By Artist Heather Theresa Clark. Elizabeth Rossano, cinematography; Sean Clute, audio recording; Bill Wolter, audio master; Kerry Cullinan, Constance Des Marais, Scott Luscombe, Moira Smiley, singers. Special thanks to SOH Wind Engineering for use of the wind tunnel.
In this piece, traditional Sacred Harp Shape Note singers were recorded in an industrial wind tunnel. The four singers sing, and then repeat, the traditional song, Idumea, first in ‘shapes’ and then in words, as the wind tunnel fans quickly pick up speed.
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.