Newsletter – November 2015

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Coming Soon

Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra on stage in Queanbeyan

We're excited to announce that the 11-member Sydney World Music Chamber Orchestra will perform in Queanbeyan on Friday 27 November 2015 at Q Theatre in Queanbeyan.

Their program, Three Sides of Love and Death, features songs that capture the ensemble's perspective on love and death, and the inbetween (the third side). Taking audiences on a transformative journey, this is a unique and inspiring music experience.

Tickets are $25 and available online at

Other News

We're happy to announce that we have funding from Arts NSW for World's Collide our marquee event for the 2016 Festival. This means that we can move forward with planning the composition workshops and rehearsals that will culminate in a world /dance music multimedia concert at the 2016 Festival. Led by artistic director/producer Richard Petkovic, the project explores themes of faith, diversity, identity and collaboration.

Performer Profile
The Sydney Sacred Music Festival features performers from all kinds of music traditions.

In this newsletter we introduce the Sydney Shape Note Singers who featured in the 2015 Festival.

Who are the Sydney Shape Note Singers?
We are an open group who meet monthly to sing from The Sacred Harp, an American song book first published in 1844. We pride ourselves in creating an atmosphere that is inclusive and participatory. Participants require no musical or singing experience to join in, just the desire to sing. No commitment is expected. 
Sacred Harp singing is part of the oldest American musical tradition, originating in the Protestant Christian music of 18th century New England. The musis is written in shaped notation to enable people who don't read music to quickly and readily pick up the tunes. 
How did the group begin?
Australian singers who first encountered Sacred Harp singing in America first brought the tradition to Melbourne, where they have been meeting for several years. Later, kindred singers in Sydney were put in touch with one another through the Melbourne connection and the Sydney group was started. There are regular Sacred Harp singings in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Blackwood VIC, and workshops/sessions at various folk and trad festivals throughout the country. details all the Sacred Harp happenings in Australia.
What are the rewards for you, personally, in singing this music?
The tunes are raw, loud and powerful - with haunting and uplifting harmonies that often surprise and inevitably want to be sung again and again in the days after a singing session. Although we come together as individuals with varying levels of formal training and confidence in our abilities, for a few hours each month we create a joyful noise in community together. The song lyrics are often bleak, focusing on death and the promise of salvation. This is not your typical happy-clappy gospel music! But in the darkest and grimmest of lyrics I find an amazing connection to the songwriters and singers of a hundred, and two hundred years ago - the search for meaning in today's world is no different from what they experienced. 
When do you meet?
We meet on the second Sunday of every month at Dickson Street Space, 35 Dickson Street (off King Street), Newtown from 3-6pm.
We welcome everybody of all ages, ability levels, political and religious backgrounds. Our common ground is that we sing together.
We ask a $5 donation to cover the cost of our hall rental. Song books are available to borrow on the day.
Sacred Harp Singing

What is it? Where does it come from?


Shape Note or Sacred Harp singing is a tradition of sacred choral music that originated in Protestant churches of the American South of the United States. The name is derived from The Sacred Harp, a tunebook printed in shape notes. The work was first published in 1844 and has been revised and updated ever since.

Sacred Harp music is performed a cappella (voice only, without instruments).

Pitch is not absolute

In Sacred Harp singing, pitch is not absolute. The shapes and notes designate degrees of the scale, not particular pitches.

When Sacred Harp singers begin a song, they normally start by singing it with the appropriate syllable for each pitch, using the shapes to guide them. For those in the group not yet familiar with the song, the shapes help with the task of sight reading. The process of reading through the song with the shapes also helps fix the notes in memory. Once the shapes have been sung, the group then sings the verses of the song with their printed words.

Sacred music

As the name implies, Sacred Harp music is sacred music and originated as Protestant Christian music. Many of the songs in the book are hymns that use words, meters, and stanzaic forms familiar from elsewhere in Protestant hymnody. However, Sacred Harp songs are quite different from "mainstream" Protestant hymns in their musical style: some tunes, known as fuguing tunes, contain sections that are polyphonic in texture, and the harmony tends to deemphasize the interval of the third in favor of fourths and fifths. In their melodies, the songs often use the pentatonic scale or similar "gapped" (fewer than seven-note) scales.

Three types of songs

In their musical form, Sacred Harp songs fall into three basic types. Many are ordinary hymn tunes, mostly composed in four-bar phrases and sung in multiple verses. Fuging tunes contain a prominent passage about 1/3 of the way through in which each of the four choral parts enters in succession, in a way resembling a fugue. Anthems are longer songs, less regular in form, that are sung through just once rather than in multiple verses.


For more information on Sacred Harp visit

Listen to ABC's The Rhythm Divine for interviews and singing with the Sydney Shape Note Singers.

Awake, my Soul is an excellent documentary about Shape Note Singing with a wonderful soundtrack.
"... fierce and forceful and utterly transporting..."

Looking forward

We're deep into preparations for next year's Festival. Meetings, meetings, meetings!

It's exciting to map the possibilities of new performers, new genres and new collaborations.

Thank you for supporting the Festival and the wonderful musicians who share their spirit and talents with us.

Festival Director

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