Friday, January 21, 2011

My brother in-law, Kevin, recently introduced us to Shape Note singing.  For those of you who are unfamiliar (as was I), Wikipedia describes shape note singing as:

"Shape notes are a music notation designed to facilitate congregational and community singing. The notation, introduced in 1801, became a popular teaching device in American singing schools. Shapes were added to the note heads in written music to help singers find pitches within major and minor scales without the use of more complex information found in key signatures on the staff. Shape notes of various kinds have been used for over two centuries in a variety of music traditions, mostly sacred but also secular, originating in New England, practiced primarily in the Southern region of the United States for many years, and now experiencing a renaissance, primarily on the East Coast." does a much better job of explaining it than I could, so if you're curious, check out these links:

Welcome - What is Shape Note singing?

Note Shapes

Beginner's Sheet

Links and More...

Here is an example of what a sheet of shape note music looks like:

If you've ever watched Cold Mountain (the movie), there's a scene of shape note singing:

I'm Going Home

I have to admit, this whole system threw me for a loop at first, but I gradually dusted off the sight-singing skills I'd picked up in high school choir (I was one of the sick ones who LOVED to sight-sing) and immediately fell in love with the raw, pure, loud style of singing.  Vocal skills are not needed with shape note singing.  It's all about gathering, community, and singing as loud as you possibly can.  It's corporate worship in its truest form.  It's deep and intense at times and fast, lively and fun at others.  But loud.  Always loud.  Last year, Ryan and I sang a few Sacred Harp songs with Kevin, his wife Leah, and Dave, our dad, for a evening of a capella performances by various local artists.  Here are a couple of links to videos:

Sacred Harp - The Barrans


Ryan and I also tagged along with Kevin and Leah to a local singing in Portland last year. I immediately fell in love with the style of singing and the loud, unpolished voices in harmony. I marveled at the simplicity of some songs and the complexity of others. I was moved as I looked around at the faces, young and old as some would smile, close their eyes and even laugh as they sang. There was a feeling of reverence and joy. I could go on and on about it , but the only way to really get it is to be there. I learned a lot about worship that day.

There is really a lot to learn and I look forward to more gatherings, as well as a second night of BARE this evening. We will be singing 4 more songs, this time adding Brendan, our other brother, to the mix. I'll post videos as they come.