Santa Cruz All Day singing

The Santa Cruz All Day singing was simply delightful. It was a relatively small singing — the greatest number of singers I counted in the room at any one time was 35 — but the room was just right for the size of the group, and there were fabulous singers on every bench.

Some tunes just sound better with a smaller group. I led 504 “Wood Street,” and this was the best I’ve ever heard it: you could hear every part very distinctly and I was able to push the tempo to be a little faster than usual without it sounding in the least muddy. Now “Wood Street” also sounds great in a large group, but the clarity of singing that comes with a small group — more precise timing, more accuracy in tuning chords, more distinct enunciation — made it sound exceptionally good.

After the singing, there were walks on the beach, and then we went back to Ed’s house for some more singing. We sang from the Shenandoah Harmony; we had at least one good sight-singer on each part, so we were able to tackle some challenging tunes. There were some magical moments; our rendering of William Billings’ “Warren” was, I felt, not only accurate but quite tuneful. There were also one or two train wrecks, as you’d expect, but only one or two.

This was my first extended time singing from the Shenandoah Harmony: an hour during the all-day singing, and an hour with a small group after the main singing. There are many things I really like about the Shenandoah Harmony. It includes some of the best tunes from other modern tunebooks, like Billings’ “Brookfield” (also in the Norumbega Harmony), and “Captain Kidd” (in the Social Harp). It includes plenty of material from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, which are my favorite eras in the shape note tradition. It has many interesting tunes.

There are also things I find less interesting: William Walker’s “Friendship” is better in his three-part version, with the crunchy tri-tones and weird spare harmony; the back-to-back fermatas used in transcribing “Symyadda” don’t quite capture the feel of the tune for me. But I can understand the reasoning behind these decisions: altos like to have four-part tunes and it’s just about impossible to write a good alto part for “Friendship” (I’ve tried); and transcriptions are difficult — even Ruth Crawford Seeger got in trouble with her overly accurate transcriptions of field recordings (so accurate only trained musicians could perform some of them), which may simply mean that some music has to be learned by ear.

Summing up the Santa Cruz All Day Singing:

Approximately 40 singers came through during the course of the day. 25 singers led 86 tunes. Every single singer was from northern California. When we got home, Carol looked at me and said, “You look ten years younger. That singing was good for you.”


Above: The alto bench mid-morning.


Above: Carolyn bringing in the altos.

Shepherd of Tender Youth

At the social after the Palo Alto All-Day Singing, several singers were willing to read through a couple of new tunes I had written. This was one of them. The best part is when the various parts enter for the fuguing section: in the first and second measures of the second system, the whole thing feels like it accelerates. Fun to sing.

Shepherd of Tender Youth 6.6.4. 6.6.4.

Stars in My Crown

Inspired by Caroline Shaw’s composition based on the words to the old gospel hymn “Stars in My Crown,” I decided to write a Sacred Harp tune using this text. My version came out unlike both Shaw’s version, and the gospel version. We sang it today in the Palo Alto bimonthly singing with a strong class, and I thought it sounded pretty good. The singers seemed to like it too.

Here’s the sheet music — alas, I didn’t have time to make it pretty, but it’s legible:


I started writing this tune on April 21, the day my father died, and finished it the day of his memorial service. I cleaned up a few errors after that, but the bulk of the composition took place in those six days.

More photos from Sacramento


Tenors and basses.


Susan leading at mid-day. At this point, there were about 53 singers seated in the room, and there were another half dozen or so elsewhere at the church — call it 60 singers at that moment in time, plus 3 children/teens who were not singing. Since we saw people coming and going all day, I’d estimate that perhaps 70 singers participated over the course of the day.


Tom leading.


Karen bringing in the altos.


Looking down the bass benches towards the tenors.

Sacramento All-Day Singing

Here are some photos from all-day singing today at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church in Rancho Cordova. I’ll post some more photos in a day or so.


Pat, the chair, leading, with David on the front bench, and Cecil looking on.


Linda bringing in the basses on 198 Green street.


Ed bringing in the basses.


From the bass section, looking across to the loud and happy trebles.


Still going strong at three o’clock in the afternoon.