There’s a strong case to be made that singing with a weekly practice singing is like playing on a baseball team. Just as the 160-game baseball season requires strength in the short term and endurance over the long haul, singing full voice for two hours requires strength and singing like that every week requires endurance. And just as it’s a rare ball player who makes it through the whole season, it’s a rare Sacred Harp singer who can show up every week; ball players miss games due to injuries, while Sacred Harp singers miss singings due to jobs, personal responsibilities, travel — and yes, sometimes even due to injuries or hoarseness caused by poor vocal technique.
A baseball team mitigates player turnover by developing a strong bench and a good bullpen. Similarly, each section in a weekly singing can develop plenty of good singers, so that when the inevitable happens and someone can’t show up, you still have enough strong singers to hold down your part.
Our basses in the Berkeley weekly singing have become a strong bench. We have a strong sense of camaraderie; we actively reach out to and support newcomers when they join us; we’re sympathetic to each other when we make mistakes; we chat with each other during breaks; we listen well to each other; and we each play off the strengths of each other (e.g., those of us who are loud but not always accurate follow the guy who’s accurate but not always loud, etc.). We’ve built up a deep enough bass bench now that we can generally count on having at least four strong singers each week. And if one of our strong singers happens to be out of town this week to attend the Seattle Folklife Festival, we have plenty more strong singers to take his place on the front bench.
Yes, of course you can do this sort of thing throughout your local singing. But it seems to me you’re going to feel closer, both literally and figuratively, to the singers you sit right next to week after week. Yes, I know many singers like to try singing in different sections, and I like it when someone who usually sings treble or tenor comes and sings with us for a bit. But the guys I sit next to week after week are the ones I really rely on. And maybe this all is true mostly for altos and basses. Trebles and tenors tend to trade back and forth promiscuously, but if you really have a bass or an alto voice you’re going to stick pretty close to your own section.
In any case, the basses sounded particularly fine tonight, even though one of our strong singers was indeed at the Seattle Folklife Festival, even though another strong singer is home with his toddler, even though we were missing a couple of other basses for unknown reasons. We have a strong bench with good team spirit. It’s a good group of guys, who are also lots of fun to sing with.