Social singing from the Sacred Harp has a long history in many communities throughout the South. More recently, it has become a presence in pockets all over the country and beyond. Over the past several years, western Massachusetts has developed one of the largest Sacred Harp communities in the country, with an annual convention (two days of singing), that consistently attracts between 200 and 300 singers from across the country and beyond.
Lately, Sacred Harp singing has gotten a fair amount of local and national media attention, due to its appearance in the movie, "Cold Mountain". Tim Eriksen, long-time Sacred Harp singer, solo recording artist, and lead singer for the band Cordelia's Dad, was hired to provide the singing voice for the actor Brendan Gleason in the film. When he learned that director Anthony Minghella was considering using Sacred Harp in the soundtrack, he convinced the powers that be to record experienced Sacred Harp singers having a real sing at Liberty Church in Alabama rather than trying (in vain!) to fabricate something like it in a recording studio. Two Sacred Harp songs from the resulting specially organized and documented singing are featured in the film and are included on the soundtrack: Idumea (page 47 on the bottom) and I'm Going Home (page 282).
As a result of this media exposure and the critical praise which almost unanimously singled out the Sacred Harp cuts on the movie's soundtrack as transcendent, in what some might consider a rather surreal turn of events this non-performance, "singers' music" was represented at the Academy Awards ceremony this year. A group of 37 Sacred Harp singers from across the country (including Alabama and Georgia, western Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Minnesota, and Texas, among others) went to the Oscars, where they sang back-up for Allison Krauss on one of the nominated songs from Cold Mountain.
If you first heard Sacred Harp singing in "Cold Mountain", you will find that "Sacred Harp Singing in Western Massachusetts 2000-2001" shares the intense sound and spirit generally found in regular Sacred Harp singings around the country which was so well documented on those soundtrack recordings. But each local singing has its own character, and this cd also documents the unique qualities of our local singing.
The cd features highlights from singing events in western Massachusetts during 2000 and 2001, including the annual two-day singing convention from both years, the Young People's Singing in 2000, and the first Pioneer Valley All-Day Singing in 2001. About 250 people attend the Western Massachusetts Sacred Harp convention each year (on the 2nd Sunday in March and the Saturday before), and over 100 attend the Pioneer Valley All-Day Singing (on the Saturday before the first Sunday in July). In addition, the last eight tracks are lower-tech recordings of two smaller local singings. The songs recorded at the smaller sings are some of the favorites of many of us who sing here.
If this recording makes you want to sing, there are no auditions or other requirements: you are welcome to attend any Sacred Harp singing, and to sing if you wish. (We hope you do!)
For information about singing in western Massachusetts, visit our web site: www.wmshc.org. For more information on Sacred Harp singing generally and a list of local singings around the country, go to fasola.org.