The ‘Sacred Harp’ referred to in Sacred Harp music is the human voice. And Sacred Harp Music really gives it a workout. It has a unique sound. That sound comes from the way it is put together.
Mark Davis is the Chairman of the Mississippi Sacred Harp Convention.
“The Hymns in the Sacred Harp are what we call dispersed harmony," said Davis. "In each of the four parts there is almost a melody in itself. And then those four parts are put together to create the sound you hear at a singing.”
Gordon Cotton, the retired curator of the Old Courthouse Museum in Vicksburg said it took him a time or two to get used to the sound of Sacred Harp music.
“The first time I ever heard it, it was south Alabama," said Cotton. "I took my mother home. We got to this country church. I heard this noise. I said, 'What on earth is that?' And mother says that’s the old Harp Singing. I thought it was the weirdest thing I had ever heard in my life for a little while. Then after I got over the novelty of it I realized the beauty of it.”
A part of the beauty of it isn’t just its sound but the instant camaraderie among the participants. Fellowship may be a better term. But strangers are strangers no more once they take their place inside the square and start to join voices with all the others.
Bryan Harris is here from Boston. He participates in singings in New England. He says each singing is different, yet it’s also the same.
Every time it’s a different space, right? Because there are different people, just whoever comes," said Harris. "I’d say more people here are rooted in this area, this region, for sure. The square sort of forms itself and you can keep it. It will never be the same, but you know you can come to it wherever it is.”
The unusual music pouring forth from inside the Old Courthouse Museum last weekend is a piece of the past that has followers in the present and reminds us humans that there is a part of us that is sacred.
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