Saturday, March 03, 2007

And Am I Born to Die?

My favorite Sacred Harp song, hands down, is 47, "Idumea":

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!

The lyrics are by Charles Wesley, the tune is by Ananias Davisson. The tune is "Idumea" in the proper sense; Sacred Harp singing is tune-singing, and the words are just there to go with it. Thus, instead of singing "Amazing Grace" you are singing "New Britain," its tune; even if you, in fact, sing the words of "Amazing Grace" to that tune. Any other words would do, although those are the standard ones. "Idumea" really needs to be heard in proper fasola style. Fortunately, since it is one of the most popular Sacred Harp songs, there are a lot of recordings online. Start here for a taste of it and many others.

Of course, since we are talking about fasola, it also really needs to be sung -- belted out fearlessly. Sacred Harp singing is less about the prettiness of the sound than the experience of the singing -- singers' music, as they say. I want some day to sing Idumea in a real Sacred Harp singing. Until then, it's humming and singing it on my own.

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