This video is shown as part of the installation The Erasure of Everyday Time.   In this video, traditional Sacred Harp Shape Note singers are recorded in an industrial wind tunnel.  The four singers sing, and then repeat, the traditional song Idumea.  Adhering to the shape note singing tradition, they first sing the ‘shapes’ (i.e., the sounds that represent each note of music).  Then they sing the words.  The wind tunnel fans quickly pick up speed.

Contributors:  Elizabeth Rossano, cinematography; Sean Clute, audio recording; Bill Wolter, audio master; Kerry Cullinan, Constance Des Marais, Scott Luscombe, Moira Smiley, singers

Everyone involved in this project donated their time.  The use of the wind tunnel was donated by SOH Wind Engineering.

What is Sacred Harp Shape Note Singing?

Sacred Harp Shape Note singing originated in New England in the 1700s when its population was largely illiterate.  Because most could not read the sacred hymns, they sang sounds or ‘shapes’ associated with each note instead of the words.  As time went on and more New Englanders became literate, the music fell out of favor and moved south.  It was not until the early 1970s, when a Sacred Harp singer from the south visited Bread and Puppet in Vermont, that the music came back in full force to Vermont.   The Vermonters fully embraced its primal sound.  Today Sacred Harp shape note singing is part of the cultural life of the Vermont singing community.  This video was recorded in Williston, Vermont.

In this video, the singers sing the traditional song Idumea in both ‘shapes’ and words.  The words are as follows –

And am I born to die?
To lay this body down
And must my trembling spirit fly
Into a world unknown?

A land of deepest shade
Unpierced by human thought
The dreary regions of the dead
Where all things are forgot

Soon as from earth I go
What will become of me?
Eternal happiness or woe
Must then my portion be

Waked by the trumpet sound
I from my grave shall rise
And see the Judge with glory crowned
And see the flaming skies!

And see the Judge with glory crowned
And see the flaming skies!