Shape-note choir launch

A SHAPE-NOTE choir will be launched on Sunday afternoon at the Undercroft, at St James’s Church.

It will be led by Anglo-American duo Cath and Phil Tyler, following a tradition of full-voice, unaccompanied, four-part harmony singing as practised in the USA for over 200 years.

It has been described as ‘fiercely beautiful’, ‘shout-it-out singing’, ‘stark and haunting’ and ‘like a cross between Gregorian chant and bluegrass’. Shape Note songs feature in the film Cold Mountain.

Local organiser Sally Greaves-Lord says: “If you have ever wanted to sing but not quite got round to it, this might be for you. I go to Newcastle once a month to sing with this lot. There is always someone to hide behind should you not want to be in the front row.

“All are welcome and no experience is necessary to join in with this fabulously gutsy, exuberant singing,” Sally says. “We sing seated.

“It is perfect for anyone who simply wants to sing and doesn’t yet know they can, and always great for those who already know they can sing.

Shape-note music is a living folk-hymn tradition with over 200 years history in the United States and with roots that go back centuries further. The sound is different to any other music, and the tunes are written in special notes invented to help untrained singers learn to read music.

Hundreds of songs have been composed in this tradition, and many are still being written. Developed in revolutionary-era America from British sources, the tradition lives on in the 21st century in southern churches and has spread to other parts of the United States.

The shape-note tradition is a-capella, four-part harmony music. It is not the same as gospel music and it is not regular church hymns printed with different notes. It is its own tradition.

The sound is rich and stark, ranging from sombre to wild. In many of the wildest songs, all four parts (bass, tenor, alto, and treble) sing different melody lines with different words, and each part has a melody that could stand on its own. Nobody is singing backup. Everybody gets a good tune, and the four parts merge into something that is beyond melody.

The choir launch will run from 2-5pm.

No charge will be made and booking is not necessary.

For further details and directions, ring Sally Greaves-Lord on (01723) 352929 or 07505 853822.