Documentary sings praise for oldest American music

By Azra Drljevic

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The “oldest surviving American music” will be featured on campus tonight in a documentary.

The UK Appalachian Center will be sponsoring a film about sacred Harp singing, “Awake, My Soul,” along with a discussion tonight at 6 in the Niles Gallery in the Lucille Little Fine Arts Library.

Sacred Harp singing is an American tradition that started during the Revolutionary War and has been predominantly preserved in the rural South. It is a style of choral singing that comes from schools in the colonial period.

“ ‘Awake, My Soul’ is a feature documentary that explores the history, music and traditions of Sacred Harp singing, the oldest surviving American music,” according to the film’s Web site.

Despite the name, no instruments — including harps — are involved in Sacred Harp singing.

Instead, the name comes from “The Sacred Harp,” the songbook singers read from. It was first published in 1844, and again in 1991 with minor changes. While the original publication is still used in certain states, such as Florida and Texas, most of the south uses the more recent edition.

While sacred harp singing is not well known in urban settings, it has been used in the soundtracks of major films such as “Cold Mountain” and “Gangs of New York.”

Matt and Erica Hinton, sacred harp singers from Georgia, made the documentary.

They met at Georgia State University and completed the project over seven years. In the process, they were married and had a child.

The documentary focuses on how the music originated, how it was preserved for 200 years and how it has impacted parts of America today.

“The Appalachian Center is interested in hosting events that show more of our history and culture,” said Evelyn Knight, Appalachian Center director.

The Appalachian Center wants to help make cultural experiences open to students, Knight said.

“This is the first of three films we’re going to be showing this semester,” she said.

The films focus on different aspects of American  culture, starting tonight with sacred harp singing.

More information about the “Awake, My Soul” documentary can be found at