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[ba-acappella] Sun Apr 19: SF Sacred Harp Singing Group

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  • Chris Thorman
    Dear Bay Area a cappella and Sacred Harp fans, We re having a 3-hour singing + dinner this Sunday PM the 19th, in SF.
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 18, 2000
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      Dear Bay Area a cappella and Sacred Harp fans,

      We're having a 3-hour singing + dinner this Sunday PM the 19th, in SF.

      Sunday, March 19th, 3:30 - 6:30 PM
      All SaintsĀ¹ Episcopal Church
      1350 Waller Street,
      between Masonic and Ashbury

      3 hours of singing, followed by dinner.

      Potluck -- please bring a dish to share.

      Singing will be from The Sacred Harp, 1991 Denson Revision
      Books will be available for sale
      (loaner books also available)

      No Admission Charge
      Free-will donation to cover our very low expenses

      Parking is difficult; allow extra time.
      Best parking is uphill, along Buena Vista Park.


      Sacred Harp Singing is participatory, not a performance.
      Everyone is welcome to come sing and/or listen.

      Inquiries: Carolyn Deacy (415) 585-4773 carolyn@...
      or: Chris Thorman chris@...

      Sacred Harp singing is a democratic and community-oriented style of singing early-American four-part a cappella folk hymns, odes, and anthems. We sight-read using the shape note system as a music-reading aid.

      If you need more explanation, please read on; I've included plenty of background information below.


      About Sacred Harp Singing

      The origins of this uniquely American music predate our nation. The base
      material in the form of hymns and folk tunes floated over the Atlantic with
      the early settlers. Here they were transformed into 3 and 4 part songs, to
      be sung a cappella, with each part miraculously melodious. This new music
      was spread to a musically illiterate population via singing schools and
      itinerant singing masters who were often the composers of the songs.
      The harmonies achieved by these untrained early American composers were so
      rich and delightful as to border on the sinful. In fact, that was exactly
      the opinion of the trained choirmasters who followed and essentially
      exterminated this native music in the Northeast and Midwest where it had
      become established. In the deep South, however, it found a more enduring

      Either because of its "illegitimate harmonies" or because of its "folk
      theology," shape note music has seldom found its way into church services.
      It is sung in homes and gatherings and conventions, but rarely "performed."
      Everyone who comes to this music eventually becomes part of it.
      Speaking of musical experience, none is necessary to join us at the
      convention in January. All parts will be strongly supported and you will be
      carried by the wave of music surrounding you. The curious are welcome to
      listen, but be warned that this music is contagious.

      Press Quotes

      Strange, haunting notes-the rough,
      wild sounds of the frontier.
      -- Nashville Tennessean

      Sacred Harp is distinctly American music...
      a sound all its own... once it grabs hold, it doesn't let go.
      -- Wall Street Journal

      One of the oldest, purest,
      musical traditions in the country.
      -- Los Angeles Times

      Heady, stirring, potent stuff indeed.
      -- Boston Globe

      The joy in the voices was so strong
      I could feel it in my chest as I walked in.
      -- Bergen County (NJ) Record


      The following background material has been adapted
      from several flyers and other printed materials
      published by various Bay Area singing groups.



      Sacred Harp is a particular kind of SHAPE NOTE SINGING, sometimes also
      called FASOLA singing. It's called Sacred Harp singing because the name of
      the hymnal used by most Shape Note singers nationally is called The Sacred
      Harp, first published in 1844, and still in print today. The term "The
      Sacred Harp" is a poetic metaphor for the human voice: your voice is your
      "sacred harp".


      Shape Note music is four-part a cappella music designed to be sung by men
      and women in six parts (men and women sing both tenor and treble (soprano)

      Shape Note music looks on the page exactly like regular SATB choral music,
      except it has one additional feature: the note heads, instead of all being
      oval-shaped as they are in modern choral music, appear in four different
      shapes, with each note shape indicating a pitch in the simplified solfege
      scale "fa so la fa so la mi fa".

      The shaped note heads are a sight reading aid that was developed hundreds
      of years ago to teach beginners to sing. The system works so well that
      there are thousands of people who can sight read any Shape Note music
      instantly, yet have no knowledge of key signature and note names: the
      shaped note heads tell them everything they need to know about note
      function. Even singers trained to read choral music quickly find that the
      shapes help them sight read better: the shapes strongly reinforce basic
      sight-reading techniques such as pitch memory, interval recognition, and
      recognition of note functions such as tonic, dominant, and subdominant.
      [If you don't know what that last sentence means, don't panic! The beauty
      of shape notes is that you get those benefits by simply learning the names
      of four simple printed shapes; you don't have to know any music theory.]


