I’m not a reporter; I’m a fan. Musical experiences are something I take part in primarily, if not solely, because I want to, not from some duty to report back on them. I just want it to be clear that when I do something like below, writing on the experience here is a by-product.
Little girl leads Odem’s Chapel 1949, still from Awake My Soul
Monday night I tried my hand at Sacred Harp singing. There are local groups that sing and I went to the one that meets weekly in Berkeley (Mondays from 7:30-9:30pm). I’ve written about Sacred Harp before.
They meet and sing in a small chapel in a theological seminary just north of the UC campus. Pews are moved around to make a square with a couple rows per side: basses are across from trebles, altos are across from tenors. Some started–the first person to lead got up in the center of the square and called out a number–28, I think it was. We all turned our books, the Sacred Harp, 9th Edition to that page. The leader–in this case, but sometimes it was another singer–sang the starting notes. We sang through the song once on “so la fa mi” then through with the words and then the cycle repeated. We repeated this process until the evening was up–perhaps 40 times in total.
I was a bit nervous about giving this a try. I haven’t sung from music in a number of years and even then it was quite briefly, with a lot of voices to hide behind and with a lot of rehearsals to get the notes right. It turned out to be fine, of course. I still can’t sight sing, but I could follow the strong singers in my section just fine. By the end I had even picked up the names of the shape notes. As it turns out, these help a lot–going from “fa” to “fa”, for instance is always either a fifth or an octave.
When it came my time to lead, I said I’d pick one–one of my favorites, “Sherburne”–but didn’t want to lead it. I got cajoled into leading that song with someone else.
Anyway, at this group at least, people sang. And loud. And without any pretensions or adornment in their voices. It was a lot of fun. Just letting your voice go and singing out. And the people in the group were quite welcoming and curious about what lead me to be there. If you have any interest in trying it out, I’d encourage going some week.