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Thursday, February 28, 2008

HOMEGROUND: Music, food, and memories

I had the pleasure this week of reading A Sacred Feast: Reflections on Sacred Harp Singing and Dinner on the Ground by Kathryn Eastburn (University of Nebraska Press 2008). It was a treat on many levels and I loved it! I am not religious now, but was brought up going to church and Sunday school and singing all the old hymns. I loved that music and still recall most of the words and belt them out around the house from time to time, or when I’m riding motorcycle across country on a road trip. I love gospel music and classics like “My Country Tis of Thee.” But outside my own head, I haven’t encountered that music much lately.

Ever heard of “shape singing”—where instead of notes, you follow shapes along to give music to a song? Well that’s the basic grounding for what is called Sacred Harp singing—until I read this book, I had not heard of either one. The Sacred Harp is the human voice—makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s a form of music and singing that is done in community at all-day and several day “sings” and it dates back at least to the 1800s, but likely further than that.

Gatherings originated in the south, but are now held all over the United States. You sing all morning, then break for “dinner on the ground”—which originally meant a picnic, but now can be indoors or out—the one thing that is consistent is that tables are loaded with good homecooking, such things as BBQ, pulled pork, coconut layer cakes, and pies, pies, pies! These community sings are nondenominational and everyone is welcome, whether you can carry a tune in a bucket or, like me, not.

KATHRYN EASTBURN, a journalist and freelance writer, discovers Sacred Harp singing and, like me, falls hard for it. Her book is a record of her visits to various regions, the sings, and the people she meets at them, their history and generations-long connection to the phenomenon.

I’d love to hear if any of you have ever encountered Sacred Harp before and any memories you may have of it if so. Or any memories of church singing that you especially enjoyed. -- Rosemary

1 comment:

Kathy Leftwich said...

For starters, let me freely admit that I cannot carry a tune in a bucket. The nuns dropped the ball with me. But nonetheless, I love to sing, and church is the best place because there are so many other people singing that no one cares if you are out of tune. When our little community church joins in "De Colores" --mumbling a bit through the Spanish first verse -- it just makes me smile. And there cannot be a proper Christmas celebration without the calming crooning of "Silent Night."