At tonight’s singing, after the break, Susan stood up to lead the class in no. 163b, “China.” Several people had had to leave during the break, and we were down to less than 20 singers; yet in spite of that, my sense was that the singing was stronger; we had hit our stride. Susan asked for all three verses, which we sang quite well — loud and true and with good rhythm — and then Susan told us there’s a fourth verse, which she would line out for us.
I have never heard of anyone lining out a verse for a Sacred Harp class. indeed, the old New England singing schools, from whence the Sacred harp tradition springs, was begun to replace the old chaotic lining-out of hymns with Regular Singing. As Regular Singing continues to die out in churches, the lining-out of hymns is making a modest come-back in some worship services; I’ve lined out a few hymns myself, and rather like it. But, as I say, it was odd to hear lining-out in a Sacred Harp class.
Susan would barely get the words out of her mouth when the class would respond with a rush of sound, not even waiting for her to mark time. I have never heard a lined-out hymn sound so good. There was no stumbling or fumbling for words; Sacred Harp singing develops a singer’s memory. There was no hesitation about the music; even though we were all looking at our books, Sacred Harp singing turns singers into excellent sight-readers, so even the distraction and novelty of lining-out did not distract the class from singing the music. There was no need to wait for Susan to mark time; the Sacred Harp tradition cultivates musical leadership among all singers.