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September 29, 2008

shape note singing

recently i met a couple of shape note singers and went on a little websploration :: shape notes were used over the past couple centuries in the south for congregational singing to help people who couldn't read music. Beginners pair shapes with the solfege syllables (do, re, mi, etc...) :: here's an example where the song consists of no words (for the first minute or so), only solfege :: more recordings :: and some more :: and a documentary

:: harsh, simple, powerful harmony singing :: i dig it



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Comments (8)

Reminds me of that "Jisas Yu Holem Hand Blong Mi" Melanesian choral song from "The Thin Red Line" soundtrack. Really beautiful.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-a2jugsYQXM

Posted by: Lady Day at September 29, 2008 2:57 PM

I'm a shape-note singer and thrilled that you gave a shout-out to the Sacred Harp! Here are two other links that might be of interest:

A Folk Music page with samples across America:
http://pilgrimproduction.net/sacredharp1.html

If you want to find a singing in your area you can go to:
http://fasola.org/

Thanks, Ze!

Posted by: Sarah at September 29, 2008 3:12 PM

Ze, I don't know where you're based, but if you can arrange to be in Harrisonburg, VA, on January 1st, you could attend a world-famous shapenote event.

Posted by: Alisha at September 29, 2008 10:35 PM

Um...From 1:15 on in the example piece, I am having a hard time believing that they are not singing full words. They establish the rhythm and pitch with the solfege, but I'm pretty sure they're singing the whole lyrics of the song after that first solfege pass. Am I wrong?

Posted by: CosmicDan at September 29, 2008 11:05 PM

CosmicDan, you're right, but Ze noticed that too. It's traditional in shape note singing to sing once through "on the notes" or "on the shapes" before launching into the words, and that's exactly what you're hearing in this clip. I like the way that class (as it's often called) sing; there's a nice sway to it.

Posted by: nbm at September 30, 2008 7:55 PM

Yeah! This was cool. Thanks for expanding my life today.

Posted by: CJspider at September 30, 2008 11:57 PM

alan lomax made some great recordings of shape singing in the southern u.s.

i think that the recordings are still available. i seem to remember hearing something similar from italian longshoremen... or maybe sailors?

Posted by: ingrid at October 1, 2008 5:32 PM

First heard of shape note through "A Singing Stream," a documentary about a family of singers:
http://www.folkstreams.net/film,2
As a fan of a cappella, a social scientist, and an ethnographer, I was touched.

Posted by: Alexandre at October 8, 2008 11:36 PM

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