Shape-note singing makes its way to Eastern Kentucky

LETCHER COUNTY, Ky. (WYMT) - A more than 200-year-old tradition was recently celebrated in the mountains.

Shape-note singing, which goes back to the 1800's is an acapella style of community singing. The first ever event for shape-note singing in Eastern Kentucky happened this weekend in Letcher County.

Organizer of the East Kentucky All Day Singing event, Ben Fink, was introduced to shape-note singing four years ago while living in Minnesota. Fink, who at the time sang classical music, found a shape-note singing group just four blocks from his office.

"I just went there and I was kind of nervous and all these wonderful people just took me in and taught it to me," said Fink. "It is a tradition where people of all walks of life have come together to sing for over 200 years."

Shape-note singing involves people singing based off of shapes in "The Sacred Harp" songbook.

"You start learning how those shapes sound and they correspond to the syllables 'Fa, Sol La, Mi' and you pick it up," Fink said.

Once a person learns the shapes, everyone sings together in a square based on the four parts: the Lead, the Treble, the Bass and the Alto.

Fink said, "We all sing, 'Fa, Sol, Sol, Sol, La, Sol, Sol, La, Sol, La, La, Sol, Fa, Fa, La' and it's all in the music and so you get your part, and then you go back and you sing the hymn text."

Shape-note singing, Fink said is something anyone can start, quickly catch on to and join in the community.

"We are singing our love of God and even for those that are not religious in it, we're singing for the love of something greater than ourselves, which is this community, and this tradition and whatever other forces have brought us together," said Fink.

One woman from Neon, Kentucky, Delores Holbrook, just started shape-note singing a few months ago but said she enjoyed the meeting new people.

"It's funny that when you meet somebody that you never saw before and you can just join in with perfect harmony with the shape note singing, it opens the door to be able to meet with them, talk with them, get to know new people," Holbrook, Participant, East Kentucky All Day Singing said.

A shape-note singing group formed in Letcher County about a year and a half ago. It's free and open to anyone who would like to join. The group meets three times to sing every month.

For more information visit the Whitesburg Shape-Note Singing Facebook Page.

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