I LOVE Sacred Harp music. Either you wholeheartedly agree with me, or I've already lost you. Let me back up...
Sacred Harp, also known as "Shape Note" singing is one of the earliest forms of American vocal music. One could easily write a doctoral dissertation on the subject, so I'm not going to get TOO in-depth here, but let's just say that it's a southern tradition of religious choral music where the note heads on the sheet music correspond to the musical scale (think Sound of Music: fa, sol, la...).
In addition to the rich history surrounding this genre, there are several other factors that contribute to the chills that run down my spine when I hear it. One word comes to mind - PRIMAL. These singers are not the little old choir ladies you may have grown up singing with. The first run-through of a hymn typically consisted of singing the solfege syllables (at the top of your lungs), partly so one could concern themselves solely with the melody and not the lyrics.
Also, the 4 vocal sections (soprano, alto, tenor and bass) sat FACING one another in a hollowed square, thus turning each performer into an audience member. This music was a community experience, and almost everyone listening was simultaneously participating in its creation.
If I had to guess, I would imagine that of the first 5,000 hours I spent playing piano, 4,500 of those were spent in an empty church sanctuary. (My church's grand was always preferable to my small upright at home. Also, there's something about trying to practice and knowing that someone is listening to you in the next room...) Hymns have always been some of my favorites, and most of those originated as Sacred Harp songs. The recording above is an arrangement I made of the Sacred Harp tune, "Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy," though you may have seen it under the name "I Will Arise." Mockingbird Musicians can not only play your weddings and events - we have musicians who are experienced church musicians and we love to substitute for church musicians when the occasion arises.
Note: It was recorded impromptu, and on a low quality practice recorder sitting (and clicking) on the music rack of a Steinway at the University of Louisville School of Music. Sorry for the low quality!