Red Clay Ramblers sing “The Parting Hand” with lyrics, Sacred harp singing tradition, Shape notes, “An interest in your prayers I crave, That we may meet beyond the grave”
“Preserving the Sacred Harp Singing Tradition”
“Liberty Baptist Church, in the northeast Alabama town of Henagar, has cradled the sound of Sacred Harp singing for 110 years.
There’s no harp in Sacred Harp singing — no instruments at all. Just the power of voice, in four-part harmony. The origin of the music goes back centuries — first in England, then in colonial New England, then the music migrated south, where it took root.
NPR’s Melissa Block reports on the enduring appeal of Sacred Harp singing and the people who keep the tradition alive.
“As far back as little bitty kids, we sang this in church all the time,” says 69-year-old farmer Coy Ivey. “It’s all we ever used at the church.”
The songs come from a tunebook first published in 1844, and use a system of printed shapes, instead of standard music notation, to help untrained singers learn how to read the music.
Sacred Harp singing isn’t at all like the soaring tones of traditional gospel music. “Sacred Harp is a whole other thing,” Block says. “This is full-body, shout-it-out singing. The harmonies are stark and haunting — raw, even. In Sacred Harp, you don’t want a sweet sound.”
The Red Clay Ramblers sing “The Parting Hand.”
The Parting Hand
1. My Christian friends, in bonds of love, Whose hearts in sweetest union join, Your friendship's like a drawing band, Yet we must take the parting hand. 2. Your company's sweet, your union dear, Your words delightful to my ear, Yet when I see that we must part, You draw like cords around my heart. 3. How sweet the hours have passed away, Since we have met to sing and pray; How loath we are to leave the place Where Jesus shows his smiling face. 4. O could I stay with friends so kind, How would it cheer my drooping mind! But duty makes me understand, That we must take the parting hand, 5. And since it is God's holy will, We must be parted for a while, In sweet submission, as all one, We'll say, our Father's will be done. 6. My youthful friends, in Christian ties, Who seek for mansions in the skies, Fight on, we'll gain that happy shore, Where parting will be known no more. 7. How oft I've seen your flowing tears, And heard you tell your hopes and fears! Your hearts with love were seen to flame, Which makes me hope we'll meet again. 8. Ye mourning souls, lift up your eyes To glorious mansions in the skies; O trust his grace--in Canaan's land, We'll no more take the parting hand. 9. And now, my friends, both old and young, I hope in Christ you'll still go on; And if on earth we meet no more, O may we meet on Canaan's shore. 10. I hope you'll all remember me, If you on earth no more I see; An interest in your prayers I crave, That we may meet beyond the grave. 11. O glorious day! O blessed hope! My soul leaps forward at the thought, When, on that happy, happy land, We'll no more take the parting hand. 12. But with our blessed, holy Lord, We'll shout and sing with one accord And there we'll all with Jesus dwell So, loving Christians, fare you well.