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Sing with the voice you were born with at a Shape Note workshop and community singing event on Saturday, June 10 from 2 to 5 pm. Surrounded by the beauty of nature at the historic Whiterock River House Dance Barn, this early Colonial American folk music will come to life. All are welcome to participate with this vibrant, diverse community, no matter your experience or singing ability. A community potluck will follow. The Dance Barn is located at 1313 Fig Ave, Coon Rapids, IA. This event is free and made possible by support from Art Works, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Iowa Arts Council.


Seth Wenger, an Iowa Arts Council (IAC) and National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Project Grant recipient and Scattergood Friends School (SGFS) Musician in Residence, will be presenting a singing workshop, and open community singing event at Whiterock Conservancy. The event is one of four being  presented as the educational outreach component to his academic, documentary, and creative work this past year in the field of shape-note music. Wenger has partnered with the IAC, NEA and SGFS to expand his knowledge of shape-note singing and increase networking and visibility of the art form in the state of Iowa. Local Coon Rapids partners include Whiterock Conservancy. Participants are encouraged to make the most of Whiterock’s diverse recreational offerings, and camping, hiking, or canoeing, etc. Friday and/or Saturday night.

“Even they are aware, it might be admitted, of the frayed voices in their midst. But they make no  pretensions to angels’ song. They speak with pride of ‘earthly tones’.”
-Buell Cobb, celebrated shape-note singer and writer

The practice of shape-note singing was developed in early colonial America as an instructional tool for teaching sight reading and singing skills in untrained populations. It is still written in the four shape system, but is also written in standard notation, like much of the other American hymnology practiced today. Practitioners of all walks of life and levels of experience have and continue to make up this vibrant, diverse, democratically-organized community. Interestingly enough, shape-note singing, the oldest form of post-colonial American folk music, has continued to take on new composers and singing members over the years. While the democratic and communal elements surrounding the form have been carefully preserved for over 200 years, if you find yourself at any major shape-note singing event today, you will not find 200 year old dust. Instead you will be surrounded by a rich diverse group of all ages, religions, sexual orientations, socioeconomic statuses, and singing abilities. It will truly astound you.

The structure of the music and the nature of its dissemination were developed specifically to reach those underserved in the community. The spirit behind this project grant is to deepen our understanding of what it means to learn and to sing together, a practice so fundamental to the human experience, and yet one which is all too often forgotten in our contemporary world. Out of this magnanimous gesture comes a rich tapestry of voices wherein collective triumph is celebrated alongside personal expression. The result of this non-performative action is a wholly collaborative creation words fail to describe.

The content and length of the workshop and singing school will be determined by the participants themselves. Singing will be out of the 1991 edition of the Sacred Harp, and loaner books will be available. Wenger will address the history and evolution of the music, speak to the current demographics of the singing community, and lead an introduction to the rudiments of the four shape singing system. In true democratic spirit, Wenger says of the event, “If there are people who want to learn more, I will speak more, if there are people who want to discuss more, I am overjoyed to facilitate that discussion, if people just want to sing, I will make sure the basics are covered, and we’ll sing our hearts out.”

Please come join us in this unique opportunity to experience vulnerability in the midst of beauty, and reflect on what impact it has had on our ability to be empathic.

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