SHAPE NOTE SINGING is an American cultural creation, a distinctly democratic way to engage an entire community in singing. Singers don’t need to know how to read traditional musical notation, but instead identify notes by shapes associated with tones and know what to sing based upon the relationship of the notes to one another, resulting in a glorious — and often quite complicated — four-part harmony. The approach, sometimes called SACRED HARP SINGING because of the “Sacred Harp” song books most singers use, originated in church communities in New England in the 18th and early 19th centuries and spread widely around the United States, particularly to the South. (The “sacred harp” is the singing voice we are each deemed to have been divinely granted at birth.)
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