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Shape note singing, labeled as such because the musical notation uses note heads in 4 distinct shapes to aid in sight-reading, has been an American tradition dating back to 1801 (with a history extending back through the Renaissance). In this region, one can still attend “singings,” where groups will sing from the Sacred Harp or other tune books, including The Christian Harmony, known as the “Carolina” book.

MCD3663, available in the Maxwell Music Library, is from a May 7, 2005 singing, recorded in Harper Hall. For more information on shape note singing, including a schedule of local singings, visit There are several resources available on shape note singing in the Furman Libraries. The Special Collections also holds a video of a 1998 singing, and an 1849 copy of The Southern Harmony.

Categories: Featured Listening