Singing at home

That big bass sound

Another night of large attendance: just before the break I counted 32 singers total, with 17 in the tenor section, 7 altos, 5 basses, and 4 trebles. Of the 31 singers present, about half were new singers: we handed out 16 loaner books, only one of which went to an experienced singer who had forgotten their own book.

Even with all the new singers, the class sounded very good again this week. I especially liked the bass section tonight. The five of us who were present tend to come pretty regularly, and we have come to some tacit agreements on the way we’ll sound, e.g., on fuguing entrances we hit the first and third beats pretty hard, and we pretty much know who’s going to take which choice notes. Above all, we stay very much in tune with each other except for some minor ornamentation (and David does most of the ornamentation).

Because we know each other pretty well, and because we are so good about staying in tune, we sometimes achieve the bass sound I like best. I don’t quite know how to describe that sound. It’s big and warm and it supports all the higher voices, but that doesn’t really say what it sounds like. In some ways it’s similar to a certain kind of mountain dulcimer — I played mountain dulcimer pretty seriously for about ten years, and sometimes I would tune one of the drones down to the D below middle C, and it would produce a deep, insistent, buzzing, nasal sound — that’s kind of like the bass sound I prefer in a Sacred Harp singing.

Even though I can’t adequately describe the sound, I can tell you what it feels like to be in the middle of that sound. Tonight it felt like I was in the middle of this wave of sound that every once in a while lifted up into the upper notes of our range, then sank back down into the lowest notes, wave on wave of sound that carried me inexorably along, an ocean of sound. This is why I love singing bass (not that I have a choice; my voice is only capable of singing bass); I simply don’t get that same feeling from higher voices.