Sacred Harp Music: ‘It’s not going away’

Published 7:07 pm Tuesday, February 28, 2023

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“Come join the square” was the welcome extended to those who filled the back rows of chairs outside “the hollow square” at the annual Sacred Harp Singing at the Pioneer Museum of Alabama on Saturday.

The gentleman, smiled as he appreciatively shook his head.

“I think we’ll just sit and listen,” he said. “I like Sacred Harp music but I’m’ not a singer.”

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Sacred Harp singings have long been a tradition at the Pioneer Museum of Alabama and it’s a good fit.

Sacred Harp singing began in New England and has been perpetuated and carried on in the South, said Stanley Smith, a group leader and recipient of the Alabama State Council on the Arts American Folk Heritage Award.

“Sacred Harp music continues to be sung in Alabama, mainly here in our region and up in the Sand Mountain area,” he said. “Of course, Sacred Harp music is sung other places and, it’s continuing to be sung by those of us who are older and by more and more young people. We have a good number young people here today and that’s encouraging for the future of Sacred Harp singing,”

Smith laughed at the mention that Sacred Harp sounds like “racket” to many others.

“It’s loud and it’s energetic,” he said, with a smile.

The hollow square is made up of four sides, soprano, alto, tenor and bass. Facing each other makes it easier to follow the leader in the center and sing together.

Singers take turns leading if they choose to do so.

Younger singers are stepping into the center of the hollow square, young men and young women.

Mary Amelia Taylor of Montgomery attended college in Mississippi where she had friends from as distant as California.

“We took choral music together and my friend from California and from several other places sang Sacred Harp music,” Taylor said. “I liked it and I wanted to learn. Now, I enjoy Sacred Harp singing so much and look forward to getting together with others who enjoy it as much as I do.”

As for the future of Sacred Harp music?

“It’s lasted this long,” Taylor said. “I don’t believe it’s going away.”