Appalachia Appalachia Through My Eyes

Appalachia Through My Eyes – Shape Note Singing

My life in appalachia shape note singing

People gather in the third floor chapel of the Historic Shook-Smathers House in Clyde, N. C. to lift their voices in the tradition of Shape-Note Singing.

Tipper

Appalachia Through My Eyes – A series of photographs from my life in Southern Appalachia.

 

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25 Comments

  • Reply
    DEBBIE NIXON
    September 7, 2019 at 3:50 pm

    Tipper
    My grandpa was song leader I recall being out his house and listening to him call or sing out shape notes when he would be going through the song book in his hand trying to prepare for what songs he would lead at church. He would also go to church signings on Sunday between church services they would use shape note song books they were all serious about their singing. I was little but enjoyed going with them fun times and great memories
    Deb

  • Reply
    Zelma
    September 26, 2016 at 8:58 am

    I have several old music books from my grandmother, some of which have shaped notes. I would love to learn shaped note singing, but there are no groups in my area.

  • Reply
    Garry Ballard
    September 25, 2016 at 6:30 pm

    I’ve only just discovered shape note singing or sacred harp singing as it also seems to be called. It takes me straight into the Heavenlies! It’s rapidly becoming my favourite singing style I love it so much! So glad you posted that link Isaac Green, really beautiful! Never heard it in Australia but it seems it’s making a comeback all over the English speaking world now.

  • Reply
    Janet Pressley
    April 14, 2016 at 3:14 am

    I see somebody I know…

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney, Jr
    April 13, 2016 at 7:58 am

    Tipper,
    This pretty much describes my efforts at singing:
    I think it was Henry Ward Beecher who said, “As a singist, I am not a success. I am saddest when I sing. So are the people who hear me. They are sadder even than I am.”
    (Posted by: Ron Stephens | April 12, 2016 at 05:11 PM)

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 12, 2016 at 11:51 pm

    It is so sad that the human voice has been supplanted first by acoustical instruments, then by amplified instruments and now by computer generated “music”. All of the musical instruments ever created, up until now, have been an attempt to imitate the human voice. Only In the past few decades have people had to try to compete with instruments of their own making or to depend on them to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.
    Psalms 100 says: “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves.”
    That is what our shape note singing ancestors were doing. They were being chastened and ridiculed by the religious authorities. That is why they had to flee the lands of their birth. But, they found a place that we call Appalachia where they/we could make a noise that was pleasing to His ears though not welcomed by the majority.
    I have no problem with musical instruments accompanying singers in church or otherwise, but in a real worship service the instruments should add to the human voices not the other way around. I have no problem with a musician using his instrument to create his “Joyful Noise” but only because he cannot create the the sound that he feels with his own mouth. I have that same problem myself!

  • Reply
    Tim Ryan
    April 12, 2016 at 5:30 pm

    My mom taught a group of us 12 y/o boys shape note singing. The objective was to help us
    become song leaders for the acapella congregational singing which was the hallmark of our
    services.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 12, 2016 at 5:11 pm

    We had a ‘shape notes only’ hymnal at our country chutch in SE KY in the early 1960’s. It was called “Heavenly Highway Hymns”. We sung without music as did – and do – many of the churches in the area. However, I never learned shaped notes. I have to leave all the music and the greatest part of the singing to someone else.
    I think it was Henry Ward Beecher who said, “As a singist, I am not a success. I am saddest when I sing. So are the people who hear me. They are sadder even than I am.”

  • Reply
    Marsha King
    April 12, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    My grandmother used to teach reading shape notes in churches in our area of WV. It would have been in the early through mid 1900’s.

  • Reply
    Carol Rosenbalm
    April 12, 2016 at 3:04 pm

    Tipper,
    If your readers want to know where old harp singings are just google old harp singings & the state where you’re from.
    Carol

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    April 12, 2016 at 2:34 pm

    Tipper,
    I know nothing about Shape-Note Singing. Years ago I can remember my daddy opening a Church Songbook, then he said, “those upsidedown commas look to me like a fly “do-doed” and drug his hind leg thru it.” …Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 12, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    Shape note singing uses do-re-me-fa-so-la-ti-do to represent the c-d-e-f-g-a-b-c on the musical scale. It allows the singers to learn to read music without an instrument to follow. They sing a word that represents a note. Each note on the scale has its own particular shape and you learn to recognise that shape as a sound. With enough practice you learn to translate those shapes into the notes for the words of the song you are trying to sing.
    Sometimes people sing whole songs using only the shape notes themselves. The lead, alto, tenor and bass have different lines so if you are singing four part harmony different people are singing different shapes. Sometimes you sing the same shape only an octave apart. Sometimes they sing a mixture of both words and shapes. One verse of each.
    This method of singing is for congregational singing. That is the reason for singing conventions, so everybody could learn.

