Sacred Harp

Sacred Harp singers Saturday at the Cullman County Courthouse.

The Alabama Folk School at Camp McDowell is proud to announce the return of monthly practice Sacred Harp singing to the Walker-Winston County area.

Beginning on May 17, individuals are invited to gather at the Alabama Folk School at Camp McDowell to learn how to sing in the historic and unique Sacred Harp tradition. Singings will start at 6:30 p.m. in Pradat Hall in Miller Commons at Camp McDowell. Sacred Harp singing is a participatory activity where all are welcome. No experience is necessary. Newcomers will not only learn how to sing, but will also learn about the history and culture of Sacred Harp singing. This is a free event. Additional event details, including future singings, are available on Facebook and www.alfolkschool.com.

The Sacred Harp—a historic tune book—was first published in 1844, but comes from an older tradition of shape-note singing—a practice which evolved out of the desire to teach early Americans how to sing. From Amazing Grace (known as New Britain in The Sacred Harp) to Wayfaring Stranger, dozens of contemporary religious and folk songs can trace their lineage through The Sacred Harp.

Singers, hymn and tune writers, and singing school teachers across Walker and Winston County played a crucial role in the development of The Sacred Harp, particularly in the early 20th century. Today, you can visit a monument honoring the Denson Brothers--the "patriarchs of north Alabama Sacred Harp music"--outside the Winston County Courthouse in Double Springs. Singings now take place not only across Alabama and the greater Southeast, but in places as far reaching as the Pacific Northwest, New England, Poland, Australia, and Japan.

“The Sacred Harp Singing tradition is essential to the historic culture of the greater Walker-Winston County area. Local residents should be proud of how this tradition is now enjoyed the world over. We hope that by hosting monthly singings, new folks will be introduced to the tradition and others will rekindle their passion for it,” shared Lisa Marie Ryder, Director of the Alabama Folk School.

Alabama Folk School intern, Rob Dunn, is shepherding the return of monthly Sacred Harp singing to the area. Rob first learned about Sacred Harp during a class while attending Emory University; he participates regularly in singings throughout the region. The Alabama Folk School internship program is funded in part by grants from the Walker Area Community Foundation, the Alabama State Council on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Alabama Folk School (AFS) at Camp McDowell was founded in 2007 to provide the opportunity for people to work creatively with their hands, minds, and spirits and to help preserve Alabama’s cultural heritage. AFS offers multi-day, residential workshops for all levels in folk art and music. AFS is housed at Camp McDowell—a full-service camp and conference center situated on 1,140 acres in Winston County, just an hour from Birmingham.

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