All-day singings & conventions

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.

All-day singings & conventions

564 Zion

Mark leading 564 Zion from the 1991 Denson edition of The Sacred Harp, at the 5th annual Palo Alto All Day Singing, August 27, 2016.

All-day singings & conventions

155 Northfield

155 Northfield from the 1991 Denson edition of The Sacred Harp, at the 5th annual Palo Alto All Day Singing, August 27, 2016.

All-day singings & conventions

229 Rainbow

Arnold Z. leading 229 Rainbow from the 1991 Denson edition of The Sacred Harp, at the 5th annual Palo Alto All Day Singing, August 27, 2016. The class had a very strong bass bench.

All-day singings & conventions

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.

All-day singings & conventions

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.

All-day singings & conventions

Caroline leading 324 in 2013

Caroline Bonnet leading no. 324 from The Sacred Harp (1991 Denson edition), at the 2013 Palo Alto All-Day Singing. When Caroline brings ’em for that last chorus, the class gives her their best singing yet.

In memory of Caroline Bonnet, who March 8, 2015. Caroline was a fine singer, and a tireless advocate for Sacred Harp singing in the North Bay who helped found the Healdsburg monthly singing, and start the Ziegler Memorial Singing.

(Background info: I found some unprocessed video footage from the 2013 Palo Alto All-Day Singing that I had abandoned because the audio was inadequate. However, recently I found I was able to adjust the audio of some of the footage so that it sounds reasonably good, and fortunately this footage of Caroline was in that category.)

All-day singings & conventions

Palo Alto All-day Singing, 2015

PAAD 2015, Linda leading

Above is Linda leading mid-morning. In a week, she’s leaving for Evanston, Ill., for graduate study. She will leave a big hole in the Bay Area Sacred Harp community, both musically and personally. Linda started singing Sacred Harp with the now-defunct East Bay monthly singing, more than a decade ago.


PAAD 2015, Julian leading

Here’s Julian, our arranging committee, leading just before lunch. At least one person in this photo began singing Sacred Harp in Palo Alto in the early 1970s — can you figure out who it is?



Janet leading — or, as I like to call her, Dr. Janet, since she wrote her Ph.D. dissertation on California Sacred Harp singing. Behind her is perhaps the best alto bench of the whole day.


PAAD 2015, Kitchen

What we really go to singings for….


PAAD 2015, Dinner on the grounds

…dinner-on-the-grounds. The weather was absolutely perfect. Last week we had triple-digit temperatures and lots of air pollution, but today was about 80 degrees with a cool fresh breeze from the north.



After the singing, we went to the Saturday night social in Sue’s garden. Carol and I left at quarter past seven and they were still going strong. Some of the best singing of the day started at about six thirty, when Sue, Terry, Jeannette, Phil, Carol, Jeff, and I sat around in Sue’s music room to run through a few tunes that didn’t get sung during the all-day singing.

Why was it some of the best singing of the day? Five of us have sung together on a regular basis for a number of years, and know each other’s voices and know how we like to sing various tunes (and the other two singers were willing to fit into the way we sang), so we could just sing. There’s something about singing with people you know well — you not only sing together, you breathe together and sing as if you’re one organism. I’ve experienced this at one or two small Southern singings, but here in the Bay Area I think we’re too much of a transient population to have singing like that develop at an all-day singing; in the years it would take to know one another at that level through an all-day singing, half the singers have moved away. So instead we get little moments of such singing, as happened tonight when a few of us who knew each other’s voices well happened to be in the same room at the same time.

None of this is meant to put down the Palo Alto All-day Singing. It was a really good singing. Right after lunch, I counted fifty singers in the room at the same time, and I think we had about 60 singers total throughout the day. That’s a nice sized singing: big enough that you’re supported by your section, but small enough that you can actually hear everyone in the room. I really liked the fact that this singing felt like a family affair, with ten different children from four different families, and several of the children sang with us, or even led tunes. And of course the food was fantastic.

As much as I like singing in small groups, like at tonight’s social, I’m also an advocate for starting more all-day singings in the Bay Area. Right now, we have four regular all-day singings — the Ziegler Memorial on New Year’s Day, the Golden Gate in April, the Santa Cruz singing in July, and the Palo Alto singing in August. The Golden Gate is our big all-day singing, with over a hundred people and lots of out-of-town singers; the rest of our singings draw 40-60 singers, most of whom live in northern California.

Now I’m trying to convince the singers in the Central Valley that they should start an all-day singing. Let’s face it, what we all like best is singing at the all-day singings and conventions; this is what energizes us, and keeps us connected with the core of the Sacred Harp tradition. If you can’t travel to all-day singings in other parts of the country — and many of us can’t for one reason or another — what you need are more all-day singings near where you live.

All-day singings & conventions

Golden Gate 2015

A telegraphic account of the singing, based on my notes:

I felt this was a good singing, and heard others saying the same thing. The singing was loud, robust, tuneful. Tempos maybe not quite as quick as in past years. Quite a few excellent out-of-town singers. Total number of singers was slightly less than last year, but still over a hundred.

Site: again this year, Trinity Lutheran Church in Alameda. A good singing space for this size singing.

There were I think half a dozen parents of children, including Greg, Leigh and Mark, Inder, Lorraine and Paul. We are slowly getting more parents willing to bring children to all-day singings; let’s hope that number increases, and that the kids continue to sing Sacred Harp as they grow up.

Between work and family issues, I could not get it together to take either photos or videos of the Golden Gate this year.

All-day singings & conventions

Seattle convention, day two


Above: An inaccurate sign on the door into the Ballard Homestead, where this year’s Seattle convention was held.


Above: Looking across the altos towards the tenors.


Above: Singers from Vancover, B.C., leading.


Above: You know who really knows how to bring in the bass section? Bass singers.


Above: There were a lot of people singing in the first session after lunch today. And the singing was incredibly good: spirited, rhythmic, tuneful, and you could tell the sections were listening to one another. Part of this, I think, is due to the Seattle singers — quite a talented bunch.