United Kingdom Sacred Harp & Shapenote Singing
Front row altosFront row treblesHugh McGraw with the tenor line at DerbySophie MacDougall at Letchworth 2004Front row tenorsFront row basses and altos
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Welcome to Sacred Harp and Shapenote
Singing in the United Kingdom

Sacred Harp Singing

Sacred Harp Singing in the United Kingdom has increased considerably in the past few years, to the extent that there are now numerous monthly Local House Groups, and All-day Singings on at least three out of four weekends every month.

But first, what is Sacred Harp music
A rather longer and more technical explanation can be found here, but essentially it is Shapenote music, an American choral tradition of singing unaccompanied four-part harmony, sometimes referred to as 'sacred folksong' or 'White Gospel' music.

Because Sacred Harp “singings” are open to anyone to attend, they are not performances, and there are no preliminary rehearsals or practices unless the singing has been advertised as a workshop, or contains a 'singing school' where instruction is given. Singers sit in a hollow square formation with one voice part on each side, all facing inwards so they can see and hear each other. There is therefore no formal audience, and each event tends to have a different group of participants. Having said that, many people know each other well, as they tend to meet up and down the country to sing with each other time and again, thus creating firm bonds of friendship between people with similar enthusiasm and tastes in music.

Beginners and newcomers to any form of community or communal singing are always welcome. Because there has been such increased coverage in the UK press, and in such films as 'Cold Mountain' and 'Lawless', many come to simply to listen to the music. Visitors, whether participants or simply listeners, are always welcome to sit anywhere in the room, but eventually may well be drawn to sing with any one of the four parts - treble, alto, tenor (which is the tune or air) or bass.

Although the words set to the songs are mainly from religious backgrounds, there is no requirement for participants to belong to any church or denomination whatever. Many, however, will find that the music itself is both deeply moving and spiritual.

Nor is musical experience required — the music is written in the same way as it was over 200 years ago in America, where itinerant singing masters taught complete beginners to sing using techniques first conceived in England.

Why is it called “Sacred Harp”?
Because the musical notation uses note heads in 4 distinct shapes to aid in sight-reading, this style of singing is technically called 'shapenote' singing. However, it is often called “Sacred Harp” singing because the book that most singers use today is called The Sacred Harp. This name also refers to the human voice; no other instruments are used in this à cappella singing.

The Sacred Harp was just one of more than 100 oblong hymn books published in America. Since 1844 it has been continuously updated, with the present version being the 'Denson' revision of 1991. This book contains over 500 tunes, being hymns, psalms, odes and anthems.

Whilst many of these hark back to the 18th and 19th centuries, there are many living composers still actively writing new tunes within the traditional styles and shape note format. Other shape note books still in use today include Christian Harmony (using a 7-shape notation), New Harp of Columbia, plus several others, including some entirely new collections such as Northern Harmony, Norumbega Harmony, Missouri Harmony, and most recently The Shenandoah Harmony.

What does this music sound like?
The best way to learn about Sacred Harp singing is to sing it yourself by attending annual or local singings. See details of monthly Local House Groups, and All-day Singings by following the links.

There are now many examples of Sacred Harp and Shapenote singing on YouTube, try this link for starters, it leads to pages of such examples, of varying quality!. 

Where can I learn more?

Try the following links to other web pages:

Documentary Film — Awake, My Soul

Matt and Erica Hinton, singers and documentary  filmmakers, completed seven years of production on the first feature length documentary about the Sacred Harp tradition. Visit the film’s web site at http://awakemysoul.com for trailers, ordering information, previews, photo gallery, and excellent portraits of many long-time singers.

I Belong to This Band: 85 Years of Sacred Harp Recordings
A Companion CD to Awake, My Soul

Read more . . .

