Winene Nimmo and her husband stopped in on a shape-note gathering a few years back on a trip to Spokane.
The kind of primitive church singing was highlighted in the 2003 film Cold Mountain. Singers sit in a square, their voices blending in four-part harmony. The sound is beautiful, powerful, raw.
Nimmo was taken with the practice. She decided to start a shape-note group in the Tri-Cities, placing ads in the newspaper and online.
Their group now meets a couple of times a month in Kennewick. New members are welcome.
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“We get together and sing for the joy of singing. Anybody is welcome to come. There is no criteria, just a desire to sing or learn to sing,” Nimmo said.
Shape-note started as a way to teach singing, and it gets its name from the simplified notation — diamonds, ovals and the like indicate different pitches.
It was introduced in the early 1800s.
It’s often called Sacred Harp singing because the hymn books used are known as The Sacred Harp.
“Also, the voices together are The Sacred Harp,” said Brenda Hoyt of Richland.
She started attending the local “singings” after coming across one of Nimmo’s ads.
On a recent evening, she helped the group keep time, chopping out a downbeat with her arm.
“My thoughts address his throne, when morning brings new light,” the group sang. “I seek his blessings every noon, and pay my vows at night.”
Hoyt said she loves the uplifting nature of Sacred Harp music.
Also, “it’s a great time of fellowship,” she said, noting the local group is nondenominational. “People will get together and enjoy each others’ company.”
For Nimmo, it’s the beauty of the music that drew her in. When singers are blending together, their voices lifting up in the old hymns and anthems, there’s nothing like it.
“I love the harmony, when everyone harmonizes well,” Nimmo said. “I love it.”
The local Sacred Harp group meets at 6:30 p.m. the second and fourth Thursday of the month at Quinault Baptist Church, 5400 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick.