I admit I did not just find this song this week. The touring chamber choir I sang with as an undergraduate sang this piece one of the years I was in the group, and I loved it then. But it had totally slipped to the recesses of my mind until this week at the first rehearsal for my community choir's spring concert, where it appeared in the stack of sheet music I was handed as I walked in the door.
"Hark I Hear the Harps Eternal" is a shape-note hymn. In mid-eighteenth century America, shape-note singing originated out of a desire to assist people who were largely musically illiterate in singing music on sight. The basic idea was to give people a visual cue as to the note of the scale they were singing (based on four-syllable solfege):
Shape-note singing sessions still exist around this country, many of which work out of the Sacred Harp tradition.
The rousing arrangement of "Hark I Hear the Harps Eternal" I sang years ago and will be spending the next few Monday nights singing is by choral music legend, Alice Parker. Here is an excerpt--I couldn't find a YouTube recording with the audio clarity I wanted so that you would be able to hear the crisp articulation of the lower voices. I love the rhythms Parker uses--it takes the song to a whole new level.
This recording is by the San Francisco Symphony Chorus under the direction of Vance George from the CD, 1900-2000--a Choral Journey through the 20th Century.