Their voices rise and fall in raw harmonies, sometimes breaking off into rounds. The acapella tunes bring to mind old-time church revivals of the early 1900s, but these singers are keeping the tradition of sacred harp alive even today.
Don and Julianne Wiley have been participating in sacred harp for almost 20 years. Julianne describes it as an experience like no other.
“(It’s) a huge wave of sound that just picked me up, bowled me over, pulled me way down and then picked me up again,” she said. “Wow.”
Sacred harp, also called shape note singing, is a community activity open to experienced and inexperienced singers alike. Singers sit in a hollow square formation with one voice part on each side. The square allows the singers to hear one another and also emphasizes that they are their own audience.
The music itself comes from nineteenth century hymnals. Every hymn has four voice parts. Each note of the scale is marked with a different shape to help new singers sight-read the music. Learning the shapes is often easier than learning to read music. At group sings, anyone interested can chose to lead a song. The group will first sing through the shape notes, and then add the lyrics.
Julianne said, “You won’t easily find contemporary hymns which have the vocabulary, the complexity, or the emotional range, caroming from frank fear-and-trembling to outright exaltation as these hymns.”
Shape note singing gained popularity in East Tennessee in the mid-1800s and remained popular through the 1930s. People from around the region would meet for all-day sings. It was a good opportunity for members of different communities and churches to get together. The Harp Singers’ Review, a monthly magazine for the shape note community, was published in Greeneville in the 1910s and ‘20s.
Today, small groups still meet all over the region to participate in sings. One group meets at the Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area every third Sunday at 2 p.m. and another meets at Greeneville Cumberland Presbyterian Church every fourth Sunday at 3 p.m. These groups will also participate in larger sings together, still making shape note singing a great way to meet people from other communities.
While the sacred harp music usually is known for the unusual shapes of the notes, it’s the lyrics combined with the harmonies that make this music so special to the singers.
“It’s not good just because it’s old. It’s good, well, because it’s good,” Don said. “It is one hundred percent democratic. Everyone is equal in the hollow square. It allows us to give voice to our deep beliefs and emotions. We can sing words to each other that we might not be able to express otherwise.”
Terry Bowerman has been raising bees for almost 35 years. His interest began when he and a friend took a bee biology class at University of California at Davis. They decided to go into the bee business together, at one point having 400 hives.
“They’re really fascinating creatures,” Bowerman said.
The hives are made out of wooden frames inside a box. The bees naturally use the frames as a foundation for their honeycombs.
Bees can be raised for their honey, or used to help pollinate crops. Bowerman said his bees had been used to pollinate almonds. “Some people like to eat pollen for their health,” he said. But mainly, bees are raised to produce honey.
“The key to honeybee keeping is to stimulate the queen to start laying eggs in winter,” he explained. This will mean more bees will be collecting at the early possible date in the spring, thus producing more honey. Bowerman uses a two body hive so he can rotate the bodies. This gives the queen enough room to keep producing eggs.
Calling all growers interested in producing for public schools and other institutional markets!
Come to a workshop on Oct 17 from 6 to 9 at Tusculum View Elementary School in Greeneville, TN.
Learn about Good Agricultural Practices and what is necessary to qualify. Click here for more information.