Sacred Harp and Shapenote
Singing in the United Kingdom
Sacred Harp Singing
Sacred Harp Singing in the
United Kingdom has increased considerably in the past few
years, to the extent that there are now numerous monthly
Local House Groups,
on at least three out of four weekends every month.
what is Sacred Harp music?
A rather longer and more technical explanation can be found
but essentially it is
an American choral tradition of singing unaccompanied
four-part harmony, sometimes referred to as 'sacred
folksong' or 'White Gospel' music.
Because Sacred Harp “singings”
are open to anyone to attend, they are not performances, and
there are no preliminary rehearsals or practices unless the
singing has been advertised as a workshop, or contains a
'singing school' where instruction is given. Singers sit in a
formation with one voice part on each side, all facing
inwards so they can see and hear each other. There is
therefore no formal audience, and each event tends to have a
different group of participants. Having said that, many
people know each other well, as they tend to meet up and
down the country to sing with each other time and again,
thus creating firm bonds of friendship between people with
similar enthusiasm and tastes in music.
newcomers to any form of community or communal singing are
always welcome. Because there has been such increased coverage in
the UK press, and in such films as 'Cold Mountain'
and 'Lawless', many come to simply to listen to the
music. Visitors, whether participants or simply listeners,
are always welcome to sit anywhere in the room, but
eventually may well be drawn to sing with any one of the
four parts - treble, alto, tenor (which is the tune or air)
Although the words set to the songs are mainly from
religious backgrounds, there is no requirement for
participants to belong to any church or denomination whatever. Many,
find that the music itself is both deeply moving and
Nor is musical experience required —
the music is written in the same way as it was over 200
years ago in America, where itinerant singing masters taught
complete beginners to sing using techniques first conceived
Why is it called “Sacred
Because the musical
notation uses note heads in 4 distinct shapes to aid in sight-reading,
this style of singing is technically called 'shapenote'
singing. However, it is often called “Sacred Harp” singing
because the book that most singers use today is called
The Sacred Harp. This name also refers to
the human voice; no other instruments are used in this à
Harp was just one of more than 100 oblong hymn books
published in America. Since 1844 it has been continuously updated,
with the present version being the 'Denson' revision of 1991.
This book contains over 500 tunes, being hymns, psalms, odes
Whilst many of these
hark back to the 18th and 19th centuries, there are many living composers still
actively writing new tunes within the traditional styles and
shape note format. Other shape note books still in use today
include Christian Harmony (using a 7-shape notation),
New Harp of Columbia, plus several others, including
some entirely new collections such as Northern Harmony,
Norumbega Harmony, Missouri Harmony, and most recently
The Shenandoah Harmony.
What does this music sound like?
The best way to learn
about Sacred Harp singing is to sing it yourself by
attending annual or local singings. See details of monthly
Local House Groups,
by following the links.
There are now many
examples of Sacred Harp and Shapenote singing on YouTube,
this link for starters, it leads to pages of such
examples, of varying quality!.
Where can I learn more?
Try the following
links to other web pages:
Documentary Film — Awake,
Matt and Erica Hinton,
singers and documentary filmmakers, completed
seven years of
production on the first feature length
about the Sacred Harp tradition. Visit the
web site at
http://awakemysoul.com for trailers,
ordering information, previews, photo gallery, and excellent
portraits of many long-time singers.
I Belong to This Band: 85 Years of
Sacred Harp Recordings
A Companion CD to Awake, My Soul
more . .
Update and latest information
UK Sacred Harp
and Shapenote Singing
We are continuing to update the 2020 calendar
as dates and details are confirmed by organisers.
Please send all
Minutes of Singings to be included on the website to Edwin and
Sheila Macadam as soon as possible before this site is finally archived.
Edwin and Sheila Macadam
announced their retirement from hosting the UK Shape Note calendar
and website with effect from 31 December 2019. Further
information from the new team to follow.
NB. Date formulae have
been added to calendar dates - please use these when considering
adding dates to the Calendar; it helps to prevent clashes of venues,
2020 the 3rd Clermont All-Day Singing
has moved to the
Saturday before the 3rd Sunday in October,
ie Saturday 17 October 2020,
and there will also be Singing on Sunday 21 June, 12 noon - 3.30 pm
2nd Tokyo All-Day Singing
announced for 9 - 10 November 2019
5th Munich Sacred Harp All-Day Singing
5 October - venue and contact details updated
Manchester Folk Festival Sacred
9 October 2019
Venue and times still to be confirmed.
First Manchester All Day
Singing announced for 2 November 2019.
Venue and times confirmed
Newcastle Sacred Harp
now has a new name and a new webite. Visit the
new site here.
September & October 2019
Further details as to times,
websites, urls, books, etc., can be found
Fri. 13 to
Sun. 15 September 2019
3rd Sunday in September and the Saturday before
UK Sacred Harp Convention
Trinity Centre, Bristol
Sat. 21 and Sun. 22 September 2019
Sunday in September and the Saturday before
8th Polish Sacred Harp Convention
Saturday before the 1st Sunday in October
5th Munich Sacred Harp All-Day Singing
St. Lukas Evang.-Luth. Pfarramt Spirituelles
Zentrum St. Martin Arndtstraße 8,
80469 München, Bayern
Sat.12 October 2019
Saturday before the
2nd Sunday in October
South West Shapenote Singing Day
Cullompton Baptist Church, High Street, Cullompton, Devon EX15 1AB
Sat.19 October 2019
before the 3rd Sunday in October
Manchester Folk Festival
Contact: Calum Woods tel: +44 (0) 7538 046467 Email
Sat.26 October 2019
Saturday before the 4th Sunday in
Twelfth London All-Day Singing
Highgate United Reformed Church, Pond Square Chapel, South Grove, N6
Sun. 27 October 2019
Sunday in October]
London Christian Harmony Singing
Further details of the above
as to times, websites & urls, books, etc., can be found on the
Other dates and information
24th UK Sacred Harp
Will be held in Bristol on Saturday 14 and
Sunday 15 September. More