This is an archive of the UK Shapenote site from 11th January 2020




 United Kingdom Sacred Harp & Shapenote Singing
Front row altosFront row treblesHugh McGraw with the tenor line at DerbySophie MacDougall at Letchworth 2004Front row tenorsFront row basses and altos
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Welcome to Sacred Harp and Shapenote
Singing in the United Kingdom

Sacred Harp Singing

Sacred Harp Singing in the United Kingdom has increased considerably in the past few years, to the extent that there are now numerous monthly Local House Groups, and All-day Singings on at least three out of four weekends every month.

But first, what is Sacred Harp music
A rather longer and more technical explanation can be found here, but essentially it is Shapenote music, an American choral tradition of singing unaccompanied four-part harmony, sometimes referred to as 'sacred folksong' or 'White Gospel' music.

Because Sacred Harp singings are open to anyone to attend, they are not performances, and there are no preliminary rehearsals or practices unless the singing has been advertised as a workshop, or contains a 'singing school' where instruction is given. Singers sit in a hollow square formation with one voice part on each side, all facing inwards so they can see and hear each other. There is therefore no formal audience, and each event tends to have a different group of participants. Having said that, many people know each other well, as they tend to meet up and down the country to sing with each other time and again, thus creating firm bonds of friendship between people with similar enthusiasm and tastes in music.

Beginners and newcomers to any form of community or communal singing are always welcome. Because there has been such increased coverage in the UK press, and in such films as 'Cold Mountain' and 'Lawless', many come to simply to listen to the music. Visitors, whether participants or simply listeners, are always welcome to sit anywhere in the room, but eventually may well be drawn to sing with any one of the four parts - treble, alto, tenor (which is the tune or air) or bass.

Although the words set to the songs are mainly from religious backgrounds, there is no requirement for participants to belong to any church or denomination whatever. Many, however, will find that the music itself is both deeply moving and spiritual.

Nor is musical experience required. The music is written in the same way as it was over 200 years ago in America, where itinerant singing masters taught complete beginners to sing using techniques first conceived in England.

Why is it called Sacred Harp?
Because the musical notation uses note heads in 4 distinct shapes to aid in sight-reading, this style of singing is technically called 'shapenote' singing. However, it is often called Sacred Harp singing because the book that most singers use today is called The Sacred Harp. This name also refers to the human voice; no other instruments are used in this a cappella singing.

The Sacred Harp was just one of more than 100 oblong hymn books published in America. Since 1844 it has been continuously updated, with the present version being the 'Denson' revision of 1991. This book contains over 500 tunes, being hymns, psalms, odes and anthems.

Whilst many of these hark back to the 18th and 19th centuries, there are many living composers still actively writing new tunes within the traditional styles and shape note format. Other shape note books still in use today include Christian Harmony (using a 7-shape notation), New Harp of Columbia, plus several others, including some entirely new collections such as Northern Harmony, Norumbega Harmony, Missouri Harmony, and most recently The Shenandoah Harmony.

What does this music sound like?
The best way to learn about Sacred Harp singing is to sing it yourself by attending annual or local singings. See details of monthly Local House Groups, and All-day Singings by following the links.

There are now many examples of Sacred Harp and Shapenote singing on YouTube, try this link for starters, it leads to pages of such examples, of varying quality!. 

Where can I learn more?

Try the following links to other web pages:

Documentary Film - Awake, My Soul

Matt and Erica Hinton, singers and documentary  filmmakers, completed seven years of production on the first feature length documentary about the Sacred Harp tradition. Visit the film's web site at for trailers, ordering information, previews, photo gallery, and excellent portraits of many long-time singers.

I Belong to This Band: 85 Years of Sacred Harp Recordings
A Companion CD to Awake, My Soul

Read more . . .

Update and latest information
Follow UK Sacred Harp
and Shapenote Singing

Latest news

Edwin and Sheila Macadam have announced their retirement from hosting the UK Sacred Harp and Shapenote website and calendar with effect from 31 December 2019.

NB. Date formulae have been added to calendar dates - please use these when considering adding dates to the Calendar; it helps to prevent clashes of venues, etc.
Please note that, at 3rd Jan 2002, the venue for the London All-Day Singing in October 2002 is now still  to be confirmed.
In 2020 the 3rd Clermont All-Day Singing has moved to the Saturday before the 3rd Sunday in October, ie Saturday 17 October 2020, and there will also be Singing on Sunday 21 June, 12 noon - 3.30 pm.
Newcastle Sacred Harp  now has a new name and a new webite. Visit the new site here.

Singings in
December 2019 & January 2020

Further details as to times, websites, urls, books, etc., can be found on the Calendar page 

26th December 2019
xing Day Christian Harmony Singing in London

St Mary's Church, Elsworthy Road, NW3 3DJ

Contact: Teresa Maguire  Email

1st January 2020
19th Annual New Year's Day Sacred Harp Singing

Mapperley Parish Church, Mapperley, Nr Ilkeston,
Derbys. DE7 6BW

11.15 am - 4.00 pm  Pot luck lunch

Download directions here
Contact: Ted and Helen Brown 
Tel:  01332 768274  Email

Saturday 18 January 2020
2nd Shenandoah Harmony
All-Day Singing
Wandsworth, London

Friday 24 January - Sunday 26 January 2020
Fifth Australian Sacred Harp Convention
Gerringong, Sydney, NSW

After Archiving this website, the new Calendar can still be found on

*** note: https, not http ***

Other dates and information
25th UK Sacred Harp Convention 2020
Will be held at Chellaston, near Derby on Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 September 2020. More information at

Other pages:


This Web Site has been set up for the United Kingdom Sacred Harp and Shapenote Community in order to provide a resource centre for singing in the United Kingdom.  Any correspondence, helpful suggestions and contributions as to content, amendments, additions and new web links should be sent to      Contents of this website © 1998-2019 Edwin and Sheila Macadam, Oxford, United Kingdom.