Calendar Update and
 latest information
Follow Us on FacebookFollow UK Sacred Harp
and Shapenote Singing

Latest news
2016 UK Sacred Harp Convention will take place in Bristol. Further details to follow.
Friday 23 October 2015 Lunchtime workshop at the London Welsh Centre, WC1X 8UE. More details here.
Saturday 17 October 2015 Workshop with Bristol Sacred Harp singers at American Museum, Bath. More details here.
Saturday 17 October 2015 New Compositions singing day in London. More details here.

October Singings

Saturday 10 October 2015

10th Shapers New England and New Writings Singing Day
Digswell Village Church, Warren Way, Digswell
Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire AL6 0DH (please note change of venue)

10.30 am - 4.30 pm Bring and share lunch
Contact: Steve Fletcher Tel: 01462 641787 / 07976 605692  Email

Saturday 10 October 2015
Sheffield Sacred Harp All Day Singing
Worrall Memorial Hall, 49 Towngate Road, Worrall,  Sheffield  S35 0AR
am - 3.30 pm  Pot luck lunch
Informal evening social - details t.b.c.
Sunday 11 October 2015
Alternative Books All Day Singing
(Christian Harmony and Cooper Book 2012)
Worrall Memorial Hall, 49 Towngate Road, Worrall,  Sheffield  S35 0AR
10.30 am - 3.30 pm  Pot luck lunch
Contact: Vicki Elliott Tel: 07738 912930 Email

Saturday 17 October 2015
New Compositions and Arrangements shapenote singing, London
St Mary's Church, Elsworthy Road, NW3 3DJ
10.30 am - 3.00 pm Dinner on the grounds
Further details here
Contact: Werner Ullah  Email 
Saturday 17 October 2015
American Museum Bath Sacred Harp workshop
with Bristol Sacred Harp singers
Claverton Manor, Claverton, Bath BA2 7BD
10.30 am - 12.30 pm
Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 October 2015
Hartlepool Folk Festival Sacred Harp singing schools
With Cath and Phil Tyler
More information to follow here
Contact: Cath and Phil Tyler Tel:  0191 215 0138  Email
Friday 23 October 2015
London Welsh Centre Sacred Harp workshop with
London Sacred Harp singers as part of the Bloomsbury Festival
157-163 Gray's Inn Road, London, WC1X 8UE
12.30 pm - 1.45 pm
Contact: Werner Ullah  Email Details here
Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 October 2015
Hartlepool Folk Festival Sacred Harp singing schools
With Cath and Phil Tyler
More information to follow here
Contact: Cath and Phil Tyler Tel:  0191 215 0138  Email
Friday 30 October 2015
Singing School with Elene Stovall

St George's Church, Bloomsbury Way, WC1A 2SE
7.15 pm - 9.15 pm
Saturday 31 October 2015
Eighth London All-day Singing 

Highgate United Reformed Church, Pond Square Chapel, South Grove, N6 6BJ
10.30 am - 4.00 pm  Bring and share dinner on the grounds
Sunday 1 November 2015
3rd European Christian Harmony Singing
Basement, Heath Street Baptist Church, 84 Heath Street, London NW3 1DN
1.30 - 6.00 pm
Loaner books provided, but if you have a Christian Harmony please bring it.

Contact: Michael Walker  Tel: 07770 210067  Email     Website

Other dates and information
United Kingdom Annual Sacred Harp Convention 2015
The 20th Annual United Kingdom Sacred Harp
Convention was held in at the Henry Wood Hall, Borough, London SE1 4HU on 19 and 20 September 2015.
East Midlands Sacred Harp Convention 2016
The East Midlands Sacred Harp Convention, a two book singing from the Denson and Cooper Books, will be held at Kegworth on Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 April 2016.

Other pages:


This Web Site has been set up for the United Kingdom Sacred Harp and Shapenote Community to provide a resource centre for singing in the United Kingdom. 

Any correspondence, helpful suggestions and contributions as to content, amendments, additions and new web links should be sent to Edwin and Sheila Macadam at .  All material copyright © 2000-2015.


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