Learning to lead Sacred Harp from videos

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When you first start to sing, you may think leading is way beyond you. However, learning how to lead turns out to be a good way to become a better singer, because it forces you to get a sense of the whole tune, and your part in it. When you’re ready to lead, start here!

There are many online videos that show experienced singers leading a class. One way to learn how to lead a song is to watch one of these videos, while you follow the music in the book, mimicking what the leader is doing. Below are four to get you started. (And if you prefer to read about the topic, here’s an in-depth description of how to lead.)

1. Leading in double time

Professional quality video: #332 Sons of Sorrow, 2/4 time, led by Bud Oliver at Holly Springs Church, Bremen, Georgia. Excerpt from “Awake My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp,” a film by Matt & Erica Hinton. You can’t always see Oliver’s hands, but this is still an excellent video with excellent sound quality.

2. Leading in triple time

Professional quality video: #45 top New Britain (Amazing Grace), 3/4 time, led by Richard DeLong, Alpharetta, Georgia, June Singing, 2010. DeLong is a traditional Southern singer. Excerpt from a Newsday video. The actual singing starts about 20 seconds into the video.

3. Leading a fuguing tune

Professional quality video: #276 Bridgewater, 4/4 time, led by Bridgett Hill, at Liberty Church, Henagar, Alabama. Excerpt from “Awake My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp,” a film by Matt & Erica Hinton. Excellent video of leading a fuguing tune.

4. Leading in double time while distracted

Good B&W amateur video: #52t Albion, 4/4 time, led by Jill at the Golden Gate Singing, Berkeley, April 23, 2011. Notice how the tenor front bench keeps the tempo while this experienced singer stops leading for a moment to pick up her child. As a leader, you can always watch the front bench of the tenors — they will carry you through even if you get distracted.

5. Videos of traditional Southern singings

One of the best ways to learn Sacred Harp singing is to watch and listen to traditional Southern singers. One of the best sources for videos of traditional Southern singings is “Sacred Harp Memories” on Vimeo.com. However, be warned that many of the videos are of Cooper book singings — in the Bay Area, we use the Denson book, and the Cooper book (another edition of The Sacred Harp) has some songs that aren’t in the Denson book, and often Cooper book singers sing songs differently than Denson book singers. So here are some videos where they are singing from the Denson book:

Lookout Mountain Convention 1993, a series of 15 videos, beginning here
National Convention 1992, a series of 9 videos beginning here
Midwest Convention 1995 — though this singing was held in Chicago there were many traditional Southern singers — start here and all the videos will play consecutively