I first discovered shape note music after watching the movie Lawless (love Tom Hardy). The scene with Shia having his feet washed….the music gave me chills. I googled it. Sacred Harp Singing. It’s an early form of rural church music.
It’s haunting. And incredibly raw sound. I can’t explain it. It makes me choke up. They say that the Sacred Harp refers the tugging of heart strings. I understand that now. It’s the same feeling I get when walking through a cemetery. You can hear deep sorrow and suffering and joy all mixed together in this great wave of sound. Amazing. Seriously no words.
One of my favorite songs is from the movie Cold Mountain, Idumea. It was written around 1707. You can hear the singers sing the notes the first time around and then they move into the words: (direct link here)
And am I born to die?
To lay this body down!
And must my trembling spirit fly
Into a world unknown?
A land of deepest shade,
Unpierced by human thought
The dreary regions of the dead,
Where all things are forgot.
Soon as from earth I go
What will become of me?
Eternal happiness or woe,
Must then my portion be!
Waked by the trumpet sound,
I from my grave shall rise;
And see the Judge with glory crowned,
And see the flaming skies!
I would love visit a church or group who sings like this. Definitely when I’m back east next summer, I tried but didn’t have enough time to track one down. Instead I rented the documentary Awake my Soul. It’s definitely worth adding to your Netflix queue:
Hallelujah, sung by the Alabama Sacred Harp Singers, was recorded for the Library of Congress in 1959: (direct link here)
Hope you like it. Read more about the history at Fasola.org.