Songs of the Sacred Harp

Joe Manning’s cover story on the philosophy and execution of Sacred Harp, or shape-note singing, runs this week, and he previews three songs in the genre. The following are from the soundtrack to the film “Awake My Soul.”

“Eternal Day” by J.P. Reese
“A great example of both counter-melodies between the four sections, and also fuging (think of “Row Your Boat”). This is a haunting piece.”

“Idumea” by Ananias Davidson
“This is a favorite. The open chord drone is amazing and the way the treble part has to reach makes it feel very vulnerable.”

“Stratfield” by Ezra Goff
“An even better example of fuging. This song is very athletic and showcases the Sacred Harp in it’s potential to be upbeat.”


  1. Martha Henderson
    Posted April 8, 2009 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    What is the title of the CD that these selections come from? It sounds very familiar. (I know that voice saying “383.”)

    You’ve written an excellent article about Sacred Harp singing — one of the best I’ve ever read. Only one thing: The four shapes were invented in 1801, in a book called The Easy Instructor. In the 1880′s, several people tried to invent three more to represent the other syllables do, re, and ti.

  2. Martha Henderson
    Posted April 8, 2009 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    It sounds like Idumea comes from the Cold Mountain CD. I can’t identify the other two, however, except that the voices sound very familiar. What recording(s) are these two songs from?

  3. Bob Meek
    Posted April 8, 2009 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    I think you wrote a darn fine article on the subject. For being a newbie to this you have research it well and pretty much captured the heart of singing. Good Work.

  4. Joe Manning
    Posted April 8, 2009 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    Joe Manning here. These songs were recorded by Matt Hinton who made the “Awake My Soul” Documentary along with his wife Ericka. I am trying to get the names of the singings up on the website. I’m glad you liked the piece Bob, many thanks to you.

  5. Martha Henderson
    Posted April 8, 2009 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    Yes, it was a great article, including some of the images you used. It ascended to the level of artistic writing rather than just straight journalism.

  6. Martha Henderson
    Posted April 8, 2009 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    Yes, it was a great article, including some of the images you used. It ascended to the level of artistic writing rather than just straight journalism. (Who, what, where, when, why, just the facts.)

  7. William M. Hayes
    Posted April 9, 2009 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Outstanding article. Maybe this will draw some more singers into the group. I knew nothing about music – period, and they let me sing with them. It’s a great experience. I’d encourage readers to checkout the Ohio Valley Shape Note Singers’ web site and then join the group at 2:30 PM on the third Sunday of the month in the basement of the Vine St. Baptist church to give a listen or a try. URL for site:

  8. Bob Richmond
    Posted April 11, 2009 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    One of the best newspaper accounts of shape note singing I’ve ever read. I got the link from fasola discussions and passed it on to the oldharp list (see here around Knoxville TN. (We sing from the 1867 seven-note New Harp of Columbia, a slightly different tradition from Sacred Harp.) Listening to the recordings linked to the newspaper article, I think this group would benefit from singing with more experienced singers to the south of OH and KY.

  9. Bob Richmond
    Posted April 11, 2009 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    >>The following are from the soundtrack to the film “Awake My Soul.”<< – Sorry, in my previous post I’d missed this attribution.

  10. Peggy Brayfield
    Posted April 11, 2009 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Anyone interested in hearing more Sacred Harp/shape-note singing, and viewing some of what a singing is like, may check out postings on YouTube. Just run a search using the words Sacred Harp shape note singing. Well over a hundred videos of songs can be found there!

  11. mike hinton
    Posted April 11, 2009 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    What a powerful article! You captured the essence of Sacred Harp singing beautifully. And, you seem to have a personal appreciation of the music and those who have sung it through the ages. It is timeless music and old and new tunes have captured the hearts of minds of singers past and present. Thank you for the time and effort necessary to write such an “awsome” article.
    mike hinton
    San Antonio, TX

  12. Jane Lindsey
    Posted April 15, 2009 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Your description of a cappella spirtual singing and the emotions evoked is right on. I enjoyed the article immensely. As a member of a church that practices a cappella worship it is often hard to convey to people how uplifting and pure this form of music is. You did a good job of presenting this in your article.

  13. Elizabeth Windisch
    Posted April 27, 2009 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Joe, glad you put up some songs with the article.
    Good selections. It gives me chills just thinking about singing them.

    -thanks for the effort.

  14. longley insurance agency
    Posted September 24, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    Riley, whatever man!?!

  15. brian smith
    Posted January 25, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    it is good to see ones enjoy the old songs as i have for many years, 51, i was raised singing the old sacred harp and christian harmony songs, and it has and is still growing today,., in the Idumea song, u will hear old voices that are long past, .my father and many others still carry on singing the old tunes from a times past. if any want dates on our singings this year contact me email.. i will mail u a list of times and dates and motels available near them.

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