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Posted: December 3, 2010 4:45 p.m.

Southern Folk Advent Saturday in Oxford

Oxford College to host Southern Folk Advent

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Traditional folk hymns of the South are combined with a modern liturgy and presentation of the Biblical Christmas story as Meridian Herald presents its 17th annual Southern Folk Advent at 4 p.m. Saturday at The Old Church at Oxford College.

The history of folk hymns is intertwined with the history of the South. Folk hymns stemmed from the expressions of faith of poor Southern farmers in the 19th century. Southerners would gather at participatory "singings," where everyone in the community would sing these hymns together. Many of the best-known shape-note folk hymns were collected in The Sacred Harp tunebook, which was originally published in 1844 in Hamilton, Ga. Shape-note hymns derive their name from the musical notation, which uses different shapes to signify musical notes, as opposed to standard musical notation, which uses an oval shape for all notes.

"The folk hymns have been passed from friend to friend, from family to family and from community to community, and have been sung so often, that like stones that have been worn smooth by a mountain stream, all the conceits have been worn away, leaving a song of pure spirituality," said Dr. Steven Darsey, who will direct the music at the program. "The Bible teaches us to honor our mothers and fathers. Among the ways we do this is by honoring the spiritual traditions they gave us — their forms of prayer and singing. These tunes, though with European antecedents, were hewn in the American frontier, and thus embody a union of land, people and God."

The Southern Folk Advent has been a tradition in Oxford since 1997. The event is presented by Meridian Herald, an organization established in 1997 to help Southerners connect with the worship, music, and cultural traditions of past generations.

The featured speaker is Dr. E. Brooks Holifield, the Charles Howard Candler Professor of American Church History in the Candler School of Theology and the Graduate Division of Religion at Emory University. He has written numerous books and articles related to religious history, the history of Christian thought in America, and early Colonial American religion. Holifield was honored in 2009 as Outstanding Theological Educator by the Association of Theological Schools.

Darsey has been music director of Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church on the Emory campus in Atlanta since 1986. His work with traditional Southern shape-note singing and The Sacred Harp tunebook has led him to develop a series of worship services based on these traditional hymns.

The Meridian Chorale will perform at the event. The chorale, directed by Darsey, specializes in traditional Southern hymns.

The Sonny Houston Band also will perform. Houston is a folk and bluegrass singer, music instructor and lecturer who performs throughout the South. The band is known for its haunting renditions of traditional folk and bluegrass tunes and hymns.

Darsey said to expect an instant familiarity with the hymns at the event.

"My mentor, preacher Fred B. Craddock, once said that folk will recognize these tunes who have never heard them," he said. "I believe he meant that these ideals and these tunes were so embedded in our spiritual DNA that, though they have been virtually lost for several generations, we will know them when we hear them."

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