We had 28-30 people show up for the final session of the fall singing school today (people kept coming and going, so I never got a firm count). Our singing master once again was Julian Damashek. Julian was planning on spending a short time on fuguing tunes, and then throwing it open to a question and answer session, but it quickly became clear that there were lots of absolute beginners who had not attended the first two sessions of the singing school. So Julian spent a quarter of an hour quickly going over the basics, before moving into his planned session on fuguing tunes. Then someone from the class asked about repeats, and Julian went over what a repeat is, when it is optional, and when it is not optional. And that ate up the entire hour. It’s amazing how quickly an hour goes by!
Once again, the class sounded very good indeed, thanks both the the experienced singers who came, and the many newer singers who sang extremely well.
And now a little review and evaluation of the singing school as a whole:
Some 54 people attended the first session of the singing school, 30 the second session, and 28-30 the final session. I estimate about 80 individuals total attended one or more sessions of the singing school; of those 80 individuals, perhaps 40 were experienced singers, about 20 had some Sacred Harp experience but still think of themselves as new singers, and perhaps 20 sang Sacred Harp for the very first time at this singing school.
I had expected most participants to try to attend all three sessions. That’s not how it worked out: we saw brand-new singers at each of the three sessions, only a few new singers could come to all three sessions, and so we had a lot of “churn” in the attendance. Nevertheless, I think the new singers who did come to two or more sessions of the singing school got far more out of it than the new singers who were only able to attend one session. From the perspective of learning how to sing, having three sessions was a definite benefit.
Presenting this singing school involved a lot of time and effort on the part of the two singing masters, all the experienced singers who drove as much as an hour each way to show up and help support the new singers, and the various people who helped in other ways (bringing extra food, helping with publicity, etc.). It did take a lot of my time as well, but fortunately I was able to count this as part of my job as minister of religious education at the host church, so I actually got paid for some of my time. Was the singing school worth all the time and effort? I’d say yes: we introduced at least 20 people to singing Sacred harp for the very first time, and all the new singers got to experience Sacred Harp singing at its best, thanks to the experienced singers who turned out.
The location proved to be better than I had expected. It’s five minutes off the freeway, with lots of parking. The room we used turned out to be quite good for Sacred Harp singing, with a relatively low wood ceiling, wood floors, and lots of wood and glass on the walls. (The room would be good for a smaller all-day singing: we could have handled 60-70 people if we put the food outside.) The big downside was that the church is heavily used on Sundays, and a couple of times the singing masters had to compete with a drum circle and other noise.
If I had to do it again, would I do it the same way? I think I would. The combination of three sessions, the singing masters, the experienced singers, the good room, etc., was a good combination. However, I would not try the same kind of singing school again for a while: part of what made this singing school so effective was its novelty, and I’d wait two or three years before trying the same thing again.