Carol and I headed over to to the Berkeley weekly singing tonight. I wound up sitting in front of Leland, and at the break I turned to him and said, “Have you changed something about your singing recently?”
He looked surprised. “What do you mean?”
“You sounded good,” I said. “I mean, you have a great voice anyway, but you sounded particularly good tonight.”
He shook his head. “No, I haven’t changed anything. I was just working on intonation tonight.”
We both agreed that you can hear yourself singing much better when you sit in the back bench of the bass section; there’s a wood-and-plaster wall right behind you that acts as a sounding board. It’s one of the few places in All Saints Chapel where I don’t feel in danger of over-singing.
And later I thought to myself: Intonation, yeah. We singers of the urban revival talk about accent and ornamentation and rhythm, but the few times I have heard traditional Southern singers, what really stood out for me was their precise intonation, and their careful tuning with other singers. Intonation is barely mentioned in the Rudiments chapter of The Sacred Harp, so we singers of the urban revival don’t talk much about it, but maybe we should.