Southern Advent service set for Saturday

OXFORD -- A 20-year tradition continues with Saturday's Southern Folk Advent Service at Old Church on the Oxford College campus.

The free event will take place at 4 p.m. and is open to the general public.

"There is no other event or service like Southern Folk Advent," said Steven Darsey, director of the Meridian Chorale, which will perform. Music will be exclusively from the Sacred Harp, derived from Southern folk sources, he said. "Our founding preacher Fred Craddock said, 'Folk will recognize this music who have never heard it before," added Darsey.

The Sonny Houston Bluegrass Band will perform bluegrass-Gospel music and theology professor and award-winning author E. Brooks Holifield will speak. Holified is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of American Church History Emeritus at Emory University. Holifield is a renowned scholar, speaker and author on American religious history. Last year, he was named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

The Meridian Chorale will sing tunes directly from the Sacred Harp tunebook, compiled in Georgia and published in 1844. They will sing three Sacred Harp tunes in arrangements made by Darsey: "Morning Trumpet," a dramatic piece calling for the coming of Christ, featuring solos by tenor Timothy Miller and bass Lawson Anderson; "Exultation," a haunting tune for choir, violin and soprano, with Alexis Lundy soloing; and the triumphant, "Elysian" for choir and soprano, with Anne-Marie Spalinger soloing.

"Those who attend will not only enjoy the inherent beauty of this heritage music, but also experience the hard-wrought, heartfelt spirituality of frontier Southerners and learn how their wisdom and faith yet help us today," Darsey said. "The service explores the gamut from holy awe to ebullient joy, ending with everyone singing, 'And through all eternity we'll rejoice, we'll rejoice.'"

Since its inaugural service in 1993, Southern Folk Advent has become a holiday tradition. A form of Lessons and Carols, the service is based on folk hymns from the historic Sacred Harp tunebook. The tunes are presented in a variety of formats, with the Meridian Chorale singing some in original arrangements and the congregation singing others both a cappella and with folk instrumental accompaniment. The hymns arose from the life experience of poor folk struggling to survive in the early 19th century South, Darsey said. Their haunting music embodies the struggles and dreams of generations singing and praying for the coming of Christ, he said.

Built in 1841, Old Church springs from the same era and region as The Sacred Harp. Old Church is near Oxford College of Emory University in Oxford, on the corner of Fletcher and Wesley streets. For more information and directions, visit www.meridianherald.org.