      Quite apart from the mechanical aspects of the music as described above,
      there is a rich cultural tradition surrounding Sacred Harp music and its
      practice. The most important aspects of this tradition are: inclusiveness,
      democratic style, and singing for pleasure rather than performance.

      Even in the American South, where the Sacred Harp roots are strongest, this
      music is almost never sung as part church services. Rather, it is sung at
      special social events, such as singing schools or all-day singings. Though
      much of the music is religious in nature, and it does have deep religious
      significance for many who were raised in its tradition, Sacred Harp
      singings are not religious events. They are always open to everyone. Many
      prominent and devoted Sacred Harp singers profess the Jewish or Buddhist
      faith, or are agnostic or atheist. It is the love of singing that unites
      Sacred Harp singers into an intentional national community.

      The Sacred Harp community is almost defiantly inclusive. Everyone is
      warmly welcomed regardless of experience, skill, or quality of their voice.
      In fact, any type, quality, or range of voice can find a comfortable and
      important place within its harmonies. The resulting sound is hauntingly
      beautiful; it is completely unlike the sound of a trained choir. The music
      is powerful, rich with ringing overtones and quartal harmonies. It makes
      every molecule in your body vibrate with joy.

      The Sacred Harp hymnal was originally published in 1844, but the tradition
      it represents dates to colonial times. It is passionate, spirited music
      that takes us back to the days when singing four-part a capella hymns and
      anthems was a favorite American pastime.

      Hollow Square
      Sacred Harp music is traditionally sung in a "hollow square," with each
      voice part facing the center. The song leader stands in the center, beating
      out the rhythm and delighting in the unearthly blending of sound.

      Where Should I Sit?
      Sacred Harp songs are divided into four parts: treble, alto, tenor, and
      bass. Depending on inclinations of temperament, timbre or necessity, women
      and men sing together on both the treble and tenor parts with women usually
      singing one octave above the men on the tenor line, and the men singing one
      octave below the women on the treble line. *The melody is in the tenor
      line* rather than in the treble or soprano line as in modern arrangements.
      Move around the different parts and see what feels comfortable to you.

      Leading a Song
      Leading is egalitarian at Sacred Harp singings. Each song is led by a
      different person. Newcomers are welcome to try their hand at leading. Just
      face the tenor section and follow the hand motions of the front row and you
      will be fine.

      What Are The Shapes For?
      Music in the Sacred Harp is written in standard notation, except that the
      notes appear in four different shapes. These shapes represent a solfege
      system devised by itinerant tunesmiths and singing masters in the early
      19th century to teach people to sight sing quickly. The solfege system most
      people are familiar with has seven syllables, one for each note of the
      scale: do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, [do], but the same scale in the Sacred
      Harp's four-syllable system repeats the fa-so-la sequence: fa, sol, la, fa,
      sol, la, mi, [fa]. Why? Well, it's much easier to remember 4 note names
      than seven, so you can learn to sight sing faster -- you'll start catching
      on after as few as one or two afternoons of singing.

      Singing the Notes
      Before singing a song from the Sacred Harp, we "sing the shapes" -- that
      is, sing the notes using the Fa Sol La syllables. We go through it once or
      twice to learn our parts before tackling the words. This can seem strange
      to a newcomer, but just jump right in and sing "Fa" or "La" if you are
      worried; you are bound to be right at least 25% of the time! If you already
      can sight sing, the shapes can seem unnecessary. But many of us --
      including some with extensive musical backgrounds -- have found that the
      shapes provide an excellent aid to sight singing.

      Not a Choir
      The singing style of many Sacred Harp singers is full bore, guts on the
      floor singing. They leave to others the delicate phrasing, the gentle
      modulation of dynamics and tone. Exposure to Sacred Harpers in full wail
      can be an ear ringing experience. The music is not intended to be examined
      critically; it is music to be experienced. Sacred Harp singing is not a
      performance sport; it is a participatory experience. Singers sing for each
      other, not for an audience. The inward-facing, hollow square seating
      arrangement reinforces this.

      The music of the Sacred Harp had its origins in New England in the late
      18th and early 19th centuries, and moved southward from there. By the
      1820's and '30's the tradition had pretty much died in the North (with the
      appearance of the misnamed "better music movement"), but has remained a
      living tradition in much of the rural south. Recent years have seen a
      revival outside of the south, particularly in folk music circles.

      All-Day Singings & Conventions
      The primary way to experience the Sacred Harp phenomenon is at an all-day
      singing. These traditional events have been part of Southern life for over
      150 years and date back earlier still to colonial times when itinerant
      singing masters traveled the byways of America holding day-long and
      sometimes week-long singing schools. Farmers and townspeople would gather
      from miles around. The nominal purpose was to learn to sing, but the
      social aspect of the gatherings and the sheer pleasure of making music were
      the largest attractions. A convention is a periodic gathering of singers
      from a geographical region (county, state, or even the whole country). It
      often consists of two or more all-day singings and sometimes a Sacred Harp
      singing school taught in the traditional manner.

