THE STORY BEHIND THE ALBUM:
Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp is the first feature documentary about Sacred Harp singing, a haunting form of a cappella, shape note hymn singing with deep roots in the American south. Shape note singing has survived over 200 years tucked away from notice in the rural deep south, where in old country churches, singers break open The Sacred Harp, a 160 year old shape note hymnal which has preserved these fiercely beautiful songs which are some of the oldest in America. The film offers a glimpse into the lives of this ‘Lost Tonal Tribe’ whose history is a story of both rebellion and tradition. The filmmakers, Matt and Erica Hinton spent 7 years documenting this yet largely unknown art form.
The Hintons wanted to put together a soundtrack for their film that would provide an introduction to the songs of The Sacred Harp, and also they wanted to make the songs accessible for a new audience. They tapped an amazing list of artists to contribute to the project, including John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin (who duets here with Rayna Gellert of Uncle Earl), Doc Watson, Elvis Perkins, Jim Lauderdale, Murry Hammond (of Old 97s), Danielson, Richard Buckner, The Innocence Mission, Rick Moody (author of Garden State and The Ice Storm), Woven Hand, Mac Powell (Third Day) and more.
“As a musician, it’s almost impossible to sing Sacred Harp without wondering what the songs would sound like in another context. That curiosity, combined with my desire to make Sacred Harp more known to a culture which has largely ignored it, led to the creation of Help Me to Sing. At its core, I see it as a way of opening a door to a musical tradition that very many people are unfamiliar with. As far as I’m concerned, Help Me to Sing is the hook. Real Sacred Harp singing, as heard on the Awake My Soul soundtrack… well, that’s the fish. It just so happens that in this case, even the bait wound up being extraordinary….” -Matt Hinton, co-director of Awake, My Soul
Disc 1: The Original Soundtrack of Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp, the critically acclaimed documentary as seen on PBS stations and featured on NPR, in TIME magazine, Pitchfork, The Chicago Tribune, Atlanta Journal, The Oregonian, etc. The soundtrack includes traditional Sacred Harp singing, as recorded in rural Georgia and Alabama.
Disc Two: Help Me to Sing: Songs of the Sacred Harp performed by various artists. This is the first ever collection of popular music adaptations of Sacred Harp songs. “Help Me to Sing” includes 19 never before heard tracks which were specifically comissioned for this CD by the co-director of Awake, My Soul, Matt Hinton.
MORE INTERESTING TIDBITS ABOUT THE PROJECT:
* While almost all of the songs included were written in the 18th & 19th centuries, the songs “Lloyd” (Awake My Soul OST) and “Christian’s Farewell” (Help Me to Sing) were written by a living songwriter, Raymond Hamrick, who, in his mid-90’s, continues to work as a watchmaker in the same shop he’s worked in since the 1930’s in Macon GA. Hamrick is featured prominently in the film Awake, My Soul and is widely considered to be the greatest living Sacred Harp composer.
* The little girl on the cover of Awake My Soul/ Help Me to Sing is Lorraine Miles. She was a 6 year old girl at a Sacred Harp singing in Mineral Wells, TX, when the photo was taken in 1930. During the final stages of production on Help Me to Sing, Murry Hammond (Old 97’s) mentioned in an off-handed manner that “she would be easy to find”, despite the fact that filmmakers Matt & Erica Hinton had spent the past 3 years looking out for her. Within one week, Hammond found her, alive and well, and living in Mineral Wells, completely oblivious to the fact that her potrait graced the cover of DVDs across the country. The following weekend, Lorraine Miles McFarland went to her first Sacred harp singing in over 70 years. She led a song and signed many autographs.
* The producer, and co-director of the film, Matt Hinton, is also known as a guitarist in the band Luxury and plays and sings on several tracks of “Help Me to Sing”
ABOUT THE MOVIE:
Awake, My Soul is a feature documentary that explores the history, music, and traditions of Sacred Harp singing, the oldest surviving American music. While often linked only to its history, (e.g. the songs were used in the recent historical films “Cold Mountain” and “Gangs of New York”) this haunting music has survived over 200 years tucked away from sight in the rural deep south, where in old wooden country churches, devoted singers break open The Sacred Harp, a shape note hymnal first published in Georgia in 1844. These singers have inherited The Sacred Harp and its traditions from those who came before them and preserved these fierce yet beautiful songs, many of which are much older than the hymnal itself. And so they, like the early singers, begin each song by intoning syllables which are represented by each shaped note in their hymnal: fa, sol, la, and mi. To the casual observer, it is some foreign, unintelligible language, but to these Sacred Harp singers, it is the key that unlocks mysteries: songs of both beauty and sorrow, of life and of death, songs that cause feet to stomp and tears to flow, often at the same time. They are ancient sounds, which are at times disorienting to the modern ear, and yet they are sung with such passion and force that it becomes obvious that these songs are very much alive. Awake My Soul is a film that captures both the history and the vitality of a music that is utterly unlike any music most viewers are likely to have heard.
