SINGING ON: Sacred Harp Sing has staying power

Published 9:12 pm Monday, February 24, 2020

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Sacred Harp singing. What’s that all about?

Just ask the singers in Ozark, Stapleton, Montgomery and Samson. Or those in Opp, Andalusia, Headland, Frisco City or Elba or Wing or Florala, Luverne or Wetumpka. Or just ask singers in Troy.

The Pioneer Museum of Alabama hosted the 11th Annual Troy All-Day Sacred Harp Sing on Saturday with Trojan Ken Sundberg as chairman. The consensus of the singers of all ages was that there are no words to describe Sacred Harp Singing.

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“It’s life changing. It grabs you, holds you and won’t let you go.”

Barbara Tatom, director of the Pioneer Museum of Alabama, said Sacred Harp Singing is rather new to her but, on Saturday, she was often drawn to the museum’s town village where the hollow square was formed.

“This is the second year I have been at the Pioneer Museum of Alabama for the singing and I really like it,” Tatom said. “It’s different. I keep coming back to listen.”

Tatom said those who visited the museum on Saturday were also drawn to the sound of Sacred Harp. “There’s just something about it.”

Billy Young of Shady Grove agreed.

“I don’t know how to tell anybody about Sacred Harp singing except to say, ‘you ought to go hear it.’”

Stanley Smith of Ozark has been around Sacred Harp singing almost as long as he has been around.

“Forty years,” Smith said. “When I was growing up, there was a singing school near my house and I could hear them singing. I liked the singing and wanted to learn.”

At age 12, Smith was hooked and he enjoys Sacred Harp singing as much today as he did as a young boy.

“It’s encouraging to see young people singing Sacred Harp,” he said. “It will be up to them to keep it going. I am thankful there are still so many people whose lives are touched by it and who see the value in Sacred Harp singing.”

Smith said Sacred Harp is a way of worship and it’s also wholesome fellowship.

“And, it’s not just joyful singing,” he said. “Lives are touched by it; tears are shed. Sacred Harp singing is a genuine blessing.”

Because Sacred Harp is and has been such a blessing for more than 150 years, Sundberg said it is here to stay.

“I’m not going to say it’s going to replace standard rock or gospel but it’s not going away,”  Sundberg said. “Sacred Harp originated in New England and readily caught on in the South.

The South was isolated and its people were left alone. They had no serious instruction in music and Sacred Harp is simply music and it readily became engrained in the Southern culture and continues to have a strong presence in the South and here in Alabama.”

Sundberg said the future of Sacred Harp is in the minds and hearts of the young people who are singing it.

“And, we have several families here in our area who are helping carry on the tradition of Sacred Harp singing,” he said. “They are the reasons that it will not die.”