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Church embraces old singing style

Posted: May 1, 2013 - 12:14am

A local church this weekend will celebrate a deep-rooted American tradition: Sacred Harp singing.

Using only melodies denoted by “shape notes,” Sacred Harp is a form of singing hymns a cappella. Old Line Primitive Baptist Church, at 3646 Old Petersburg Road in Martinez, will celebrate the singing style from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 4.

The free event will give participants the opportunity to sing along or just sit and listen, and begins with a lesson in Sacred Harp singing for beginners.

A covered dish lunch will be served at noon, with singing to follow from 1-3 p.m.

The singing gets its name from The Sacred Harp, a hymnal that has 100 hymns written in shape notes, said Agnes Roberts, a member of Old Line Primitive Baptist.

The Sacred Harp is used there because the instrument that we use is our mouth to sing sacred songs to the Lord,” she said.

Roberts said there is no musical accompaniment, but the songs are broken into four-part harmony. The singers in these four musical parts sit in what she calls the “hollow square.” There, they sing hymns, led by members sitting in each section.

Roberts, 89, said she has been a part of these singings her entire life.

“My mother and daddy were big Sacred Harp singers and we sang it at home,” she said. “I used to go with them to singings, of course, and I would sit on the front seat with my dad and sing my little heart out.”

As she got older, Roberts said, she started going to a singing in Savannah, Ga., with her sister.

In 2010, Roberts said she started coordinating with the Savannah singing group to hold an all-day singing at Old Line Primitive Baptist Church. This is the only singing in the Augusta area.

Anyone who wants to come and sing or just to listen is welcome, Roberts said.

“It’s an old, old practice that was starting to phase out a little bit,” she said. “But now it’s taking on a lot more people.”

Roberts attributed the practice’s rise in popularity to being featured in such films as Cold Mountain and being a part of festivals including the Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C. Now, Sacred Harp singings have begun cropping up all over the United States and in England and Ireland.

For more information about the event and about Sacred Harp singing, email Roberts at Aglarob@bellsouth.net or Joyce Heath at Joyce.d.heath@gmail.com.

IF YOU GO

What: Sacred Harp singing

Where: Old Line Primitive Baptist, 3646 Old Petersburg Road, Martinez

When: 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 4

Cost: Free

More: Email aglarob@bellsouth.net or joyce.d.heath@gmail.com

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