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What is Sacred Harp singing?

Sacred Harp is a proudly inclusive and democratic part of our shared cultural heritage. All events welcome beginners and newcomers, with no musical experience or religious affiliation required – in fact, the tradition was born from colonial “singing schools” whose purpose was to teach beginners to sing and our methods continue to reflect this goal. Though Sacred Harp is not affiliated with any denomination, it is a deeply spiritual experience for all involved, and functions as a religious observance for many singers. Sacred Harp “singings” are not performances. There are no rehearsals and no separate seats for an audience. Every singing is a unique and self-sufficient event with a different group of assembled participants.

Why is it called “Sacred Harp”?

Technically, our style of singing is “shape note singing” because the musical notation uses note heads in 4 distinct shapes to aid in sight-reading, but it is often called “Sacred Harp” singing because the books that most singers use today are called “The Sacred Harp.” The term “sacred harp” refers to the human voice – that is, the musical instrument you were given at birth.

Sacred Harp: An introduction to Shape Note Singing


Pleasance Crawford and the Toronto Shape Note Group invite you into the powerful, and inclusive world of shape note singing – the uniquely American tradition which has brought communities together since the 18th century.

Learn how to read shape note notation and sing along to these historic, stirring hymns and anthems.

Music Learning
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