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Hear ‘fasola’ singing at Rose Ensemble concerts

We called it “fasola singing” when I was growing up in Kentucky, the second of four sons of a clergyman. If you attend one of the Rose Ensemble’s Christmas-related concerts over the next week, you’ll hear some of it.

In my experience, fasola singing was less of a church activity and more of a social event. A bunch of people who liked to sing got together and bellowed out songs we all knew. The name came from a four-note system of notation — fa, sol, la and mi — that used shapes to denote the relative pitches instead of the now-conventional system with its metered note values on a five-line staff.

I never learned how to read shape-note music and I suspect that some of the folks who brought shape-note books to our sings used the fasola notation as a mnemonic device. I sang from memory or learned the songs and harmonies as we went along.

All this is to explain why I look forward to the Rose Ensemble’s series of concerts that carry the title of their new recording, “And Glory Shone Around.” It’s a program of early American music, including Southern Harmony songs (another term for fasola singing), Shaker hymns (like the ones I once heard at the Pleasant Hill colony near Lexington), country dances and carols.

The new recording by this St. Paul-based group is terrific. Seeing them perform live will provoke long-ago memories.

Times and Places: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Colonial Church of Edina; 8 p.m. Saturday, Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis; 2 p.m. Sunday, Church of the Nativity, St. Paul; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 21, Cathedral of Christ the King, Superior, Wis.; 7 p.m. Dec. 22, Trinity Lutheran Church, Stillwater. For information and ticket deals, go here or call 651-225-4340.


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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by matt wells on 12/15/2008 - 11:56 am.

    If you’re interested in being a participant in “fasola” or “Sacred Harp” singing, see

    for the local group’s complete schedule, including an all-day singing scheduled for Saturday, February 7.

    Jim Walsh of these pages wrote about his experience visiting us ten years ago:

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