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.