From LSH singer Rebecca Over:
To learn to sing Sacred Harp the only book that you need is a songbook. In London we sing from “The Sacred Harp 1991 Edition”. This is the latest revision of our songbook, the first edition of which was published in 1844. In addition to the songs it also includes a Rudiments section, containing practice exercises, advice and guidance about how to learn. Coming to Sacred Harp as a non-sight-reader I found this section particularly useful for study and practice at home. In London we have plenty of loaner books available at evening singings and singing schools, so you don’t even need to buy a songbook until you are sure that you want to.
The best way to learn and to practice Sacred Harp singing is to attend as many singing schools and singings as you can. The various annual sessions of Camp Fasola, both in the USA and Europe, provide the most wonderful opportunities for intensive learning and study of the singing and aspects of its history for singers at all levels, from beginners to the most experienced.
Some of you may find yourselves wondering about the history of our book and its songs, the lives of our composers or other aspects of Sacred Harp tradition. For you there are a number of excellent books available for further reading. The list below contains details of those that may be the most useful to newcomers.
The comments and opinions are mine alone. They are made in the context of being a relatively recent comer to Sacred Harp, having discovered it at a local singing school in the spring of 2009, who has at the time of writing twice travelled to sing and undertake research in both Alabama and Georgia (including one trip of almost two months).
“The Makers of The Sacred Harp” by David Warren Steel with Richard H. Hulan
Published in 2010.
ISBN: 978-0-252-03567-8 (hardback)
ISBN: 978-0-252-07760-9 (paperback)
This book includes biographies of all the Sacred Harp composers who have songs in the 1991 Edition of our book, biographies of some of the writers of the poetry and comprehensive information about the origins of the music and words of the songs. There are also chapters about the origins of the Sacred Harp, its history, some musical families and much more. If you ever find yourself wondering, as I did, “who was that composer, where and when did they live?” this is the book for you.
“The Sacred Harp – A Tradition and Its Music” by Buell E. Cobb Jr.
Originally published in 1978, published again in 1989 with an added Preface written in 1988.
ISBN: 0-8203-2371-3 (1989 edition – paperback)
This book provides an immensely valuable guide to the Sacred Harp tradition, its songbooks, its singers and its songs. In addition to chapters about the tradition and the music there are also others on the background and early history, the revisions, and the conventions as well as information about some of the singing families. Forty songs are included in an appendix.
“Travelling Home – Sacred Harp Singing and American Pluralism” by Kiri Miller
Published in 2008.
ISBN: 13 978-0-252-03214-1 (hardback) and ISBN: 10 0-252-03214-4 (hardback)
This book contains accounts of Kiri’s visits to singings and discussion with singers, undertaken in the course of her research. These included visits to many singings between 1997 and 2005 and discussions with lifelong singers. When I was nervously preparing for my first visit to Alabama in 2011 this was the book that I found to be the most useful, with its many details of how singings in the southern American states are conducted.
“I Belong To This Band, Hallelujah! – Community, Spirituality and Tradition among Sacred Harp Singers” by Laura Clawson
Published in 2011.
ISBN: 13 978-0-226-10958-9 (hardback) and ISBN: 10 0-226-10958-5 (hardback)
ISBN: 13 978-0-226-10958-6 (paperback) and ISBN: 10 0-226-10959-3 (paperback)
In this book the author focuses on four communities of singers and their singings. In the southern states these are west Georgia (in particular the singings at Holly Springs Primitive Baptist Church, near Bremen) and the Sand Mountain area of Alabama (in particular the singings at Liberty Baptist Church, near Henagar). In the northern states the communities are Chicago, Illinois and Minneapolis, Minnesota. The book contains detailed accounts of the author’s visits to singings, her discussions with singers and an account of the experiences of those singers involved in the making of the film “Cold Mountain”. This would be another useful book for anyone planning a first trip to singings in the USA.
“The Chattahoochee Musical Convention, 1852 to 2002 – A Sacred Harp Historical Sourcebook” edited by Kiri Miller
Published in 2002
ISBN: 1-887617-13-2 (paperback)
In this book Earl Thurman’s history of the Chattahoochee Convention from its beginning in 1852 to its Centennial in 1952 is reproduced in full, along with selections from the Record Books, Minutes and related newspapers and documents of the time. In a section entitled “Remembering the Chattahoochee Convention” there are transcripts of letters from and interviews with singers, collected and conducted by Kiri Miller and John Plunkett to celebrate the 150th year of the convention in 2002. It contains a wealth of historical information, both about the Convention and many prominent families of Georgia singers. The Chattahoochee Convention, where some of the finest singing in Georgia can be experienced for yourselves, continues to this day on the first Sunday in August and the Saturday before.
“Legacy of the Sacred Harp” by Chloe Webb
Published in 2010
ISBN: 978-0-87565-416-4 (paperback)
This book describes the path of the line of the Dumas family of Sacred Harp singers and composers to which the author belongs. These include Edmund Dumas, composer of eleven songs in our book. It is a personal memoir, describing in fascinating detail the author’s travels in her search to know her family and their ancestors.
“A Sacred Feast – Reflections on Sacred Harp Singing and Dinner on the Ground” by Kathryn Eastburn
Published in 2008
ISBN: 978-0-8032-1831-4 (hardback)
This book describes the author’s experiences at singings in Southwest Texas (McMahan), Alabama (Birmingham and Henagar) Colorado (Seattle, Boulder and Colorado Springs) and South Georgia (Hoboken). It focuses on her meetings with singers and contains a host of recipes collected from them. This book would be particularly useful to anyone interested in the important culinary aspect of Sacred Harp singing and the tradition of “dinner on the grounds”.