Searching for the Sacred in a Song

Today’s post by this month’s featured author, Kimberly Brock | @KimberlyDBrock

Kimberly Brock

Music has always been an art that reaches my emotions before anything else, and on a deeper level than most forms of expression. I love instruments, I love choirs, I love blues, I love soul, I love old time Appalachian bands and gospel. I love orchestral pieces and accordions and harmonicas and French horns and tympani drums. I love jigs and reels and fugues and hymns and carols and Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash and Broadway tunes and soundtracks and Carol King.

And I love lyrics. I love a songwriter who can string together inspired poetry that I can sing to the tops of my lungs. There is no purer manifestation of the yearnings of the human heart. At least, not mine.

When I write, I always find inspiration in music and my playlist becomes a kind of personal soundtrack that follows me around through my days. Ironically, I can’t actually write while I listen. But almost any other time, my ipod is working hard to help my brain form the story it wants to tell. In particular, with The River Witch I relied on music to transport me to the setting. I did listen to some Sacred Harp music occasionally, but found it difficult to appreciate for its own sake. I think the experience of actually participating in a singing is what most interested me.

What I did do was start to search for songs that were sacred to me, as the alligators’ songs were sacred to those on Manny’s Island. I went looking for music that moved me or challenged me, like Granny Byrne’s choir. Lyrics that spoke truth or drew a strong reaction, like the Trezevants. Driving rhythm that helped me imagine the Seminoles or the Saltwater Geechee people, like Nonnie. Lullabies that the mothers in this book and the world over, may have murmured to their children. Hymns that brought lonely individuals to a bountiful table of acceptance, the true power of the Sacred Harp. And soon, I had a list of songs that began to tell a story much like the one in the novel.

Of course, there were many more than the ones listed here. Songs of all kinds, because just as I believe our stories are all about our search for the divine in a temporal world, our music is an expression of the longings of the soul.

I wonder what songs are sacred to you?  I hope you’ll enjoy the music on my playlist and maybe share some of your own.

The River Witch Playlist

Oh Cumberland Matracea Berg and Emmylou Harris (The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band)

Salty South Indigo Girls (Acoustic Version)

Somewhere to Lay My Head Florida Folk Life Collection

Flood Waters Anna Kline and the Grits and Soul Band

She’s Not Innocent Antigone Rising

All Roads to the River Kathy Mattea

Wayfaring Stranger Emmylou Harris

I Find Jesus The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Fleet of Hope Indigo Girls (Acoustic Version)

Amazing Grace Florida Alabama Progressive Seven Shape Note Singers

Forever Young Bob Dylan (Biograph version)

I’ll Fly Away Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch

Here I Am Mary Chapin Carpenter

Wellington’s Reel Florida Folk Life Collection

Just Breathe Pearl Jam

Jubilee Mary Chapin Carpenter

Wagon Wheel – Old Crow Medicine Show

Down in the Valley – The Head & the Heart

Question for you: what’s on your favorite playlist? When do you listen to it?

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10 Responses to Searching for the Sacred in a Song

  1. Melinda K Taylor June 21, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    I too l love all types of music, especially country and western, light jazz and bluegrass. I usually listen to music when I am cleaning house and riding in my car. I always have the radio or tv on. This book sounds intriging,

  2. Pamela Mason June 21, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    There are several songs here on your playlist I absolutely! I’ll Fly Away is so gorgeous, and there is a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter that I love that aaaargh!… can’t remember its title… but it was in that movie with Jeff Bridges where his daughter flies the geese south…?

    Amazing Grace is sacred to me also.
    But I love the lyrics in many Coldplay songs, like Fix You, and Yellow.

    I”ll try to find that song & movie – it’s hauntingly beautiful.

  3. Kimberly Brock June 21, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Hope you’ll enjoy the music and the book, Melinda!

  4. Kimberly Brock June 21, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Pamela, Mary Chapin Carpenter is a master of lyrics and a genius musician. If you ever have the opportunity to see her live, don’t miss it!

    I love Cold Play’s YELLOW, too. 😉

  5. Sally Kilpatrick June 21, 2012 at 10:17 am #


    I had to come comment because you know I love my music. Beulah Land and the Happy Hour Choir was inspired by the song “Dwelling in Beulah Land” and the thought, “What would happen if you were named for heaven, but couldn’t live up to those expectations?” I definitely have an entire playlist of songs from that novel–lots of hymns, New Orleans jazz, old school country, and even a few Beatles tunes.

    Even the new novel I’m working on has songs. The biggest one so far is “Islands in the Stream.” Don’t even ask me why.

    Your use of the Sacred Harp and shape notes fits right in with the Cokesbury that I feature so prominently in Beulah’s story. I have an ancient copy of the Cokesbury with the shape notes. Also, my granny was a primitive baptist–so I learned a little about shape notes from her. Either way, that part of your novel really speaks to me. : )

  6. Teresa Ahrenholtz June 21, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    Thanks for your playlist. It is like a sound track for me while I read River Witch. I’ve been meaning to look up Sacred Harp music because I am unfamiliar with it. Now maybe I’ll get going on that.

    I love all kinds of music, though rarely listen to country. Different music for different moods–70s/80s rock when cleaning house or painting/wallpapering project; classical to relax to; hymns when I want to be contemplative about my faith. Just went to a blues festival on Saturday and had fun listening to that.

  7. Kimberly Brock June 23, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Sally, I’m looking up your song! Sounds great! And we need to chat soon about this book of yours. 🙂

    Teresa, I’m so glad you like the play list AND the book! I’m dying to answer your questions on the discussion boards, but want to let you come to answers of your own first. Don’t miss when I post at the end of each week — I’d love to know what you think! xoxo

  8. squeaky June 24, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    So have you made it to a Sacred Harp singing? You have two chances a month for regular singing in Atlanta, let alone annual singings scattered around Ga. and Ala. and other regular singings in north Georgia. As you suspect, you haven’t truly experienced Sacred Harp till you’ve been in the hollow square.

  9. Kimberly Brock June 25, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Hey Squeaky, Nope I haven’t made it to an actual singing yet. But I hope to this fall! 🙂 Do you attend?


  1. Lyrical and readgainable! | Susan Meissner - November 6, 2012

    […] It was this umbilicus to music that drew me more than anything. And for good reason. Music has always been maternal to me. Kimberly has a wonderful blog post on She Reads Book Club (The River Witch was a recent pick there) where she details how music played a role not only in the story but also in the writing of it.   Check out the music Kimberly listened to while she wrote. […]

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