Once again the haunting sounds of centuries-old shape note singing will be heard in the Missouri Valley.
On Saturday and Sunday, March 8 and 9, singers from near and far will gather at St. John’s United Church of Christ on Highway 94 in Pinckney Township for the Annual Missouri State Sacred Harp Singing Convention.
Singers of this early American form of singing love to come to this 1870s church building because of its wonderful acoustic qualities and because it is reminiscent of the churches of Colonial New England where this style of music originated and of the rural Southern churches where it was lovingly preserved.
Everyone who attends a Shape Note singing is welcome to sing — although “listeners” are also welcome. Whether singing or listening, attendees will have the opportunity to experience “full voiced” a cappella singing consisting of dispersed harmony and haunting lyrics.
Although this music was first introduced to assist congregational singing in Colonial America, nowadays it has no denominational ties. Singers come from a variety of belief backgrounds — including some who claim no formal religious ties.
The appeal of this music transcends denominations and all singers feel enriched by it.
Shape note music originated as a way to help people with no musical training to enthusiastically sing in parts — and without the benefit of organ, piano or other music instruments.
Shape Note singers travel across the country — and beyond — to attend conventions in various areas. Singers from Missouri, for example travel to numerous states and even other countries to participate in their Shape Note conventions.
Recently some Missouri Shape Note singers traveled to sing in Poland and Ireland. In addition to singers from the various Midwest states, singers attending this year’s Missouri Convention will come from as far away as Georgia, Alabama, New York and Colorado.
They all will sing from “The Sacred Harp,” first published in 1844, and from “The Missouri Harmony,” first published in 1820. Copies of both books will be available for use at the convention or for purchase.
Recordings of previous Sacred Harp Singing Conventions will be available for purchase.
Singing will be from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. both days, with the customary pot-luck style “Dinner on the Grounds” at noon. In the South, these meals are often shared outside. At St. John’s, the meals will be “spread” inside the church’s fellowship building.
Local attendees (both singers and listeners) bring various food dishes for all to share. When reflecting on conventions in which they have participated, Sacred Harp singers remember the music, the friendships and the shared meal.
There is no admission charge but a free-will offering will be received during the course of the convention. Contributions of food dishes for the “dinner on the grounds” are also gratefully accepted.
St. John’s United Church of Christ is located approximately 12 miles west of Marthasville on Highway 94. Contact the Rev. Jeanne Lischer, 636-932-4646, for directions, or visit http://tinyurl.com/pinckney for a map.