Sacred Harp

Sacred Harp

This a capella singing tradition takes its name from the 1844 hymn book, The Sacred Harp and represents the largest surviving branch of traditional American Shape Note Singing. This style of church music utilized four syllables (fa-sol-la-mi) which were represented by four shapes in later hymnals; the triangle, circle, square and diamond. These shaped notes allowed untrained or illiterate church members to participate in the worship service. Frequently the assembled singers would sing the notes first and then follow with the words. In Sacred Harp singing members sit facing inward in a hollow square. The leader will select the tune and beat time with their hand while standing in the center of the square. Any participant is welcome to lead if they so chose. The tradition proved popular with both Anglo and African American churches, especially in rural areas where it is still practiced.