Friday, September 9, 2016

Original Sacred Harp Choir

Sacred  Harp singing, a style named after the hymnbook known as The Sacred Harp, is an unusual and very stylized form of a cappella gospel singing, in which the first verse of the song is performed with solfege syllables (fa, so, la, etc.) before the singers move on the lyrics of the song. The music is written with shaped noteheads; each shape corresponds to a solfege syllable - and the system does not correspond to the standard "classical" system of solfege. The style developed in the earliest days of the United States, and can still be found, especially in the southern states.

Sacred Harp singing was first recorded by the Brunswick record company in a series of sessions in New York in June and July of 1922. Based on contemporary newspaper accounts, the singers were apparently recruited from Texas and Georgia. Sacred Harp singing tends to be slightly rough-hewn, but the singers on the Brunswick recordings sing in a more refined manner, possibly reflecting the tastes of the record company. Brunswick thought enough of these recordings to issue them with a beautiful special label, depicting the shaped notes.

These sessions are notable for the first recording of "Amazing Grace," issued under the title "New Britain." Brunswick 5154, pairing "Greenfield" and "Hallelujah," has remained a more obscure disc; it doesn't appear in any discographies that I have seen.



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