Sacred Harp (Shape Note) Singing’s Gift

If you’ve seen Cold Mountain, then you’ve been introduced to Sacred Harp singing. It’s also called Shape Note singing. Essentially, it’s this ol’ timey acapella singing where the notes are shaped like squares, circles, diamonds, and triangles and named fa, so, la, and mi. The singers sit in a square (tenor, bass, soprano, alto) facing each other. You can view a video of it here. In any case, one day I was reminded how much I liked the sound of it and used the interwebs to see if anyone in Denver actually still does it. Sho’ ’nuff, they do. So I took H- last night.

First, it was a beautiful church. But the attendance was much lower than I expected. There were eleven of us. Well, including H- there were twelve. Eleven adults, one child. But what a child. If you haven’t watched the video linked above, now is your second reminder and link.

The way the session worked was we just went around the square and chose songs. Usually a person stood up in the middle and “led” the singing. This isn’t absolutely necessary, but it is common and helps everyone stay on time.

Being sharp and displaying perfect innocence, H- was sure to spell out her first name for the group between the first and second songs and her last name between the second and third songs. And this without even being asked. Endearing is a little weak when it comes to attempting to describe the scene with words.

Next, H- noticed that a participant stood in the middle of the group and asked if she could do it. A kind old woman offered H-, “You can stand with me when I do it.” And H- did–foot tapping and all. (If you’re not in tears at this point, please dial 911). A few songs later there was a delay in anyone standing up to approach the middle of the square. H-‘s response was to fill void. She is so smart. Can you picture it? Use everything I’ve shared with you about this little girl and just imagine her responding to the group’s inquisition, “What are you doing?” with,”Someone needs to stand in the middle.” This child has no fear. Do you remember what that was like? Can you remember? I can’t remember it, but I can report that witnessing it is a gift from God.

Shape note singing. Who would’ve thought it would beget a miracle?


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