Shape Note singing services this Sunday in historic New Haven church

NEW HAVEN — “In Gratitude and Praise: A Shape Note Musical Service” will be held this Sunday, Aug. 21, from 10 to 11 a.m. in the Union Church of New Haven Mills to benefit the restoration of the historic church.

The Rev. Abigail Diehl-Noble will open the service with prayer. David Rosenberg, from the Middlebury Shape Note Singers, will provide a brief introduction to shape note singing. A musical program will follow, with Shape Note songs about gratitude and abundance, including several tunes from Vermont composers such as Justin Morgan and Jeremiah Ingalls. They were itinerant singing school masters who traveled around New England rural villages in the early 1800s spreading this distinctive style of community singing.

Those attending may listen or sing along. No training or musical ability is necessary; the tradition emphasizes participation, not performance.

Shape Note or Sacred Harp singing is a traditional American style of four-part, a cappella, community singing that was popular in the United States before the Civil War. This style still thrives across the U.S. and in the U.K., with strongholds in the American South and New England. It is called Shape Note because the notes of the scale are indicated by distinctive shapes and names: Fa – triangle, Sol – circle, La – square, and Mi – diamond. The music is often described as spiritual, joyful, powerful and raucous.

A collection will be taken at the service to support the restoration of the Union Church of New Haven Mills. Regular religious services are no longer held at the church, but the local community offers events to help raise awareness and financial support to preserve the church. Recent grants allowed for repair and painting of the exterior; future efforts will focus on the church’s interior. The congregation was founded in 1797 and the Union Church was built in 1851. It’s listed on the Historic Preservation National Register as an outstanding example of Greek Revival architecture.

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