Cork Sacred Harp convention show an old American art form is alive and well

Sacred Harp singers at Cork convention

A lesser known style of singing takes place at a Cork convention every year and sees groups of singers perform songs a cappella in the ‘Sacred Harp’ style that developed in the southern states of the USA.

The Sacred Harp singers in Cork have mastered the art of ‘Sacred Harp’ singing which became popular in the mid-19th century.

They have an annual convention which sees singers performing in a beautiful and slightly haunting style which evokes the religious history that it originated from.

Sacred Harp singers at Cork convention

Sacred Harp is a choral style of singing that is associated with Protestants in the American south. The name comes from the historical tune book ‘The Sacred Harp’ which was published in 1844.

However, the style of singing is much older having originated in New England in the late 1700s.

It is unlike regular music in the sense that the singers don’t follow musical notes that most musicians would understand.

Instead singers are guided by musical ‘shape notes’ which appear on a sheet of music as normal notes but are in various shapes which represent different pitches. Singers also keep time themselves by beating their hands.

The group of singers form a circle and face inwards where there will be one or more singers who lead the rest of the group. All singers are usually invited to take turns in leading the group.

The style became popular in 1700s southern USA as it encouraged congregational and community singing and celebrating the human voice.

This video, which was taken at the Sacred Harp convention in 2017 sees Dara Desmond leading the singers.

In this performance the group is led by Marjorie and Alison Brown

Mike Morrisroe led the group in this video

This performance was led by Caro Stamm-Reusc.

For more videos visit CorkSacredHarp YouTube channel

Categorized as Blog

By Michael Kehoe

Michael Kehoe is a writer for Irish Music Daily and Ireland Calling. His favourite Irish Music bands are Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys.