Throughout the 19th century, Southern church singing was often learned and performed using shaped notes, a system of musical notation that uses geometric figures (diamonds, squares, etc.) to represent notes of the musical scale. The system gained popularity during the “Great Revival” in Kentucky in 1801. The following decades saw publication of several shaped note hymn books. Benjamin White’s Sacred Harp appeared in 1844. These books fashioned a distinctive, communal style of a cappella singing for a Southern rural religious repertoire comprised of camp meeting songs, folk spirituals, newly-composed and older formal hymns. Shaped-note singing remained popular well into the 20th century, and provided a framework for bluegrass, gospel, and country singing that continues today.
On Saturday, the Annual Sacred Harp Convention convenes at Raleigh’s Pullen Memorial Baptist Church. Free and open to the public, the convention will take place from 9:30 until 3:30, and will include a “dinner on the grounds” potluck at noon. For information, see www.ncshapenote.org/convention.annual.shtml