Singing at home

Why Sacred Harp makes you a good singer

Between way too much to do at work, and a graduate class I stupidly registered for, I have had no time to write about singing. Here are some notes from the weekly Berkeley singing of July 29 — posted three weeks late.

During the break tonight [July 29], I talked a little with Erika. She and I had both been away from the Berkeley singings — she had been singing with a choir (I neglected to ask which choir), and rehearsals were Monday evenings. And she had some interesting comments on how singing skills learned in Sacred Harp transferred to more conventional choral singing. (A little background — she said she had not sung with a conventional chorus since high school.)

The other altos remarked on how Erika was never tentative on entrances — this is obviously something we learn in Sacred Harp singing, she said, where in a fuguing tune, you need to come in on your part without hesitation. The director complimented her because she was always looking up — as she pointed out, you have to be looking up from your book in Sacred Harp singing to see what the leader is doing; and I would add that because we are forced to look from words to music to leader, we become adept at looking up and then finding our place in the music once again. Finally, and obviously, she said her sight-singing skills were above average — she was used to being confronted with an unknown piece of music, and just singing from it.

I had not thought before about how Sacred harp teaches us to handle entrances, and teaches us how to be able to look up. Not that I’m necessarily good at either skill — Erika is a much better singer than I — but I am certainly better than I was before I started singing Sacred Harp.