Monthly Sacred Harp Singing Returns to Winston-Walker Counties

The Alabama Folk School at Camp McDowell is proud to announce the return of monthly practice Sacred Harp singing to the Walker-Winston County area.

Beginning on May 17, individuals are invited to gather at the Alabama Folk School at Camp McDowell to learn how to sing in this historic and unique tradition. Singings will be held starting at 6:30 p.m. in Pradat Hall in Miller Commons at Camp McDowell. Sacred Harp singing is a participatory activity where all are welcome. No experience is necessary. This is a free event. Additional event details are available here and on Facebook.

The Sacred Harp—a historic tune book—was first published in 1844, but comes from an older tradition of shape-note singing—a practice which evolved out of the desire to teach early Americans how to sing. From Amazing Grace (known as New Britain in The Sacred Harp) to Wayfaring Stranger, dozens of contemporary religious and folk songs can trace their lineage through The Sacred Harp.

Needlework by Ethel Wright Mohamed, "Sacred Harp Singing"

Needlework by Ethel Wright Mohamed, "Sacred Harp Singing"

Singers, hymn and tune writers, and singing school teachers across Walker and Winston County played a crucial role in the development of The Sacred Harp, particularly in the early 20th century. Today, you can visit a monument honoring the Denson Brothers--the "patriarchs of north Alabama Sacred Harp music"--outside the Winston County Courthouse in Double Springs. Singings now take place not only across Alabama and the greater Southeast, but in places as far reaching as the Pacific Northwest, New England, Poland, Australia, and Japan.

“The Sacred Harp Singing tradition is essential to the historic culture of the greater Walker-Winston County area. Local residents should be proud of how this tradition is now enjoyed the world over. We hope that by hosting monthly singings, new folks will be introduced to the tradition and others will rekindle their passion for it,” shared Lisa Marie Ryder, Director of the Alabama Folk School.

Alabama Folk School intern, Rob Dunn, is shepherding the return of monthly practice Sacred Harp singing to the area. Rob first learned about Sacred Harp during a class while attending Emory University; he participates regularly in singings throughout the region. The Alabama Folk School internship program is funded in part by grants from the Walker Area Community Foundation, the Alabama State Council on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

"Practice" singings—as opposed to convention or all-day singings—are usually held on a monthly basis. A typical practice singing may include a singing school beforehand, which individuals teach not only about how to sing, but will also teach about the history and culture of Sacred Harp Singing.