DIY Choral Singing: Sacred Harp Singing at The Living Room:
Reviving a practice that was once common in colonial North America, The Lower East Side Sacred Harp Sing returns traditional social singing to
a tavern atmosphere—albeit in an updated downtown setting. Though most of the song texts are based on sacred themes, traditional “fasola” or
“shape note” singings have long served as catalysts for non-sectarian community building, whatever the backgrounds or beliefs of the participants.
Basically, we sing because we love to sing; because it is spiritually invigorating. It’s also a lot of fun.
First published in 1844, The Sacred Harp is the most enduringly beloved of the classic 19th century shape note songbooks that once flooded
the markets of the American South and West (though much of the material has earlier British and New England origins). Revised in 1869,
1911, 1936, and 1991, this collection has remained popular for many reasons, not least of which is its user-friendliness. (All of its music is
written in shape notes, an ingenious system designed as a musical teaching aid. This is a great help, both for novices and experienced singers
In addition, the wide variety of 3- and 4-part songs it offers has also contributed greatly to its staying power. Boisterous camp meeting ranters;
ancient folk melodies; haunting, almost medieval-sounding dirges; and that perennial favorite among shape note singers, the charged rhythms
and staggered part entrances of the fuging tune—all forms are generously represented in this venerable tunebook. Sung a cappella with the
ingers facing each other in a square, the result is dynamic, frequently raw, and often achingly beautiful.
A phenomenal resurgence:
The Sacred Harp and shape note singing in general have experienced a phenomenal resurgence over the last 25 years or so. Once limited almost
exclusively to isolated areas of the upland South (and considered by some to be on the brink of extinction), this uniquely American form of music
has made an extraordinary comeback, spreading to all regions of the US, and beyond. Perhaps this is due to the lively social aspect, the inherent
democracy of how a traditional singing is structured (wherein singers take turns leading songs of their choice), or the power of the music itself.
Whatever the reasons, the music has also gained increasing media exposure in recent years, even catching the ear of Hollywood, with
shape note singing appearing in no less than three blockbuster films, including The Ladykillers, Gangs of New York, and most notably,
Cold Mountain, where the songs figured prominently in the film’s storyline. It has also increased at an encouraging rate locally, with regular
singings taking place at various locations in the NYC area almost every weekend of the month.
Interested in singing with us? Experienced singers and neophytes are likewise encouraged to attend. Here’s the info:
The Lower East Side Sacred Harp Sing, hosted By The Living Room
154 Ludlow St., in Manhattan
First Saturday of every month, 3 – 6 pm.