A Sacred Feast: Reflections on Sacred Harp Singing and by Kathryn Eastburn

By Kathryn Eastburn

A few have referred to as Sacred Harp making a song America’s earliest track. This robust nondenominational non secular making a song, a part of a deeply held Southern tradition, has unfold during the state during the last centuries. In A Sacred ceremonial dinner, Kathryn Eastburn trips into the group of Sacred Harp singers around the state and introduces readers to the curious glories of a practice that's practiced at the present time simply because it was once 200 years ago. Each of the book’s chapters visits a distinct zone and contours recipes from the accompanying culinary tradition—dinner at the floor, a hearty noontime ceremonial dinner. From oven-cooked pulled red meat barbecue to buck shop cornbread dressing to pink velvet cake, those recipes inform a narrative of nourishing the physique, the soul, and the voice. The Sacred Harp’s deeply relocating sound and spirit resonate via those pages, captured at conventions in Alabama, Kentucky, Texas, Colorado, and Washington, conveyed in photos of singers, and celebrated within the attractions, sounds, smells, and tastes of all-day making a song and dinner at the floor echoing via generations and centuries. (20080410)

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Extra info for A Sacred Feast: Reflections on Sacred Harp Singing and Dinner on the Ground (At Table)

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Because I knew the tune, I was comfortable singing along. My country ’tis of thee Sweet land of liberty Of thee I sing. Eyes met across the square as the singers’ voices rose in unfamiliar harmonies set to the familiar tune. Operation Iraqi Freedom, set in motion by former Texas governor George W. Bush, had barely begun and I was already dreading the entry of my son, an Army reservist, into the fray. Driving across Texas, I had winced at the sight of so many American flags, feeling only dread over what they symbolized: a war that would take my son to the Middle East.

I believe there’s a place in the square for me,” he says, referring to the eternal resting place Sacred Harp singers aspire to. Following dinner on day two, the singing swells to new heights. On day three, I sit next to a beautiful young couple and their seven-week-old baby. Dark-haired and dark-eyed, the 32 bir ming ham mother and father could easily be mistaken for siblings. Their olive-skinned little daughter, dressed in a pink stretch suit with tight knit pink booties, looks mesmerized by the music.

Sing it right lively,” he instructs. This is an eighteenth-century Watts lyric titled “Ocean,” with musical lines that mimic swelling and towering ocean waves. I imagine that the vibration of this huge choir of roiling voices enters the baby’s body, massaging her. She dozes and wakes up, dozes and wakes up, her mother handling her expertly, moving her from knees to shoulder to lap, jiggling her to the time of the music. Her father, who can’t be a day over twenty-one, takes her in his large hands when the mother wants to focus on the songbook.

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