Category Archives: Sacred Harp

The Cleansing Fountain


Written by William Cowper in 1772, in many hymnbooks known as “There is a Fountain.”  The three verses sung here:

There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.
And when this feeble, faltering tongue 
Lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song, 
I’ll sing His power to save.
Thou dying Lamb, thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power,
‘Till all the ransomed church of God
Are Saved to sin no more.
The two leaders in the video are well known in Sacred Harp singing circles, David Lee of Hoboken, GA and Syble Wooten Adams of Adler, AL.

Sure Provisions

Written by Isaac Watts in 1719, a paraphrase of Psalm 23, and the tune titled “Resignation” in Southern Harmony, and “Irwinton” in Sacred Harp.

My Shepherd will supply my need: Jehovah is His name:
In pastures fresh He makes me feed, Beside the living stream.
He brings my wandering spirit back, When I forsake His ways;
And leads me, for His mercy’s sake, In paths of truth and grace.

When I walk through the shades of death Thy presence is my stay;
One word of Thy supporting breath Drives all my fears away.
Thy Hand, in sight of all my foes, Doth still my table spread;
My cup with blessings overflows, Thine oil anoints my head.

The sure provisions of my God Attend me all my days;
O may Thy house be my abode, And all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest, While others go and come;
No more a stranger, nor a guest, But like a child at home.

From the 2017 Sacred Harp Convention in Germany:


How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds

This is one Sacred Harp hymn that is recognizable to many of us who grew up singing traditional hymns in church.  Titled Ortonville in Sacred Harp books, my 1991 edition includes an epigraph referencing Song of Solomon 1:3, “Thy name is as ointment poured forth.”

How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
In a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fears, and drives away his fears.

It makes the wounded spirit whole,
And calms the troubled breast;
’Tis manna to the hungry soul,
And to the weary rest, and to the weary rest.

Dear Name! the rock on which I build,
My shield and hiding place;
My never-failing treasury filled
With boundless stores of grace, with boundless stores of grace.

Text by John Newton, 1779
Tune by Thomas Hastings, 1837

And here it is sung to the tune St. Peter.

Ortonville is the tune I remember best from childhood, but some churches I attended used the St. Peter one.

Conflict and Forgiven


Yesterday at our monthly Sacred Harp sing we sang this song (appropriately titled), unfamiliar to most of us.  It was from Shenandoah Harmony, a book we seldom use.  Afterward several of us indicated agreement with the lyrics.  What we sang:

1.  I am a stranger here below,
                 And what I am ’tis hard to know,
             I am so vile, so prone to sin,
                  I fear that I’m not born again.
2.  It’s seldom I can ever see
                 Myself as I would wish to be;
             What I desire I can’t attain,
                  From what I hate, I can’t refrain.

Trying to find the author, I discovered more text, but a different second verse.  I prefer the one above.  However, I wish the last verse was included in the song book, because although it is true that “what I desire I can’t attain, and from what I hate, I can’t refrain,” the good news of the gospel is that we are forgiven in Christ.  I like this simple explanation of why we confess our sins and how we are forgiven, an excerpt from Worshiping God Together: A Guide for Children and Their Parents:
God promises always to love and forgive us — even when don’t follow God’s way, or when we do things that hurt others. Everyone makes mistakes; that is why we confess our sin together. When we confess our sin, we say that we are sorry for these things, and we ask God to forgive us and help us live new lives.
Because Jesus lived and died and rose again for us, we know that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. That is why when the leader says, “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven,” we respond, “Thanks be to God.

Here are the other verses:

2.  When I experience call to mind,
My understanding is so blind,
All feeling sense seems to be gone,
Which makes me fear that I am wrong.
3.  I find myself out of the way;
My thoughts are often gone astray.
Like one alone I seem to be:
Oh! is there anyone like me?
4.  So far from God I seem to lie
Which makes me often weep and cry;
I fear at last that I shall fall
For if a saint, the least of all.
5.  I seldom find a heart to pray,
So many things step in my way;
Thus filled with doubts, I ask to know
Come, tell me, is it thus with you?
6.  So, by experience, I do know
There’s nothing good that I can do;
I cannot satisfy the law,
Nor hope, nor comfort from it draw.
7.  My nature is so prone to sin,
Which makes my duty so unclean,
That when I count up all the cost,
If not free grace, then I am lost.


Harmonious in a different way




Version 2I enjoy Sacred Harp music, the history, the people, listening to it, but especially singing it.  From our Savannah Sacred Harp’s group came a link to this informative 20 minute radio program which also includes some “raucous, energetic” singing.  The song at the end is one we sing and I like it. The text is reassuring for sure, but I also like that alto measure where we sing fa, mi, la …”sweet accord”.   Called “The Better Land” and on page 454 (the way Sacred Harp songs are called), here is the text:

Verse 1:  The road to glory seems so long,  And sorrows often take my song.  

Refrain:  I’m going to a better land, Where troubles are unknown, All sorrow will be gone,  We’ll sing around the throne in sweet accord, Adoring Jesus, our dear Lord.

Verse 2:  From Jesus’ side I will not stray, I know He’ll guide me all the way.

Verse 3:  I know it is not very far, to Heaven where my treasures are.

Sacred Harp: A Tradition and Its Music

I just finished reading The Sacred Harp: A Tradition and Its Music  by Buell E. Cobb, Jr.  Because I sing Sacred Harp, I found this book very interesting, and enlightening. The chapters are:

1. The Tradition
2. The Music
3. The Background and Early History
4. The Revisions
5. The Conventions
6. The Outlook

There are two appendixes: one a list of rather current Traditional Sacred Harp Singings, including dates and locations; and the other, selected songs from The Sacred Harp.

Although the immediately obvious difference between singing Sacred Harp and traditional hymns is Sacred Harp’s introduction of the tune by use of “singing the notes,” there are technical differences as well.   Two keys ones are “dispersed harmony,” and crossing of voices. From the book:

” According to one spokesman, remembering the definition as it was passed down to him, ‘dispersed harmony’ occurs whenever ‘a chord exceeds two octaves or the alto goes above ‘soprano.’’ …(crossing the voices), an inevitable result of the contrapuntal nature of the songs…in many of the songs either the bass or the alto is likely to go above the melody line, the bass crossing the male voices of the tenor or the alto crossing the female voices of the tenor…The crossing of voices of course necessitates the printing of each part on a separate staff.”

and then…
“In order to squeeze in several verses…many of the songs list different verses under each part, a system which makes for difficulty when a singer is unfamiliar with either words or music and must look for the words considerably above or below the line of music to be sung.”

That is an understatement! Here is an example of one of the shorter (and therefore easier to follow) songs:


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Because I am an alto, and have lived in the place referenced, I enjoyed this passage quoted from a 1934 book, Carl Carmer’s Stars Fell on Alabama:
” Carmer does not particularize the date or the location of the singing any further than the ‘Sand Mountain’ area, a traditional stronghold of the Sacred Harp in the twentieth century.  In the author’s firsthand account of the singing session, with a crowd he estimates at “surely more than two thousand people,” this bit of dialogue is recorded:

 “Trebles on the left, Basses on the right.  Tenors in the center.”
“What about the altos?” I whispered to Knox.
“Don’t mention the world,” he said. “The real Sacred Harpers think it’s a newfangled and wicked affectation.  They’ve been having a big fight with the Christian Harmony folks about it.”