Airdate: Nov 20, 2000
Scientist: David Lee
Shape-note Singing: Intro
Shape-note, a form of a cappella hymn-singing that began in colonial New England, is still a way of life in some parts of the Southeast.
music: "Canaan Land" - Hoboken Church
The hymn we're listening to is being sung in a style called Shape-note or Sacred Harp. It's a way of reading music and singing that started in New England 200 years ago. And today, southeastern Georgia is one place where they're not only still singing Shape-note, they're living it. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by DuPont.
"Shape-note singing is a way of life, and it's a way of communicating."
David Lee of Hoboken, Georgia, is a fifth-generation Shape-note singer.
"We sing anywhere that we're together, whether it be a funeral, a wedding, a baptism, a group of people around a dining room table, beside the river, or at formal announced sings, where we either meet at someone's home or we meet at a public place like the schoolhouse."
The Shape-note tradition is so-named because of the unconventional way the music is written -- for singers who can't necessarily read music.
"Each note on the scale is given a different shape so that we can tell the difference in them. There's eight notes on the scale, the first one is a triangle called fa, or the key note. And then we also have a round note called sol and a square note called la and a diamond shape called mi. Each of those shapes tells us where we're at on the scale, so all we have to do is read the shape to know how to sing together. This style of singing requires that you have more and more people, and the more people that you can have there singing together, the better it sounds."
We'll hear more on Shape-note singing, in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is presented by DuPont, bringing you the miracles of science, with additional support provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. I'm Jim Metzner.