Shape-note music is a living folk-singing tradition with over two hundred years'
history in the United States and with roots that go back centuries before
that. The sound is different than that of any other music, and
the tunes are written in special notes invented to help untrained singers
learn to read music! The music was invented to help people sing in harmony, so you are welcome to sing with us whatever your background.
hundreds of wonderful songs have been composed in this tradition, and many
are still being written today. Developed originally in Revolutionary-era
America from British Isles sources, the tradition lives on in the twenty-first
century in certain southern churches and has spread to many other parts
of the world.
shape-note tradition preserved in such books as The Sacred Harp
(which we use in Omaha) is a capella, four-part harmony music. It
is not the same thing as gospel music, and it is not regular church hymns
printed with different notes. It is its own tradition. (And
by the way, there aren't any harps in The Sacred Harp -- it's all unaccompanied
sound is both rich and stark, ranging from somber to wild. In many
of the wildest songs, all four parts (bass, tenor, alto, and treble) sing
different melody lines with different words, and each part has a melody
that could stand on its own. Nobody is singing "backup." Everybody
gets a good tune, and the four parts merge into something that is beyond
melody. Men and women sing tenor, and men and women sing treble (the
men sing it lower, of course), which creates the feel of six-part harmony.
the songs written in minor keys are sung in the Dorian mode, which gives
them an indescribable haunting quality, especially in songs that contain
another shape-note tradition: the "open chord." To understand
this unique and stirring music, you just have to hear it!
shape-note singing group meets
because we love the music and want to preserve this great tradition.
And our singers include both trained and untrained musicians from a wide variety of backgrounds and philosophies. Many
of the best shape note singers around the U.S. learned through singing
from The Sacred Harp! So to learn the music in a supportive
environment, come and join our group, which meets in St. Vincent's Church
at 51st and Lake Streets in Omaha, Nebraska.