Hi - I play in the UK for a West Gallery Quire who use music from the 1750's to 1850's appox.  When they sing unaccompanied they use shape note music - mostly American - and I wonder if there is much use made of shape-notes in the USA.  I would be grateful for any information  as to whether choirs use this - Thanks = Anne

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hi anne - i think shaped-note singing hit its heyday around 150 years ago in the US.  i grew up in a fairly fundamentalist christian denomination, and our "really old" songbooks (published probably in the 1950's from sources about 50 years older than that) actually had shaped note music in, however i don't know that anyone who was alive at the time actually knew how to read those.  i believe the shapes were assigned to tones in a scale in a manner analogous to the solfège system (do - re - mi - la - sol - etc. etc.).  AT ANY RATE my point is i've SEEN shaped notes, but never actually tried puzzling out or using the system myself.  

you might look up "sacred harp singing", which is the modern manifestation of aficionados of that style of a cappella singing.  i do not think they are reading off shaped-note music, but they are singing music that used the shaped notes, back in the day.

Hello Julie - Thank you for all the information.  It is really interesting to hear about the old song books and that it isn;t in common use now.  It is becoming popular here in a specialized group of singers.  They sit on the four sides of the table (Treble/Alto/Tenor/Bass) and use music which is written in shape note and it is very lively and the harmonies are lovely.

Do you play a psaltery?  I did play an alto psaltery for the West Gallery Quire but it was so quiet that I have changed to a treble recorder.  There really isn't any chance to play the psaltery in this area - the South-East - unless you travel a distance.  Probably this wouldn't seem far to you but it is to me!!!!

Anyway, thanks again for getting in touch and telling me about your experience of shape-note = Anne 


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