08 May 2012

Sacred Harp in Belfast

Thanks to Barton Creeth in Belfast for this announcement by the new Belfast Sacred Harp singing group, which also provides a good introduction to the Sacred Harp tradition. The link is to the group's Facebook page; a website is in preparation.

We are looking for singers to help us build a Shape Note/Sacred Harp community in Belfast. Sacred Harp is an American folk choral tradition with strong Ulster roots and has become a fixture of cultural life in both Dublin and Cork. It brings communities together to sing four-part hymns and anthems and is proudly inclusive and democratic — all voices and all abilities are welcome, always.

Belfast Sacred Harp was formed a year ago and has continued to grow and develop. Our first event was a three-day weekend of workshops and singing at All Souls near Queen’s. It was attended by more than fifty people from Ireland, the UK, and America. We currently sing at St Polycarp’s church up on the Lisburn Road, but plan to move into the Crescent Arts Centre at the end of the summer.

The tradition brings in a varied group of people who sing together in harmony. People of all faiths and no faith at all gather to sing some of the oldest surviving American hymnody. Punk rockers, folkies, Amish, Jewish, classically trained musicians, priests, and metal heads all raise their voices together. Because of its loud dynamics and fast rhythm, Sacred Harp composer Judy Hauff refers to the tradition as the 'heavy metal of the nineteenth century'.

The focus of Sacred Harp singing is community participation and not performance. There are no rehearsals and no separate seats for an audience. First-time singers and lifelong veterans sing next to each other to create a sound that some describe as raw, crude, or primal. During an all-day singing, participants share a meal together known as 'dinner on the grounds'. This potluck meal reflects the hospitality and togetherness that is at the heart of the tradition.

Our vision for Belfast Sacred Harp is to build an inclusive and supportive community of singers that will work together to make beautiful a cappella music, host singing conventions, participate in events across Ireland and the UK, and provide opportunities for people to learn how to sing and read music.

We hope you will join with us to give life to the Sacred Harp tradition here in Belfast!

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