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All-day singings & conventions

10th annual Pioneer Valley All-Day Singing

The 10th annual Pioneer Valley All-Day Singing took place today in the parish hall of the First Congregational Church of Sunderland, Massachusetts. This singing was sponsored by the Western Massachusetts Sacred Harp Community. The Western Mass. Sacred Harp community has the reputation of tending to be a youngish and hip crowd, with vigorous and energetic singers; and they have the reputation of having good turnouts at their singings. I saw evidence of all these things at this year’s Pioneer Valley All-Day Singing.

The average age appeared to be fairly young, with a good selection of tattoos and piercings; and dinner on the grounds featured a good selection of vegan dishes. All this was in keeping with the hip culture of central Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley. The singing was indeed vigorous and energetic, and many of the songs were taken at quite a brisk tempo. It will be interesting to see the minutes when they are published, to see just how many songs we got through in the day; it felt as if there were a few more than average. The singers filled the room; the bass section had only one or two empty chairs during most of the day; the altos expanded back into the section of the room where the food was; the tenor section was well-filled; the treble section was perhaps the least full.

I had forgotten how stand-offish New Englanders can be; the only person who talked to me at length was Swiss-German, not a New Englander at all; a few other people noticed that my name tag said I was from California, commented on that, and then ended the conversation. The Western Mass. folks have the reputation of being very welcoming, but that must be in comparison to the general New England culture — but then, I attended one monthly singing in New England for 8 straight months and no one ever initiated a conversation with me, so by comparison the Western Mass. folks were positively chatty. On the other hand, compared to the Minnesota singing I attended last week, Western Mass. was less chatty.

Categories
Other local singings

Dinkytown, Minneapolis, local singing

Carol and I are driving across the country, and I arranged the trip so we could stop in Minneapolis on the day that the University of Minnesota local weekly singing, in the Dinkytown neighborhood of Minneapolis, was taking place. I found my way to University Baptist Church after a little bit of trouble (Google Maps told me to look on the wrong side of the street). As I walked up to the church building, a man sitting outside said, “Looking for the singing? Go through that door and follow the sound.”

I heard the singing before I got to the door, and wound my way up two flights of stairs. Even though there were only a dozen or so people, the volume was already quite high; in part because it was such a live room, but also this was clearly a bunch of high-volume singers. I took my accustomed place in the back bench of the bass section, and settled in for some good singing, for these singers were not just loud, they were fine singers.

Unlike our local singing in Berkeley where we go around the hollow square giving each person a chance to lead, at the Dinkytown singing people stand up to sing when they feel like it. This is what I was used to back east, and it’s much easier for newcomers and those of us who just don’t care to lead. I noticed that the songs we sang were ones with which I was mostly unfamiliar; most of the songs were from the mid-19th century, or from the late 20th century, with the exception of one by William Billings and one by Daniel Read.

Categories
Singing at home

Nasal consonants

Attendance has been off a little bit as we head into summer. Some of the regulars were missing from the bass section this week, but a newcomer, an experienced Sacred Harp singer who has just moved to the area, sang strongly enough that the absence of some regulars was less noticeable.

Tenor Will and alto Marsha apparently got into a conversation during the break, about how to pronounce certain words. When Will’s turn came to lead, he invited us to sing words ending in a vowel followed by a nasal consonant (m, n, ng, etc.), such that we started sounding the nasal consonant midway through that note. This sounds complicated, and some of us didn’t quite understand Will at first. He demonstrated: “Instead of singing ‘hoooooome’, sing ‘hooommmme’.” (I got what he meant pretty quickly because I had once had a singing teacher correct me when I emphasized those nasal consonants; but that’s the way I had learned to sing from listening to records by bluegrass signers like Lester Flatt, and old-time country signers like Hank Williams.) Will’s idea was a good one: when we sang that way, it sounded much better. There’s a quality that harmonies take on when sung with nasals that you just don’t get when you try to sing only those pure choir-y Italian vowels.