Singing kicks off ‘Farmer Free Saturdays’ at museum

Published 6:16 am Friday, February 10, 2012

The Pioneer Museum of Alabama will host a Sacred Harp All-Day singing from 10 until 3 p.m. on Saturday.

The all-day Sacred Harp Singing will be the first in a series of monthly Farmers’ Free Saturdays hosted by the museum.

Rachael Greve, museum director, said the Farmers’ Free Saturdays will be held in memory and in honor of Curren Farmer, museum founder, and his wife, Margaret Pace Farmer, Pike County historian. Admission to the museum is free on the Farmers’ Saturdays.

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Farmers Free Saturdays are opportunities to participate in museum events and activities free of charge and to learn more about the museum and all that it has to offer.

Greve said that a Sacred Harp Singing was selected to be the first in the series of Farmers’ Free Saturdays because that “shape note singing” has deep roots in the South.

“Sacred Harp is a haunting form of a cappella hymn singing,” Greve said. “These songs are sung without accompaniment.”

There are different Sacred Harp songbooks but The B.F. White Sacred Harp, Revised Cooper Edition or the Cooper Book will be used on Saturday.

“The Cooper Book is widely used in this area where there is a lot of interest in and participation in Sacred Harp Singing,” Greve said.

Sacred Harp singing originated in the South in the early 1800s mainly Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas. It is called shape note singing because the notes are four geometrical shapes and the shapes indicate their position and musical syllable.

“This made reading music possible for those who had no musical training,” Greve said. “Sacred Harp singing is a kind of folk music and it’s a dying art form. It’s unique, too, in that there is no audience. The singers sit in a hollow square. The four sections are the tenors, basses, altos and trebles. You find the section that best suits your voice and join in.”

The singers take turns leading. The leader stands in the center of the square and that’s the best seat in the house because the leader can hear all four sections, Greve said.

Although there is no audience, as such, Greve said there will be room for those who just want to come and listen and, if they want to jump in, they are encouraged to do so.

“Scared Harp singing has a unique and distinctive sound and the music is made by the instrument given by God, the human voice,” Greve said.

Around 70 singers are expected to attend the Sacred Harp Singing, which is being organized by Ken Sundberg of Troy.

“Dinner-on-the ground will be in the main building but visitors to the museum will be invited to explore the other museum buildings,” Greve said.  “Sacred Harp Singing is quite moving and, for those who have never heard it, Sacred Harp Singing is a unique experience. There will be materials available for those who want to know more about this form of folk music. If you enjoy music and learning more about old time music, then the Pioneer Museum is the place to be on Saturday.”