  • Reply
    Isaac Green
    April 12, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    Down here in GA and AL we sing the 4 shaped notes only. I go the a singing at least 2 times a month and can’t imagine my life without it! This site is great for listening to a lot of our big singings including the just completed Georgia State convention.
    http://www.southernfieldrecordings.org

  • Reply
    Pat Pruitt
    April 12, 2016 at 11:57 am

    I play piano for church. I read shape notes to play. The notes are in the same place on the musical staff, but each note has a distinctive shape. Do is a triangle, sol is round, etc. Instead of reading the notes on lines and spaces, I read the shape. One great advantage of this type of reading music is you can transpose to different keys easily. Do is whatever the key is. If you are playing in E flat for instance do is e flat. Then you go up the scale do re mi etc. If you want to change keys, then do will move to that key. Like if you want to transpose to A flat, then do will be A flat.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    April 12, 2016 at 11:09 am

    Tipper, I love shape note singing. I believe I read somewhere that the practice began when most mountain churches did not have a piano or an organ but had to make their own music with their voices. Today the shape note singing that I hear is accompanied by the piano. Morning Star Methodist Church in Canton NC holds a shape note singing every second Sunday in September at their Old Folks Day. I always try to attend and I am never disappointed in the beautiful program.

  • Reply
    John Faircloth
    April 12, 2016 at 10:42 am

    Your post today is a blessing. It has been 12 years since I sat in the “Sacred Square” to sing the Sacred
    Harp. My memories of this wonderful experience nurture my soul. Thanks Tipper

  • Reply
    Zelma
    April 12, 2016 at 10:22 am

    I have several shape note hymnals from my paternal Grandmother. They date back to the 1800’s. I never really understood shape notes–I know the note shape denotes a sound, but they also are shown on a musical staff, so it didn’t make sense to me. I love the history behind the books, though.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    April 12, 2016 at 10:07 am

    Tipper,
    I love to listen to shape note singing!
    Are you learning to shape note sing?
    Thanks for this post,
    PS…Weather report from East Tennessee: Cloudy and cool with a chance of a “WARMER SPRING” sometime this month! ha

  • Reply
    Carol Rosenbalm
    April 12, 2016 at 9:32 am

    Tipper,
    Old harp singing is a part of Appalachia that I hope never goes away. I’ve got a updated version of an old harp book and then I received my papaw McDonald’s book from 1937. I love to attend the singing in Cades cove in August at the primitive baptist church on the loop road. There is regular people that go and I love it because my grandparents and some other ancestors attend a singing there and also I had a great uncle who preached there a few times. I love to hear the blending of voices and people taking turns leading. I go to enjoy the music and to think back to when my grandparents would go and attend. If no one has never been to a singing and wants a blessing they need to go. They used to have more singing schools than they do now but I sing the poetry. Precious memories with my mom,aunt and me together. Our lives are too busy today to enjoy the simplicity of an art that is pure Appalachian. You have to develop a ear for it but it’s beautiful.
    Carol R.

  • Reply
    Tamela
    April 12, 2016 at 9:13 am

    Somehow I’ve missed the experience of shape-note singing although I have Baptist friends who attend Shape Note conventions (don’t know if this is a particularly Baptist thing, they just happen to be the only ones I know who do it. Learning the particulars of it is in my bucket list.
    I hope your readers can tell me more about its history, what makes it special to them, and what makes shape note singing unique from singing the notes more commonly written in music today.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    April 12, 2016 at 9:11 am

    Please explain what shape note singing is all about.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    April 12, 2016 at 9:11 am

    Please explain what shape note singing is all about.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    April 12, 2016 at 9:11 am

    Please explain what shape note singing is all about.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    April 12, 2016 at 9:11 am

    Please explain what shape note singing is all about.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    April 12, 2016 at 8:32 am

    Shape-note singing reminds me of my youth when we had “Singing Schools” at Choestoe Church with either Mr. Frank Dyer or Rev. Jim Hood teaching the singing school. At the end of the week, or sometimes two-week “singing school” course, we would have a “singing” and invite the whole community to come and hear the new songs we had learned from the “Stamps-Baxter” song book.
    The old courthouse at Blairsville (now restored and with wonderful music programs on Friday nights in the late-spring, summer, and early-fall schedules), still sometimes hosts a day-long “singing” by shaped-note method. We called those gatherings a “Singing Convention” and they drew people from far an near–back in the day! Mr. Frank Dyer was officially inducted into the Shaped-Note Singing Convention Hall of Fame a few years ago.

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