Awake, My Soul

Louisiana Public Broadcasting will air Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp on Thursday, April 24, at 10:00 p.m. Those of you in other parts of the country may have already seen it: most public television networks aired it a few months ago (I know APT aired it twice in December). If you missed it, there is a link on the web site where you may purchase the DVD as well as audio CDs.

Sacred Harp singing is a very important part of American history. One can hear in it the echoes of the early American “fuguing tunes” of William Billings. The most haunting, sturdy, and enduring American hymn tunes have come to us from the Sacred Harp, including MORNING TRUMPET, WAYFARING STRANGER, and NEW BRITAIN.

The web site has several audio samples and a trailer of the film that you may watch online. If you’ve never encountered Sacred Harp singing, hold on to your hat. It is not for the faint of heart! This is unvarnished, unpretentious singing. This is as far from your microphone-swallowing, maudlin, typical church soloist of today as you can get. As the film notes, people gathered to sing Sacred Harp are not singing for an audience: they are singing for one another and for God. There is no pretense in Sacred Harp. It is Coram Deo music: music of the soul laid bare. Hearing it online, or even on TV, does not do it justice. The first time you step into a square (Sacred Harp singers always sit in a square, with the leader standing in the middle), hear those singers tune up, and then sing through an entire stanza, full-throttle, using FA-SOL-LA only (the words are used the second time through), you will get chills up and down your spine: that’s a guarantee.

Sacred Harp goes way back in my family. It probably goes way back in yours too, if you’re from the South.

Set that Tivo for Thursday night at 10:00 p.m. on LPB.


About revjatb

I am a father of six who is trying to do his best! My interests are varied. I have one blog, KnowTea, that is primarily focused on liturgy and worship and another one, Bengtsson's Baking, that is about, well, baking! I hope you enjoy both of them, and if you have any questions, please contact me!
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7 Responses to Awake, My Soul

  1. PaulB says:

    He lives! Long time, no post.

  2. cancerman says:

    I’ve lived in the south my whole life, excluding vactions. I’ve never heard of sacred heart. Perhaps this is why I’ve never quite fit in.

    Seriously I when I saw the title I thought you were talking about a celtic group.

  3. cancerman says:

    Oops…I meant Sacred Harp

  4. GuessWho says:

    I meant to watch that special on APT last Christmas, got my signals crossed, and ended up seeing (part of) the Tonic Sol-fa special instead. Quite a different thing!

    A number of my grandmother’s relatives on my father’s side were shaped-note hymnody enthusiasts. My grandmother always said that the musical talent among her progeny came from her side of the family (I have musical cousins). My grandfather didn’t know his elbow from A-flat!

  5. Ed Eubanks says:

    The (very sharp) music teacher at the classical school I taught for in St. Louis taught shape-note (Sacred Harp) singing in the years that they did American history. The students even “performed” it at some of their concerts. It was pretty amazing to behold– about 70 students standing around the perimeter of a church sanctuary, shouting/singing at each other.

  6. RevJATB says:

    I keep waiting for a Sacred Harp comment by Mark, but he is probably recovering from sitting across a table from Andrew Lloyd Webber in Vegas this weekend.

  7. Eugene Harris says:

    I only saw part of the Sacred Harp presentation on LPB, April 24, 2008. It was the most stirring music I have ever heard and hope there is a repeat soon so I can see the entire program. Thanks LPB.

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