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Christy Catherine Marshall

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November 7, 2005

I had a fascinating experience yesterday, and of course want to share it with you. Our family went to a Sacred Harp Singing in an old country church a few miles from here. My husband’s brothers and their wives met us there, along with his parents — so it was quite an outing.

Have you heard of Shape Note Singing? Well, if you haven’t, you’ll have to follow some of the links and listen to it. There’s nothing in the world like it. When I was dating my husband, we went to church with his grandparents out in the country, and I first heard it.

Yesterday, when we arrived at the church, everyone was taking a break from the morning singing and had gathered outside for a potluck lunch. After the meal, the group headed back into the church — except me. I stayed outside to finish feeding our baby — and to be honest, I dreaded going inside. I just knew that our two-year-old was going to be wiggling in the pews, and I thought — why even go inside? It’s so nice out here — the weather, the trees turning colors, the quiet. Plus, there were over a hundred people I didn’t know inside — so why go?

Well, my husband came out a little later and told me, “You just have to come inside. You’ll love it. The kids are all sitting still. Really.”

So, I did. And it was absolutely amazing. I heard some of the most beautiful singing I’ve ever heard in my life — there’s no accompanying music, only voices. The room was full of people of all ages — children through people in their 90s. And it’s SACRED music — taken straight from the Bible.

Here’s an intro from

Sacred Harp singing is the largest surviving branch of traditional American Shape Note Singing. “Sacred Harp” refers to The Sacred Harp, a book first published in 1844 and continuously updated since. Along with other hymn books from the era, its repertoire of 550 4-part a cappella hymns, odes, and anthems is part of the foundation of a vibrant oral tradition handed down since Colonial times and still practiced at hundreds of annual singing meetings, conventions, and local singing groups throughout the country.

If you want to see what a page of Shape Notes look like, follow this link. Here’s a picture that shows what it looks like when a person is leading the music. We were surrounded by wooden beams in the interior of the church we visited — so we really felt like we’d stepped back in time 150 years — except electric lights and ceiling fans kept the room comfortable.

The Pilgrim Production site allows you to listen to several songs, and let me recommend one of the most beautiful, “Lloyd.” This song (which I’m listening to now as I write) has special meaning for our family. It was truly one of the highlights of my life back in March when my husband’s brother married his beautiful (long-awaited!) bride, and she proceeded down the aisle to this song. The ceremony took place in the antebellum home where my husband grew up, in which another one of his brothers and wife live now.

Before the bride entered the room, my two oldest daughters prepared her path by gracing the wooden floors with pink rose petals taken from the silver baskets they carried. Then we all listened to this song as we watched my new sister-in-law come down the aisle. Perfect beauty!

My husband says the man who wrote this song fell asleep and dreamed he’d entered heaven and heard this. When he woke up, he wrote it down. I hope you can listen to it — and come back to it whenever your spirits need a lift.

“Music is a God-given faculty that by sounding its melody and harmony opens the doors to human hearts and souls and brings man back to his first relationship with God,” writes Ruth Denson Edwards in her introduction to The Sacred Harp songbook.

She continues, “It is the sweet union which keeps men in close relation with the hearts of men while they live in the world and which will strike the sweet chords in that spirit land where mortality does not enter and where spiritual songs are sung throughout Eternal Ages.”

Job 38:6-7 says, “What holds up the pillars that support the earth? Who laid the cornerstone of the world? In the dawn of that day the stars sang together, and the heavenly beings shouted for joy.”

Yesterday, I think I may have experienced a tiny inkling of what that magnificent chorus may have sounded like.

By: Heather Ivester in: Faith | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

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