More newcomers this week. I asked one of these newcomers how he came to find out about Sacred Harp singing. I didn’t get the full story, but apparently he had seen the book somehow, was interested enough the music that he got the book, then got some of his friends to sing through some of the songs. Early on, he found recordings of Sacred Harp songs by Chanticleer; he knew about field recordings but was less interested in them. (Interestingly, he never found the “Rivers of Delight” album by the Word of Mouth Chorus, or the sound track from the movie “Cold Mountain,” two recordings that have inspired other people to seek out the northern revival of Sacred Harp.) Tonight was the first time he had attended a Sacred Harp singing, but he already owned the book, he had already heard recordings, and he had already started to sing the music. At the same time, he didn’t know about singing the shapes, nor was he familiar with the traditions that go with leading a song — two things that for many Sacred Harp singers are defining elements in the tradition.
In short, his path into Sacred Harp singing resembles the paths taken by the first singers in the northern revival: find the book, get a group of friends together to sing the songs, and only then encounter elements of the tradition like singing the shapes and leading styles.