By Michaela Kron
The melodic soul of Sandy Springs will awaken Aug. 17 when a crowd travels 250 years back in time to experience a myriad of simple voices united in Sacred Harp singing, a haunting form of a cappella.
At 4 p.m. that Sunday at the Hitson Center, Heritage Sandy Springs will present “Awake, My Soul,” a feature documentary that delves into Sacred Harp singing, a key element of the South’s spiritual history that is often unknown or overlooked. The screening is free and will be followed by a question-and-answer session with the husband-and-wife directing team of Matt and Erica Hinton.
The Hintons met at Georgia State University, where the documentary began as a 10-minute film Erica completed for a documentary film class with Matt’s help.
Matt’s interest in Sacred Harp shape-note hymn singing began when he was in high school.
“I saw a flier somewhere for Sacred Harp singing that was happening in North Fulton, near Alpharetta,” he said. “Just walking in the door of this old, small church was unbelievable. I could hear the music before I walked in. It was preposterously loud, and I had the impression at the time that those were the last people on Earth who were doing this.”
After producing the short film about Sacred Harp singing, Matt and Erica decided to expand their work.
“It was a good short film, but 10 minutes isn’t enough to cover a 250-year-old tradition,” Matt said. “In essence, we never stopped bringing a camera to singings. Over the course of about seven years, we amassed enough footage that it didn’t make sense not to finish the film.”
Sacred Harp singing began in rural churches. Today, people preserve the tradition by gathering in old country churches and using “The Sacred Harp,” a 160-year-old shape-note hymnal.
By presenting “Awake, My Soul,” Heritage Sandy Springs hopes to educate residents about an important aspect of Sandy Springs’ historical and cultural roots.
“Our heritage is about real people,” Heritage Sandy Springs curator Kimberly Brigance said. “We have such a rich history in Sandy Springs, and we’re losing it every day.”
Brigance said that presenting “Awake, My Soul” at the Hitson Center, across from Sandy Springs United Methodist Church, will provide a cultural memory of the Sacred Harp singing that took place in Sandy Springs.
Brigance also noted the meaning Sacred Harp singing held for people. “There wasn’t a lot of physical beauty,” she said, “but this was an artistic beauty that everybody could participate in.”
Through their film, the Hintons hope to convey various messages about the history of a sacred, often-forgotten art form. “We hope that people will be informed of the Sacred Harp tradition,” Matt said. “We’d like for it to be emotionally and spiritually moving for people.”
To hear a sample of Sacred Heart singing, visit www.reporternewspapers.net.