Shape Note Singing in the Media

How do the media describe Sacred Harp singing? All Things Considered’s Melissa Block says, This is full-body, shout-it-out singing. Time Magazine says, Nothing is weirder than Sacred Harp. The New York Times (which has been covering Sacred Harp since the ’30s) observes that when some people hear this music for the first time, they say, I must do this.

The movie version of Cold Mountain included two Sacred Harp tunes sung by traditional singers, and the media paid attention. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote, You hear its spareness, rawness and wild character. The Associated Press quoted singer Judy Hauff saying shape note singing is America’s best-kept musical secret. The Christian Science Monitor describes how the songs center around death and resurrection, sin and repentance.

Local coverage

Some of the most interesting media coverage comes from local sources, north, south, east and west. The radio show Airborn Event with Dan Bodah features 3 hours of recorded singing from the 2002 Western Massachusetts Sacred Harp Convention. Joey Brackner from the Alabama State Council on the Arts interviews David Ivey and Tim Eriksen about the Sacred Harp singing recorded on Sand Mountain for Cold Mountain. Minnesota Public Radio discusses shape note singing far to the north. The St. Louis Riverfront Times asked What Are These People Singing? In Oregon, the Willamette Week describes Sacred Harp singing as penetrating sound that gets under your skin.

Recent films, books and recordings

Critic Jon Pareles called Matt Hinton’s Help Me to Sing two-CD Sacred Harp compilation a brilliant idea, and Paste Magazine describes as haunting. It is a follow-up to his documentary Awake My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp.

Kiri Miller’s book Traveling Home describes the Sacred Harp diaspora and how non-traditional singers approach shape note singing. Her book has been described as penetrating and subtle.

No Sacred Harp event would be complete without food, so it’s good to mention Kathryn Eastburn’s documentary cookbook A Sacred Feast, describing the tradition of dinner on the ground.