Minutes of Sacred Harp Singings

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Minnesota Sacred Harp Singing School
with David Ivey

Virginia Street Swedenborgian Church, Saint Paul, Minnesota

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Martha Henderson called the class to order at 9:30 with 59. Steven Schmidgall offered the opening prayer.

David Ivey, our singing school master, explained that he has no musical training other than singing shape-note music. He was fortunate to be born into a Sacred Harp family in Alabama, and to belong to one of the few churches that still sing from the Sacred Harp hymnal. He talked about the history of singing schools, which started in England and came to this country in the 1700s, with the idea of teaching people how to sing for better worship. Singing schools used to last for a week or more, with people meeting every day. Now that everyone is so busy, it’s harder to get a group together for more than a day. Even if you’ve been singing for a long time, you can still learn something new at a singing school.

David went over rudiments of music: pitch, time, accent, notes and scales, the four parts, and time signatures. Especially accent!


Martha Henderson called the class back with 276. David led songs in different time signatures to show how the rhythms feel different. In 2/4 time, which is usually the quickest tempo, the accent is ONE, two. We sang 124 and 145b as examples. The time of 2/2 has the same accent, but slower tempo. Examples: 49t and 70t. The 4/4 time is usually faster than 2/2 and has a primary and secondary accent: ONE, two, *three*, four. Examples: 39t and 155. The 3/2 time is also slow and the accents are ONE, two, *three*. Examples: 73b and 347.


Paul Wyatt brought the class back to order leading 29t. He thanked David for coming to teach us, and for supporting people who want to become traditional singers, even if they haven’t grown up in a Sacred Harp community. Paul also thanked those who had donated money to make this singing school possible, and presented a gift to David for his teaching.

David continued going over time signatures. Examples: 348b and 303, the 3/4 time has the same accents as 3/2 but is faster. Steven Schmidgall offered grace for the noon meal.


David called the class back singing the major and minor scales. We worked on compound time, singing 75 and 74t in 6/4 time, and 378 (t? b?) and 64 in 6/8 time. Both time signatures are beat in two and the accents are ONE, two, three, *four*, five, six. The 6/8 time is lighter and quicker than 6/4.

We also practiced two songs that change time, 417 and 448t; and two songs that can be difficult because of rests or repeat signs, 419 and 550.

David talked about what makes a good leader: preparation, mechanics, and inspiration or connection with the class. Being a good leader takes equal parts humility and confidence. Singers who are not leading have a job to do also: sound your note when the pitch is given; start singing on the first note; keep time; watch the leader and the front bench; and if you’re on the front bench, pay attention and help to keep the class together.


Both old and new singers were offered the opportunity to lead. Leaders: Karen Swenson 454; Jim Goetz 312b; Jenny Mitchell 63; Steve Luttinen 34t; Jeff Richards 159; Lars Christensen 99; Bob Dixon 455; Paul Landskroener 212; Lynn Dixon 163t; Christine Stevens 444; Cathy Lutz 270; Jenny Willard 392; Gordon Olsen 117; Maria Bianchi 47b.

Announcements were given about future singings in Minnesota and in Henagar, Alabama, David Ivey’s home town. Martha Henderson led 46 to close, and Steven Schmidgall gave the prayer which ended our day of learning together.

Chair—Martha Henderson; Secretary—Stacey Berkheimer.