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Fallon Dyer leads the group in a song. Every Labor Day folks come from all around, including one lady from Amersterdam, to sing and participate in a Sacred Harp singing held in a primitive Shoal Creek Baptist Church tucked away in the woods of Cleburne county. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)

EDWARDSVILLE — Tucked away in the Talladega National Forest in Cleburne County, you’ll find it.

Still have cell phone service? Keep going.

Off the highway, down a small, one-lane road that is little more than a glorified forest trail, sits an old log church. 

As soon as you see it, you’ll hear it. The chants, the harmonies and the flipping of hymnal pages.

It’s a sight and sound found every Labor Day since the 1920s at tiny Shoal Creek Church. Devotees of the traditional Sacred Harp style of singing gather in the old church in the woods to display their ancient art.

“I was born and raised singing it, as far as I remember,” said Pauline Kerr Deese. “The music just rings in your ears when you get to listening to the songs.”

Deese and around 50 others packed pews in the compact church Monday morning to belt out hymns. Locals and travelers alike made the trek down the dirt path to the old church, including a van carrying members of a Methodist Church in Marietta, Ga., and one woman, Cornelia van den Doel, who travelled all the way from Amsterdam.

Sacred Harp uses visually distinct “shape notes” that teach singers how to read music by sight. Shapes represent the music syllables of fa, so, la and mi. Leaders move their arms up and down to establish the rhythm of the song.

“Some of the songs you like are easier to learn than the others,” said Winfred Kerr, a singer who made the trek up from Chulafinnee led the group in a hymn called “Redemption.”

Kerr said Sacred Harp singing was a part of his life from a young age.

“There was just nothing else to do growing up,” Kerr joked.

Kerr attended his first Sacred Harp singing when he was 14, but was away from the style for about 43 years until he returned to it later in life.

After originating in the northeastern U.S., the traditional method of singing became widespread in the South.

“Families have maintained singing in their family,” said Les Jones, a member of Shoal Creek Church’s preservation society. “It’s common in this part of the south.”

Jones, whose grandfather and great grandfather were both on hand at the construction of the church, is deeply rooted in church and singing tradition.

According to Jones, the church’s current structure was built in 1895 after the original 1855 building was damaged by a fire.

“It’s one of the few remaining hand-split hand-hewn log churches in Alabama,” said Jones.

No congregation meets any longer at the old church, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, but weddings and events like the annual singing keep folks like Jones maintaining the historic building.

“It’s just as old-fashioned as it could ever be,” Jones said.

Contact Staff Writer Daniel Mayes at 256-235-3561 or danielmayesstar@gmail.com. On Twitter @DMayes_Star.

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