Singing at home

Wood walls, and more verses

Two things worth noting from today’s Palo Alto singing:

First, today’s class sounded really good. There were just ten of us — two tenors, two trebles, three altos, and three basses — but we took full advantage of the strengths of the room to create a big warm sound. The room we sing in is relatively small (about 16 feet square); the walls and ceiling are mostly wood with a couple of big windows; the floor is hard vinyl. The hard surfaces, square shape, and low ceiling mean you can hear everyone clearly; all that wood means that you get a nice warm sound. wish I had had an audio recorder, because we gave some nice readings of some of the tunes.

Second, after the singing Peter and I were talking about how many verses you should sing of a given tune. Both of us prefer to sing more verses, rather than less. If there are up to four verses, Peter said he prefers to sing them all; that would tend to be my preference. Peter and I both agreed that singing more verses can be better for newer singers; an additional verse or two can give a new singer time to get it right. From my point of view, why stop singing after just a verse or two? why not sing another verse or two, and take the time to enjoy the tune?

Of course, every practice singing has its own way of doing things. Many practice singings prefer to sing fewer verses, so the class can cover more songs in a given time, and there’s a lot to be said for that approach. But a strong case can also be made for singing all the verses of each tune: the class may get through fewer tunes, but they will know those tunes better. Peter pointed out that there exist practice singings, which are dominated by traditional Sacred Harp singers, where the class sings every verse of a tune; so there is precedent in the tradition for either approach.

As is true of so many things in Sacred Harp singing, there’s not one right way of doing things. And I think we’re lucky in the Bay area to have both approaches available: the Berkeley weekly singing moves through lots of tunes with only a few verses; the Palo Alto singing likes to sing lots of verses. I feel I’m a better singer because I can take advantage of both approaches. But I think I do prefer doing a couple more verses, taking a little more time to enjoy singing each tune.

One reply on “Wood walls, and more verses”

I really liked this week’s practice singing. As a new singer I prefer going through more verses on new songs- the cognitive load of sight-singing new songs for me makes it so I can’t remember what I’m singing as well because I’m spending so much effort just processing the new notes and words, and there’s virtually no chance I’ll remember it a few weeks later if I only do one or two verses. As I become more familiar with the style it’s becoming easier to learn new tunes, but I think particularly for new people you’re learning the style more than the tunes in the beginning.

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