      Monthly Singings
      Today many singers meet in small loosely organized groups that sing monthly or bi-monthly in singers' living rooms or other scheduled locations, generally with a crowd of 15 to 25 at any given event. The same Sacred Harp sense of fellowship and democratic style persists. For some singers, these monthly events are the primary focus of their Sacred Harp singing. For others, monthly singings are mainly a way to keep in practice between trips to state and local conventions. Whatever your motivation, regular singings are an excellent way to learn about and enjoy music from the Sacred Harp.

      About The Sacred Harp

      The Sacred Harp (1844) is one of hundreds of Shape Note hymnals that was
      published in the 19th Century. It is the only Shape Note book to have
      survived in continuous publication and is used by the majority of Shape
      Note singers in the United States today. It contains over 550 songs,
      including the favorite New Britain, which is better known as Amazing Grace.

      The term "sacred harp" is a poetic reference to the human voice. Each time
      we open our mouths to sing, we're playing our sacred harp.

      About Shape Note Notation

      The shape note system has been used to teach Americans to read music for
      twelve generations. On the printed page, shape note music looks exactly
      like modern choral music except that the individual musical notes are
      shaped like triangles, ovals, squares and diamonds corresponding to the
      syllables Fa, Sol, La and Mi.

      Before a shape note song is sung, the group sings once through the entire
      song, with singers on each part interpreting the shapes to quickly learn
      the tune. Then, the song is sung again with its verses.


      Regular Monthly Sacred Harp Singing groups in the Bay Area

      There are five active Sacred Harp singing groups in the Bay Area. These
      groups meet weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly to sing traditional songs from
      The Sacred Harp.

      - Palo Alto (since 1976)
      - Berkeley (since 1978?)
      - Santa Cruz (since 1990?)
      - San Francisco (since 1993)
      - Sacramento (since 1994)

      For further information about any of these groups, contact Chris Thorman at
      (415) 431-7664 or ct@....


      About The San Francisco Sacred Harp Singing Group

      The San Francisco Sacred Harp Singing Group was founded in 1993 to create
      opportunities to sing Sacred Harp music. We sing from The Sacred Harp, a
      150-year-old tune book of 4-part a cappella hymns, odes, and anthems.

      We generally meet every third Sunday from 4:30 to 6:30 PM at the Potrero Hill Neighboorhood House, with exceptions made to accomodate major singing events, as noted in a published schedule.

      No experience or skill is necessary. Everyone is welcome.

      We generally sing for two hours.

      The San Francisco group is a co-sponsor of the annual All-California Sacred
      Harp Singing Convention and the Sacred Harp Workshop at the San Francisco
      Free Folk Festival each June. Many of us enjoy traveling to other
      national and regional conventions, especially in the Midwest and the South.
      Several of us regularly attend singings sponsored by Palo Alto Shape Note
      and East Bay Shape Note Singers.

      Shape note singing connects us to a living tradition of American social
      music. We sing in a style that has been practiced for 200 years -- loudly,
      sitting in parts, facing one another in a square to create a strong and
      inwardly focused sound.

      We observe the Sacred Harp democratic tradition -- each singer gets a turn
      to lead the song of his or her choice. We don't rehearse or perform. We
      just love to sing.

      Call Chris Thorman at (415) 431-7664 or Carolyn Deacy at (415) 585-4773 for
      more information. Be sure to ask for a schedule of upcoming singing events!


      Learn More about Sacred Harp Singing on the Internet

      To learn much more about Sacred Harp and its traditions, point your
      web browser to http://fasola.org/

      Also, see below:


      Sacred Harp Singing on public Television and Radio

      Anyone who has seen Bill Moyers' *Amazing Grace* documentary is familiar
      with Sacred Harp singing. This still-popular tune has its origins in Shape
      Note music, and the first half-hour of the *Amazing Grace* special is
      devoted to this history.

      Radio shows about Sacred Harp have appeared on NPR and other public radio
      networks on numerous occasions. The most recent of these was produced by
      Minnesota Public Radio and broadcast nationally on most NPR stations the
      week of December 30th, 1996. The full text and audio of the broadcast,
      plus recordings of three songs (in RealAudio format) can be found on the
      MPR site at:


      This web site also includes RealAudio recordings of several Sacred Harp songs.


      870 Market Street #1272 (415) 394-9818
      San Francisco, CA 94102 (413) 473-0853 e-fax
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