Insofar as Sacred Harp is among the earliest music in America, its history is incredibly rich. The narrative that emerges in this history is full of inspiring stories and of conflict, mostly with the cultural elites. In this way, the Sacred Harp tradition can be seen as being, on one hand conservative, in that it has preserved these old songs, and on the other hand, subversive, in that it has consistently repelled any attempts to tame or change it by the cultural and musical elites.
What is most moving about Awake, My Soul, however, is the singers themselves who wear their hearts on their sleeves when it comes to the songs they sing. These singers are surprisingly articulate, deeply thoughtful and often very funny individuals who are passionate about Sacred Harp singing. As Richard Delong puts it in the film, “We scheduled life around Sacred Harp singing. We didn’t schedule Sacred Harp singing around life.”
Over the course of 7 years, two Atlanta filmmakers, Erica and Matt Hinton, have painstakingly amassed hundreds of hours of traditional Sacred Harp singings in the southeast as well as interviews with the most prominent traditional Sacred Harp singers and composers.
Awake, My Soul is a wonderfully detailed quilt made up of historical material illustrated by rare archival images, interviews with singers who share their often moving personal histories, and the music itself, which is both earthy and otherworldly at the same time. It once was lost but now it’s found: This is the story of the Sacred Harp.
“If you’re a fan of American roots music, you won’t want to miss ‘Awake My Soul–The Story of the Sacred Harp.’ Filmmakers Matt and Erica Hinton have done a fine job capturing the history, sound and spirit of this unusual but compelling art form that, trust me, you don’t have to be religious to appreciate.”
-Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune
“‘Awake, My Soul‘ features some of the most raucous group vocals that have been recorded.”
“The film, and subject matter, is fascinating and informative. Traditions such as Sacred Harp singing run the risk of dying out, but filmmakers like the Hintons do a great service to the American musical, and historical, communities by fanning the embers to cause interest in this tradition to continue to burn brightly.”
“In the Hinton’s fine documentary: You get the feel of the people and the wonderful sound of the music, and thankfully without any condescension. As an introduction to Sacred Harp, it’s as amazing as the music itself.”
-“‘Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp‘ is a fascinating history of a raw, overwhelming, unconventional form of Southern hymn singing.”
“Matt and Erica Hinton’s ‘Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp‘… succeeds in immersing the viewer in a deeply-rooted and uniquely American musical culture… ‘Awake, My Soul‘ captures amazing recordings of the style in churches all over the American South.”
-The Vanguard (Portland, OR)
Awake, My Soul / Help Me To Sing
Street date: Oct. 14, 2008
Disc One: Awake, My Soul: Traditional Sacred Harp Singing from Georgia & Alabama
6. Bear Creek
10. Eternal Day
11. New Britain
13. Panting For Heaven
14. New Jordan
16. Prodigal Son
Disc Two: Help Me To Sing: Various Artists performing Songs Inspired by the Film
1 “Blooming Youth” – Rayna Gellert (Uncle Earl) & John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin)
2 “Weeping Pilgrim” – Elvis Perkins in Dearland
3 “David’s Lamentation” – The Good Players
4 “Africa” – The Innocence Mission
5 “The Christian’s Hope” – Jim Lauderdale with Jeni & Billy
6 “Help Me To Sing” – Mac Powell (Third Day)
7 “Columbus” – John Wesley Harding
8 “The Traveler” – Cordelia’s Dad
9 “Abbeville” – Liz Janes
10 “China” – All Things Bright & Beautiful
11 “Essay” – Tenement Halls
12 “Windham” – Richard Buckner
13 “Sermon on the Mount” – Danielson
14 “And Am I Born to Die?” – Doc Watson & Gaither Carlton
15 “Kedron” – Sam Amidon
16 “Consecration” – Woven Hand
17 “The Grieved Soul” – Rick Moody and Nina Katchadourian
18 “Vernon / Wrestling Jacob” – Tim Eriksen (Cold Mountain Soundtrack)
19 “Christian’s Farewell” – DM Stith
20 “Bound For Canaan” – Murry Hammond (Old 97’s)
To request a promo of the Soundtrack, DVD or to request an interview with anyone involved in the project, please contact Force Field PR.
AWAKE, MY SOUL LINKS:
General Info: awakmysoul.com