Shape note singing program earns an encore
Fleischmanns — Because of the success of the shape-note singing school held in Roxbury in August, another school will be held during the last week of September in Fleischmanns.
Ben Fenton, organizer of the school, said, “We had a committed group of 15 adult students for the week. Almost everyone came all five nights.” The class culminated in a potluck, graduation, and singing from the Sacred Harp tune book.
Singing schools were common in rural areas in the 19th and early- to mid-20th century. Itinerant singing schoolteachers would come through during the “laying by” time: between planting and harvesting. The shape note (or patent note) method was an extremely popular method of teaching people to read music. Instead of the notes all being round, the notes were triangles, circles, squares, and diamonds. This method was so popular that there were over 300 tune books published using this method between 1801 and 1844.
By the book
The Sacred Harp tune book was first published in Georgia in 1844, and is the last tune book that is still in continuous use. Because of a lack of copyright laws, many tunes and songs in the Sacred Harp were written by tunesmiths in New England and the Hudson Valley. What made the Sacred Harp survive was the genius of its’ publisher, B.F. White. White set up singing schools in rural communities, and then sponsored regional singings using his book. People gravitated to learning songs exclusively out of the Sacred Harp, and would then travel to regional and statewide singings to show off their skills. This tradition survived into the 20th century, when shape note singing was “discovered” by the folk music revival of the 1970s. Shape note singing from the Sacred Harp has once again become immensely popular, with local and statewide singings held across the country, and internationally.
Sacred Harp shape note singing is not a performance art, but a community activity. Since the singing school in August, a bi weekly singing from the Sacred Harp has been started. It is held the first and third Wednesdays from 6 to 8 p.m. at the River Run Bed & Breakfast in Fleischmanns.
The singing school will be fashioned after singing schools of the early 19th century, using the shape note method. Ben Bath, ethnomusicologist and graduate of Bard College, will lead the class. People who have no musical background are encouraged to attend.
The school will be September 23 to 27 from 6 to 8:30 p.m., with a potluck and community singing on Saturday, Sept. 28 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. The school will be held on Monday, September 23 at the River Run Bed & Breakfast, 882 Main Street, Fleischmanns, and subsequent nights at the Fleischmanns Community Methodist Church, 904 Main Street, Fleischmanns. Children are welcome to participate with their parents. Cost for the week is $25 for adults, and $20 for children 12 and up (younger are free…reading skills are helpful). Participants will receive a free copy of The Sacred Harp tune book.
For more information call Ben Fenton at 254-4884 or email at email@example.com.