similar to shape note singing and the song was so beautiful… I had to have it! However, it’s not on the companion cd in the PBS store and the credits went by so quickly that I couldn’t read the song name, no matter how much I slowed it down. I did search after search for the clip, for extra song credits… anything that would tell me who sings that song! I got nothing. I’m still looking and it’s slowly driving me mad.