Sacred Harp in a strange setting
No one has done more to help revive Sacred Harp singing among a younger generation than two of the men at the Earl in East Atlanta this past Monday night—filmmaker Matt Hinton and musician Tim Eriksen. Hinton's film Awake, My Soul traces the history of America's oldest original musical tradition and the way it's thriving in pockets of the South. The original soundtrack features traditional renditions of old Sacred Harp (also called Shape-Note) tunes. But the Earl showcase was a release party for the second album associated with the film, this one featuring a variety of artists (Richard Buckner, Doc Watson, Woven Hand, The Innocence Mission, Elvis Perkins, Rick Moody, etc.) interpretting some of the genre's most well-known songs.
After a screening of the film, Sacred Harp singers formed their square and belted out the powerful, haunting and otherworldly melodies in a setting that didn't much look like the old wooden churches they were used to. It was my first time at a singing, and I had a great time struggling to following along. Most in the crowd stood back, either soaking in the beauty or trying to figure out what it was all about.
Four of the artists on the new soundtrack performed after the singing—Jeni and Billy, The Good Players, Eriksen, and Jim Lauderdale. Eriksen, who helped organize the singings heard in the film Cold Mountain, gave the night's stand-out performance. Fresh off an Eastern European trip, playing and teaching in Poland and The Czech Republic, the multi-instrumentalist was best at adapting the raw power of Sacred Harp to his own arrangements. Lauderdale finished the night with his well-crafted Americana whose roots draw deeply from the same well from which Sacred Harp singers have drawn.
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