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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Awake, My Soul

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of the best shapenote documentary ever made.



All-day Singings
One of the best ways  of experiencing Sacred Harp singing is to come along to one of the all-day singings held up and down the country.  In the UK these days start at any time between 10 am and 11 am, and last until around 4 pm to 4.30 pm. Anyone may attend, whether to participate by singing, or just to listen. These are neither rehearsals nor performances; we sit in a square and sing from whatever book has been chosen for the day, more often than not The Sacred Harp.

The Sacred Harp
contains upwards of 500 different pieces to sing, ranging from simple block harmonies to more complicated fuguing tunes, and from pieces from the South of America to New England. Anyone attending may stand in the centre of the 'hollow square' and lead a song of their choosing, the only rule being that there should be no repetition during the day. The Square is by nature hollow, leaving a space for the leader in the centre, and around which the four singing parts, treble, alto, tenor and bass, sit. It is the custom for the tune to be sung in the tenor part, i.e. the third line of music in each of the staves printed in the book, and on both this and the treble parts, it is quite common for both men and women to sing an octave apart. For those tunes with only three voice parts, altos usually double the bass part. Click on the pictures in the heading above, and you will see all this in action.

The leader, or conductor, will keep time during the chosen piece by beating time with one hand while holding the book in the other. Known as a 'class', the leader has complete control over the singing in that class, and above all has the privilege of experiencing this powerful music from the centre, or vortex, of the room. This can also be seen and felt in the new video 'Awake, My Soul', where singers tell of their feelings and experiences.

The day usually includes a form of remembrance for those unable to attend, either through death or ill-health, and the other part of the proceedings is of course eating lunch, or as often termed in the USA 'dinner-on-the-grounds', or more often in the UK, 'bring-and-share', or 'pot-luck'.  Usually there is no entrance fee, but in order to cover the inevitable costs everyone can contribute according to their means when the hat is passed round.

Everyone is welcome to come and participate, from whatever background they may have, and regardless of their faith or religion, or indeed, lack of it - even though Sacred Harp music is clearly part of the Christian tradition. Whatever, you will find that the music, and the words, have a compelling spirituality. Don't miss the opportunity to experience the compelling power of such music, and the opportunity of making new friends! 


Visit the Calendar of local and other singings to find out what is taking place and where. Below is a reminder of the usual formulae used when calculating dates of future annual singings.

How to work out the dates for future UK Singings.  Try this link.


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.