The story I got was that they (the sacred harp singers) although disappointed that they wouldn't be able to share their music in an authentic way, decided to make the best of it...and they carried their Sacred Harp books to show their love of Sacred Harp Music. Sacred Harp singing is unique...its not really at all like singing in a choir (other than it is a group of people singing). Everyone participates, you face one another in a square, its not really meant for audiences, the sound is loud and strong and energetic (at least what I've heard and experienced)and it is an amazingly powerful sound and experience. Very organic somehow. The song was a patriotic one...it would have been quite something to hear something so 'non-hollywood' in that context. And in case some of you haven't seen the movie (as I haven't) there is some Sacred Harp singing on it. Thats why the use of Sacred Harp singers for the songs nominated from that movie.
Regarding how you could hardly hear them...I was disappointed...but not really surprised. I was the choir director of a choir that sang on the Emmys following Sep 11. Based on that (very limited) experience, I have come to the conclusion that the folks in that industry aren't really sure what to do with a choir on stage. Its like they don't know how to mike it so it can be heard. When my choir sang, it sounded wonderful and powerful in the theater itself, but came off very muffled and 'background' over television. Annoying....but fun to do despite that. I don't really understand it...seems like with all the electronic technology available they'd be able to figure out a way to make the choir *sound* like a choir.
OK - nuff about all that. Please feel free to resume other oscar related discussions. LOL