I just recently discovered the legacy of Alan Lomax, a prolific ethnomusicologist that traveled the world recording traditional folk music and other assorted performances that aren’t usually covered or mass-produced in the industry.
I recently got into this great collection called Root Hog Or Die: 100 Years, 100 Songs – An Alan Lomax Centennial Tribute put out on Mississippi Records, collecting 100 of his best recordings. The foundations of folk and music today as we know it. The raw emotion and culture of it all is pretty breathtaking. One of the more interesting things (although they’re all interesting) is the tradition of Sacred Harp choirs, as we can hear here on “New Prospect (#320)”. I recommend you look up the specifics of Sacred Harp singing, but the short of it is a style of extremely harmonious religious choir arrangement with an emphasis on inclusivity and community. Everybody in the church is a-singin’ regardless if they’re trained or not. The use of shape-singing allows singers to easily get the pitch regardless if they know how to read music or not.
Long story short – what results is a euphoric assault on the senses. Simple, repetitive songs comprised of many, many voices all singing parts that at times come apart, and at some times unite in some of the most gorgeous harmonies you’ll ever hear. I was folding laundry at around 2am last night just losing my mind to some of the songs that Lomax recorded. The untrained voices going along to the melodies as well is also incredibly inspiring, much like seeing non-actors in films really nail their parts. It’s truly just normal people, singing to be a part of something bigger than themselves.