Friday, December 8, 2006

"Sacred Harp"

Jesus, my all to heav'n has gone,
Glory Hallelujah;
He whom I fix my hopes upon!
Glory Hallelujah!

I want a seat in Paradise,
Glory Hallelujah!
I love that union never dies,
Glory Hallelujah!

North Port, 1743
Awake, My Soul is a documentary about Sacred Harp singing [resources]. To the contemporary ear, this tradition of hymn singing will probably sound a bit strange. Some of the hymns are familiar, by authors like Cowper, Stennett and Watts, but even the familiar tunes are sung in a way not common since the 19th century. [Click here or on the picture to the right for a sample of the music.] The DVD is called Awake, My Soul and can be purchased from Dust to Digital, a company that specializes in restoring old recordings, especially of blues, country and gospel music. A CD related to the documentary is I Belong to This Band, containing recordings from as long ago as the 1920s and as recently as 2006 [track listing]. It is remarkable stuff. Dust to Digital has also produced a large, multi-disc collection, called Goodbye, Babylon, of southern and country gospel [black and white], including a disc of vintage radio sermons.

The description on the DVD:
This documentary is about Sacred Harp singing, a haunting form of a cappella, shape-note singing with deep roots in the American south. Shape-note singing has survived over 200 years tucked away from notice in the rural deep south, where in old country churches, singers break open The Sacred Harp, a 160 year old shape-note hymnal which has preserved these fiercely beautiful songss which are some of the oldest in America. And so they, like singers from centuries past, begin each song by singing syllables that are represented by each shaped note in their hymnal: fa, sol, la, mi. ....

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