January 1 - New Year's Day Singing from TheHarmonia Sacra,
1 to 5pm, followed by a potluck supper at the Associated Mennonite Biblical
Seminary, Chapel of the Word inside Waltner Hall, 3003 Benham Avenue,
Elkhart, Indiana. Books available for loan or purchase. Contact: Samuel
Perhaps you saw us singing at the Great Lakes Folk Festival? If so, welcome!
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Shape Note singing is a method of sight-reading music, without having to understand the intricacies of musical notation. The relation of pitches to each other is found by using the scale fa sol la fa sol la mi (shapes are shown above in the page header) which is similar to the one we are all familiar with from the film, The Sound of Music, do re me fa sol la ti, except that the first three notes, "do re me" are replaced with "fa sol la" and the ti with mi. Although there are some secular songs written in the shape note style, mostly all the songs are hymns, but a singer does not need to adhere to any religion to sing these hymns, though it can be more moving for a singer if the words have meaning for them.
Shape Note singing in East Lansing
1st and 3rd Monday of the month from 7 PM until 9 PM
Edgewood United Church, 469 N. Hagadorn, East Lansing, just a few blocks North of Grand River.
We meet down the main hall, sometimes the lights aren't on, but keep going, we are there, usually everyone arrives promptly at 7, so if you show up early, we won't be there to greet you.
We sing out of the book called The Sacred Harp, which has been published continuously since the 1840s. The poetry is wonderful; the harmonies glorious, at least when we sing them properly. That is the key to this—we are all singing for fun, not for performance, so we don't always get it "right," but we often do, and it is those moments that make it worth it.
The method by which we sing is to go around the square (we sit in a square with Trebles (sopranos), Tenors, Bass, and Altos each claiming a side), each singer picking a song in turn, calling out the page number. Those people gifted with being able to figure out the pitch of the song sing us know the starting notes (no pitch pipes or pianos)! It is traditional for everyone to sing their part once through, using the shapes, and then we launch into the song—but we don't do it that way. In the South, all singers start in the Tenor section and so they know this part, which is the melody. Since most of us started singing later in life and didn't get to do this, we sing through the Tenor part (singing shapes) first, so everyone has a chance at learning the melody.
Then we sing our individual parts, using the shapes (fa so la fa so la mi fa). After that, the leader, who called the page to sing, identifies the verses that are to be sung, (since the songs often have many verses, we don't often sing them all, so that we can sing more songs) and then beats time (or has someone else do it for them) so that we sing together.We keep chat to a minimum, so we can sing more. If you want to see which songs we sing during an evening, we keep minutes of our local singings and you can view them here:
For more info, call 517-381-1321 (Bob) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A 14 minute 53 second video of a portion of the Mid-Michigan All Day singing, 2010 June 4:
A shape note song from the American Church Harp (1856):
This website maintained by Bob Borcherding, if you have any questions or notice any errors, please email at email@example.com.