February 29, 2004

Sacred Harp

Eszter Hargittai tells us that her friend (and Crooked Timber commentator) Laura will be singing as part of a Sacred Harp choir, as part of a song from Cold Mountain. This should be superb stuff, though I don't know if I'll watch the Oscars. In this style, the choir sings from the Sacred Harp songbook, in which the music is notated so the different pitches have different-shaped note heads (hence it's also called shape-note singing). The choir sings the solfeggietto before the lyrics. It sounds like they're declaiming in an alien language, before the hymn's words come throug. Beautiful, powerful, eerie, and frightening.

I have a tape of White Spirituals from the Sacred Harp, a recording Alan Lomax made in the 50s; there are also three shape-note songs on Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. (Rocky Road was a shape-note hymn before it was a flavor of ice cream; if you have the right plug-ins you can hear it here.) This is the sort of thing that bloat my record collection--sometimes I'm in the mood for shape-note hymns all day, and I only have an hour's worth.

Posted by Matt Weiner at February 29, 2004 12:47 PM