How to hold a Scarèd Harp sing.

So, you want to hold a Scarèd Harp sing, but you don't know how? It's easier than you might think!

(If you do hold a Scarèd Harp sing, please let me know how it went!)

Rehearsal vs. "Sing"

I like the idea of scheduling two separate sessions: first, hold a "rehearsal" session of perhaps one to two hours during which individual parts will be taught. After a break (or possibly the next day), hold a "sing" session in which the songs are sung without any teaching or or rehearsing. This approach ensures that beginners get the practice they need, and experienced singers can participate without getting bored. If any one session runs more than an hour, schedule a 5 or 10 minute break in the middle.

Room Setup

Arrange chairs in a "hollow square" or in concentric circles so that all the singers are facing the center. Allow enough room so that people can stand up, and easily get in and out. Where you put the four parts (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) isn't important as long as everyone that's singing the same part is seated together. If you use a hollow square, each side of the square should contain one of the parts. The traditional arrangement is (going clockwise) soprano (treble), tenor, bass, alto.

The hollow square or circle is a key part aspect of both The Scarèd Harp and The Sacred Harp. The singers are not singing for an audience, or for a director, but for themselves and each other.

If you're using a keyboard for going over parts, place it in or near the center of the square or circle of chairs so that everyone can hear it equally well.


Before singing any songs or going over any parts, do the following:
  1. Make sure everyone has water, or knows where to get it. Water should be available in the room. Keeping hydrated is one of the most important things you can do for your voice (not to mention the rest of your body).
  2. Do some stretching and deep breathing. Question: what part of your body do you use when you sing? Answer: all of it!
  3. If you choose, mark the beginning of the session with a short prayer or other ritual.
  4. Do some vocal warmups. Somebody there will certainly know some. Make sure everyone is singing "ah" with wide open mouths. Spend about 10% of your session time doing warmups, unless everyone already warmed up earlier the same day.

Learning the Parts

It's ideal to have someone with at least enough keyboard skills to play at least one part at a time, if not all four together. If you have a few good sight-readers on each part (or people who already know their parts), then the keyboard is less important. In the absence of a piano, a flute or recorder could be used instead. It's important to have some sort of pitch reference so that you're singing at least close to the right key; otherwise half the singers will be trying to sing too high or too low.

Here's one formula for success:

  1. Go over the melody first (soprano or tenor, depending on the song). Sing it through once or twice.
  2. Go over the bass part once or twice.
  3. Have just the melody and bass parts sing together.
  4. Go over the highest part that hasn't already been sung (i.e. soprano or alto).
  5. Sing that highest part with the melody (just those two parts).
  6. Sing that highest part with the bass (just those two parts).
  7. Wake up the section that hasn't sung yet (tenor or alto) and go over that part once or twice.
  8. Sing that last part with the melody (just those two parts).
  9. Sing that last part with the bass (just those two parts).
  10. Put 'em all together and sing one verse!

If the singers are good, you can try just going over each individual part once or twice and then putting them all together. In any case, after singing the first verse with all four parts, stop and ask if anyone wants to go over any parts. Then run through the whole song. Here are some other points to keep in mind:

Leading Songs

Don't worry about directing technique. After making sure that everyone has their starting note, set the beat for one or two measures by counting out loud, accompanied (if you like) by some clear arm motion giving the beat. In the Sacred Harp tradition, beats are given simply by moving one arm up and down. At the beginning of each verse, use some hand and arm motion to help everyone start together. Move your whole arm, not just your hand, so that everyone can see it clearly.

This page was last updated on 22 July 2003. Home