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
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.
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. We are all singing for fun, not as a performance, so we don't always get it done perfectly, 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, as we pitch it a little lower than concert pitch)!
It is traditional for everyone to sing their part through once together, singing the shapes (that is, the names of the notes), and then we launch into the song.
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 meet down the main hall, outside the Sanctuary. Sometimes the lights aren't on, but keep going, we are, or will be, there, usually everyone arrives promptly at 7, so if you show up early, we won't be there to greet you.