December 23, 2003

O HARP, WHERE ART THOU? (via The Mother Judd):

For a Timeless Song Style, a Chance at the Big Time (RANDY KENNEDY, 12/23/03, NY Times)

The Mount Pleasant Home Primitive Baptist Church on the outskirts of Birmingham is a long way from Hollywood, literally and figuratively.

So it was a little strange one Sunday to hear a group of people in the tiny bare-walled church swapping stories about Anthony Minghella, the Oscar-winning director of "The English Patient," who was pronounced by one elderly Alabamian that day to be "a pretty decent guy." [...]

When this Civil War drama [Cold Mountain] opens nationwide on Christmas, the hope among these singers is that it will accomplish something more meaningful than a glamorous trip to Hollywood. They hope it will introduce their kind of music — a powerful and beautiful but relatively obscure form of a cappella choral singing known as Sacred Harp — to a broader audience.

The music, also known as shape-note or fasola singing, has been waiting a long time for that attention. The style of singing, whose rudiments stretch back at least to Elizabethan England, flourished in Colonial New England and in its present form took deep root in the rural South, where it is still sung today in four-part harmony. But many of its practitioners — whose parents and grandparents and great-grandparents sang it in little churches and town squares throughout the South — fear it could die out. So they are waiting eagerly to see whether the use of Sacred Harp music on the movie's soundtrack, released on Dec. 16, could do for their music what the soundtrack for "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," the Coen brothers comedy, did for rural blues and bluegrass. (The "O Brother" album unexpectedly sold more than five million copies and won the album-of-the-year Grammy in 2002.)

The film, despite the talented Mr. Minghella, promises to be just brutal, but the tunes look awesome.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 23, 2003 11:42 AM

Well,it's a Hollywood movie about the South.
The results will probably be predictable.

Posted by: M. at December 23, 2003 1:53 PM