Small in Number Yet Full of Spirit: The Mt. Pisgah Singing in Sylvester, Georgia

Sacred Harp music is no stranger to southern Georgia. Its haunting melodies and messages have echoed through the generations bringing tears of joy and sorrow to countless singers. Unfortunately, the decades have taken their toll on this beloved tradition in this region. Where once singings were numerous, loud, and vibrant, now only a few remain. Though small in number, these singings still possess the same passion that any large singing could muster up.

The annual singing held at Mount Pisgah Primitive Baptist church is one of the few singings that remains active in southwest Georgia. This singing is held on the second fifth Sunday of the year. Set back on a country road several miles out of the small town of Sylvester, this singing is off the beaten path and has been forgotten by many. For me, the singing at Mount Pisgah is very special. It is my “homecoming” singing. It was several years ago at this location where I attended my first all day Sacred Harp singing.

This year’s singing was held on April 29. The official time to commence was set at 10:30 though it was almost 10:45 before we started. Lauren Harrison once told me the farther south, the later the singing starts. Singers are arranged in the traditional hollow square. The exception is that no altos fill their spot below the pulpit. While we pray for this section to be filled, we don’t stress. After all—much of the original music in The Sacred Harp was written without alto lines anyways.

The singing was called to order by Louis Hughes Jr. leading “Tribulation” (p. 29b) and “Ogletree” (p. 138b). The opening prayer was offered myself (Trent Peachey). Singers were called to the square by Tim Meeks who served as secretary for the day. It is traditional at this singing to lead two tunes during a lesson. By the time we were a few tunes into the singing, it was clear that even though small in number, the spirit of Sacred Harp was alive and well within this group. Oscar McGuire led “Irwinton” (p. 229). The words of this song do a good job of describing the singers at Mount Pisgah: though small in number, a poor, despised company, these children of the King sing loudly and with joy. By the time lunch had arrived, we had sung through our list of leaders. This stands in contrast to some larger singings when you may each person may only lead one song all day.

Lunch was the usual dinner on the ground, with each cook proudly bringing their contributions to the spread. If anybody left hungry it was because of their own negligence and certainly no fault of the cooks. Adding to the good food were the joys of catching up with friends. Topped off with a piece of delicious caramel cake, the lunch hour was soon over.

The afternoon session was called back to order by Louis Hughes, Jr. This session was very interesting to me as a relative newcomer to Sacred Harp. The singers shared memories of times past and how they used to drive all over the states of Georgia and Alabama to attend singings. George Ann Corbin shared memories of singers coming down from Atlanta to teach singing schools and staying at her parents’ house when she was a little girl. Before leading us in “My Shepherd Guides” (p. 490), Lamar Robinson encouraged us to sing the music not only for its pleasing sound, but to pay attention to the message of the songs and to allow them to speak to us. For me this is the greatest appeal of singings in our area. Many of the singers in southern Georgia are descendents of generation of Sacred Harp singers. Their families and lives are woven into the very core of this music. Such individuals are often singing not only for the sake of the music, but for the message. Singing in such company, I sometimes almost feel as if I could catch a glimpse of the beliefs of the composers of this music.

Our lack of alto and small numbers certainly didn’t keep us from the fuging tunes in the afternoon. We enjoy trying out numbers like “Present Joys” (p. 318), “Homeward Bound” (p. 373), and even “Easter Anthem” (p.  236). Tim Meeks—our lone treble—made his presence known on “Eternal Day” (p. 383). In closing we sang Raymond Hamrick’s “Christian’s Farewell” (p. 347) and took the parting hand, hoping and trusting that we would once more gather to sing these tunes that have stood the test of time.

About Trent Peachey

Trent Peachey has faithfully supported Sacred Harp singings in south Georgia since first encountering Sacred Harp at Mount Pisgah Primitive Baptist Church in Sylvester, Georgia a few years ago.
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7 Responses to Small in Number Yet Full of Spirit: The Mt. Pisgah Singing in Sylvester, Georgia

  1. Brenda Lehman says:

    I loved reading this piece! Well written! 🙂

  2. Lisa Lishman says:

    Hi Trent,

    I really enjoyed the article and have greatly missed sitting in with you all at your practices in Albany. (My family moved to southwest Michigan this past August, and I lost your email when my old account went down.) Happily, there is a small Sacred Harp group in our new town that I hope to join.

    Thanks for helping to introduce me and our visitors at the Agrirama to this amazing music. Wishing you all the best!


    • Trent Peachey says:


      We have missed singing with you but are glad to have been able to introduce you to this beloved tradition. Hope all goes well for you in the cold North. I hear they sing just as heartily as we do!


  3. Janice says:

    I am looking forward to attending the singing at Mt. Pisgah this year. I live just a few miles down the road from the church. My husband was raised Primitive Baptist and attended Mt. Pisgah many times as a child and I am anxious to surprise him one morning and go for the singing. He talks often about the beauty of the singing and how strong you can feel the Holy Spirit while participating! I look forward to attending and sharing this part of my husband’s heritage with him and with our children.

    Just to confirm, the second fifth Sunday of the year? That would be March 8th. Is that when it will be held?

    • In scheduling singings, the “fifth Sunday” refers to the fifth Sunday within a given month. So the “first fifth Sunday” is the first Sunday of the year that is the fifth Sunday of a given month. In 2014, that will be March 30. March this year has five Sundays (the 2nd, 9th, 16th, 23rd, and 30th). The second fifth Sunday, the date of the singing at Mt. Pisgah in Sylvester, Georgia, will fall on July 29.

  4. Joseph R. Page says:

    I just stumbled across this article trying to find out more about Sylvester, Georgia, and the surrounding area. Now I’m curious when the Second Fifth Sunday in 2015 will fall. I might could really get into some serous singing even if I am not Primitive Baptist. On the other hand, maybe y’all won’t let someone from another religion join in?

    • Joseph: The second fifth Sunday in 2015 falls on May 31. You would be most welcome at the singing in Sylvester at Mount Pisgah Church. Sacred Harp singings are open to all regardless of religious orientation.

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