Shape Note

Recordings from First Irish Sacred Harp Convention


Today on Facebook, I posted a link to an interview that Bill Kouligas did with Eric Isaacson of Mississippi Records. Something Eric said (in response to Bill asking him about the religious or spiritual lean of much of the labels output) sparked off memories of the feeling of pure joy, ecstasy and love I've gotten from singing Sacred Harp music with friends over the years, an otherworldly sensation that lifts you up out of yourself into something very, awake and raw.

"I definitely think a lot of artists, Christian or not, on our label are channeled into a heavy, unexplainable frequency that I yearn to get closer to. I don’t believe in Christianity by any means—I’m a lifelong Buddhist—but I gotta respect the light that comes out of some of that faith’s music. Spiritual music from any culture is always the best music."

I'd been meaning to share the news for a while now that the 2011 Irish Sacred Harp Convention recordings are now available to stream download on the Cork Sacred Harp Bandcamp page. It's quite extraordinary listening back to these recordings. I'm especially grateful to have a way of reliving one of the most profoundly moving musical experiences of my life. In the tradition of the convention, halfway through the day's singing, we break for 'dinner on the grounds', a huge pot-luck feast we all share together. After the break, it's somebody's responsibility (decided well in advance) to lead the call-back, the song that will get everybody back to their seats and back into action again.

For this, our first convention, it was my responsibility to do the call-back, and I was so incredibly nervous of doing something wrong that I could barely eat. In the usual run of things, there is a keyer who chooses the pitch of every song (or most songs), everybody gets their notes together, holds them, and then the song takes off. In this instance, I was bent over with butterflies made of stone inside me, wondering how I was going to start singing in a room of over a hundred people still eating, drinking and in conversation. So, not knowing that I was supposed to call out the number of the song I wanted to lead, (so that everybody could scramble for their books and take their places) I stood in the middle of the hollow square and began to belt it out, not knowing what was going to happen next. Everyone was caught a little off guard but within seconds, the wave of voices that swept over me was like nothing I've ever experienced.

I love so many things about this recording. I can hear the nervous waver in my voice, I smile at the the uneven pause between verses, and melt into the recognisable timbres of so many friends voices. I remember relaxing into the moment, being carried by so many people who were all singing for their lives during that song. The strength of it was something else. Sacred Harp is a music that makes me feel the total weight of despair, as well as the utter joy of being alive and I hope to stay tuned into the unexplainable frequency for as long as I live.


The following is a repost from the website.

Complete First Ireland Convention Recordings Online

Our own 4-track audio recordings of the first Ireland Sacred Harp convention (March 5th & 6th, 2011) have finally been mixed, edited and sent out into world.

The results can be found on our brand-new Bandcamp page. There, virtually every single unique song that was sung over the weekend can be heard. The tracks have been compiled such that each day of the convention is presented in album form, with the songs listed in the same order in which they were called.

Both “albums” can be downloaded in their entirety, for free, and in an array of high-quality file formats. Alternatively, individual songs can be streamed directly from the page itself.

It goes without saying that this first Ireland convention was very special for us and the recordings help rouse some truly fond memories. It means a lot to be able to share them with wider community. All going well, the videos will follow before long.

Now… Go! Listen!