Saturday morning I skipped out on a bunch of gardening chores that Laura had lined up for me and went to a shape note singing at Furman. When I arrived, there were about thirty singers already in their open square configuration, singing away.
Unlike the William Walker Memorial Singing at Wofford a couple of months ago, this event was held in a room designed for singing. The sound in Herring Hall (where the Greenville Chorale rehearses) was much more resonant, and the tunes sounded much better than they did in the dead room at Wofford.
The group started singing from the Southern Harmony, which has the more traditional do-re-mi scale. Even so, I struggled with the note names on the initial sing-through, and wound up singing “la” for most of the notes. For the second hour of the morning, they switched to the Sacred Harp, which uses the four-shape fa-so-la scale. It was much harder, and I never really got the hang of the note names. There was a break when we switched from one tune book to the other, and I had a chance to talk with several of the singers. I was told that Southern Harmony tends to be a bit more subdued, whereas Sacred Harp singing is always more raucous. Even though the notes were more difficult for me, I was up for high-energy raucous singing.
I found that it’s really difficult to document AND participate. I didn’t want to stop to take photos during a song which I was enjoying. Therefore, lots of my photos were shot with camera in one hand with my fast f/1.8 lens and my tune book in the other. I also had my field recorder going. However, I still haven’t gotten the hang of adjusting the levels. Even with the device set for automatic level adjustment, the sounds are blown out and distorted. None of the recording was really usable.
At one point the group secretary turned to me and asked if I would be interested in leading. I like to think that I know a good bit about Southern Harmony and Sacred Harp, but I was nowhere near versed like these folks, who sing just about every other week. Each leader picks the next song to sing, and I did not want to commit a social faux pas by selecting someone else’s favorite song to lead, or by picking a song that was passe’.
Hesitating, I agreed to lead. After all, I’ve been a music director at various churches for nearly 25 years. To quote Jeremy Clarkson, “How hard can it be?” I found out how hard. I picked Morning Trumpet, because that has a lively tempo and is one of the songs with which I’m more familiar. I had someone else give the pitches, and we started out. I set a brisk tempo, attempting to “conduct” the group. You don’t do that. You simply keep a beat and try to lead. Once we got past my fumbling over the note names, and actually got into singing the song, my leading improved, and I started to enjoy it. I think it was a successful first attempt. However, the next time I take a notion to lead, I’ll have a song picked out ahead of time and make sure I can sing the fa-so-la note names.
Audio of me leading Morning Trumpet, number 85 in The Sacred Harp
I only stayed for a couple of hours in the morning. There would be a lunch and the singing would continue until 3:00. However, those chores that I had skipped out on were calling, and I needed to get back. This singing was much more enjoyable than the one at Wofford. My favorite was still the one in Owings, and I do want to attend a singing at some little white frame church. It’s just that between my multitude of other interests, I don’t know how I might squeeze that in.
[tags]Sacred Harp, Shape Note Singing, Southern Harmony[/tags]