LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Monday, June 08, 2009

Sacred Harp Singing

I'm a Southern girl with gospel roots, but I've never been to a live performance of sacred harp singing. My knowledge of it is limited but my fascination is growing. If you've never heard of it, you'll want to check out these resources:

1. An article by Paul Harvey titled "Wondrous Love: The living tradition of Sacred Harp singing". Harvey writes about sacred harp singing and discusses two books that deal with it: Kiri Miller’s Traveling Home, an academic study, and Kathryn Easterburn’s A Sacred Feast: Reflections on Sacred Harp Singing and Dinner on the Ground, a collection of essays, reflections, and even recipes.

2.The documentary, “Awake My Soul.” (The website has a clip of the singing as well as a trailer. You can buy the soundtrack and the DVD on the site as well.) Here's the description:

"Awake, My Soul is a feature documentary that explores the history, music, and traditions of Sacred Harp singing, the oldest surviving American music. While often linked only to its history, (e.g. the songs were used in the recent historical films "Cold Mountain" and "Gangs of New York") this haunting music has survived over 200 years tucked away from sight in the rural deep south, where in old wooden country churches, devoted singers break open The Sacred Harp, a shape note hymnal first published in Georgia in 1844. These singers have inherited The Sacred Harp and its traditions from those who came before them and preserved these fierce yet beautiful songs, many of which are much older than the hymnal itself. And so they, like the early singers, begin each song by intoning syllables which are represented by each shaped note in their hymnal: fa, sol, la, and mi. To the casual observer, it is some foreign, unintelligible language, but to these Sacred Harp singers, it is the key that unlocks mysteries: songs of both beauty and sorrow, of life and of death, songs that cause feet to stomp and tears to flow, often at the same time. They are ancient sounds, which are at times disorienting to the modern ear, and yet they are sung with such passion and force that it becomes obvious that these songs are very much alive. Awake My Soul is a film that captures both the history and the vitality of a music that is utterly unlike any music most viewers are likely to have heard.”

Enjoy! And if you're a fan of sacred harp, leave a comment and let me know.


David in Nashville said...

OK--One thing you need to be aware of is that you won't really hear Sacred Harp if you hear a "performance." Sacred Harp singers get together and sing to *each other*. If you really want to hear it, go to a singing [complete listings of singings around the country can be found at fasola.org]; if you *really* want to hear it, pick up a book and join in. If you *really, really* want to hear, finagle yourself an invitation to stand in the center of the "hollow square" around which the singers sit, and hear the sound coming at you from all directions. It's not for everyone, let me say; it's a style of music that's far outside many people's comfort zones. But if you like it, it's addictive!

LeAnne Benfield Martin said...


Thanks for the insider information! How long have you been singing?



Home | About | Articles | Speaking | Links | Contact | FAQ
Blogs: Christians in the Arts | Beauty and the Beholder

Copyright 2007 LeAnne Martin. Site designed by ChurchGraphics.org