Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Balm for the Spirit

"Sacred Harp just grabbed me, and I thought, this is the music I've been waiting for all my life.” -- Andrew Albers

By Doc Lawrence

DECATUR, GA-The songs are hauntingly beautiful and more than one observer has confessed feeling surrounded by peace. Sacred Harp, often called shaped-note music, is an ancient but living art form. Always performed a cappella, it has deep roots extending back to the 18th century. While it is categorized as a folk music form, be aware that it doesn’t come easy: You have to be taught the techniques to sing it properly.

No lessons are needed to attend a singing and listen. That alone is a wonderful experience.

Singing friends Carol Buche (L) and Laura Densmore
Memorial Day wasn’t a holiday for lessons. Historic Oakhurst Baptist Church (where three visionary men conceived of Habitat for Humanity which was soon born at Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia) provided the venue for spirited harmonies to work wondrous things for the mind, body and spirit. In the middle of the four hours of singing, participants took time to enjoy another Deep South tradition, a covered dish dinner.

Sacred Harp has a unifying quality. Almost magnetically, people come together, often from far away places. Laura Densmore lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania and joined her friend Carol Buche from St, Paul, not to see a Braves game or visit the Georgia Aquarium, but “to sing for a few hours.” They are well schooled in the techniques and warned me that this music can become addictive.

I hope so.

Atlanta Sacred Harp Singers
The first time as an adult I heard Sacred Harp singing was on a Saturday spring morning when the Georgia Sacred Harp Convention was singing en masse at the old courthouse in Decatur. The huge windows were open allowing the songs to soar out. The music worked magic, triggering childhood memories of attending the funeral at an old country church outside Rockmart, Georgia of my great-grandmother who lived during the Civil War. The  ancient uplifting harmonies seemed to defy death.

The origins of Sacred Harp are well documented. With nothing but archetypes to back me, I’ve always felt that it predated the Roman conquest of Western Europe. Go to a local sing, close your eyes and absorb. Something within will stir.

John Plunkett said that everyone is welcome to attend and try singing, but you can just listen which is a terrific experience. Everything is relaxed. and religious or political affiliation is irrelevant. Historically, Sacred Harp singing has been interdenominational.

If you are looking for an experience that lessens the exigencies of daily living, Sacred Harp delivers.

Interested? The Atlanta Sacred Harp Association embraces you with lots of warmth. More information:

NOTE: A vacation idea:

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