New compositions

New tune

Another new tune: Berkeley.

All-day singings & conventions

Marian Bush Half Day

We decided to hold just the Marian Bush half day singing this year. We did not hold the Palo Alto All Day. Minutes are below. The church’s rules for singing require outdoors and socially distanced (3 feet). I finally decided to wear a mask most of the time. I work with kids, and there’s no reason to increase my chances of exposure even more.

I liked the fact that Paul Kostka made this singing accessible to people who could only join us online. I don’t think this will be a regular feature of Sacred Harp singings, but it does make it more accessible. It also reminded me of the last time Marian Bush sang with us in Palo Alto. She could no longer get out of the house, so we called her up and sang to her over a cell phone. “Did you hear me singing?” she said when we got done. Of course we had to reply that no, we were singing too loud — as usual with Sacred Harp.

I miss hearing Marian’s alto voice at singings, never loud, but always perfectly in tune and in perfect rhythm. I’m glad we got to do this singing in her memory.

Other local singings

Palo Alto World Music Day

We sang at Palo Alto World Music Day again, for the first time since COVID hit. Actually, it’s not World Music Day this year, it’s World Music Month, with performances spread out over three or four weekends.

Our venue was on California Ave. on the street — not our usual venue under an overhang. I was a little apprehensive about singing in the open, since the sound can get lost, but it turned out fine.

In fact, it was one of the best singings I’ve been to ever Maybe it just feels that way because it’s only the second time I’ve sung in person since lockdown. But there were some fabulous voices who showed up, some really excellent singers. And the number of singers was good, too — about 16 I think — so there was good coverage on every part, but it was small enough that the singing was pretty tight.

Singing at home

In person again

For the first time since lockdown, we sang together in person in Palo Alto today.

We were outdoors, for COVID safety, under the solar panels over the parking lot. The sound wasn’t great but it was pretty good.

And it felt amazing to sing with other people in person.


Palo Alto Sacred Harp in Frontiers in Psychology

Esther Morgan-Ellis mentions Palo Alto Sacred Harp in her article for Frontiers of Psychology, published online on March 19, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.627038.

She wrote: “I also attended two annual Sacred Harp events that were reimagined as zingings: the Palo Alto Virtual “All-Day” Mid-Day Zinging (August 22 [2020]) and the Minnesota Convention (September 26).”

Beyond that, she doesn’t really mention the Palo Alto singers. From what I remember of that singing, it was pretty much of an insider event, so it probably didn’t mean much to someone who didn’t already know us.

The article is still worth reading, describing as it does the ways Sacred Harp singers have adapted to the pandemic. Available free online.

Online singing

Best yet

This month’s Jamulus singing was the best yet. We did not have the tempo problems that have plagued us in previous Jamulus singings. We were more in tune than we have been. We got through some passages — fermatas, time signature changes — that used to feel difficult when we couldn’t see the leader.

And at the end of the singing, we all commented on how good we sounded, and how together we were. Several of us wondered aloud why this was so much better. Susan pointed out that we’re listening to each other more. I commented that singing on Jamulus requires a somewhat different set of skills than singing in person. Mark said he felt he could just sing without fiddling so much with the controls. Whatever the reason, or reasons, the general consensus was that we’ve finally gotten good at singing on Jamulus.

We’re still all looking forward to singing in person once again, obviously. Nevertheless, Jamulus singing is now quite pleasurable.

Online singing

Zoom singing

The monthly Zoom singing is becoming routine (and who would have thought we’d ever say something like that?). It’s a pleasure to see people, even if it’s only via videoconference. It’s a good way to remind myself to sing. And this month’s Zoom singing was routinely pleasant and sociable.

Online singing

Jamulus singing

A bit of a rocky night.

Mark kept getting kicked off the session, and David had family matters to attend to, so our regular keyers were out of action. We encouraged everyone to key their own tunes, and I filled in where I could — all of which meant the keying was not as consistent as usual. (I suppose I should just bite the bullet and hone my keying skills, but I’d rather not have to concentrate that much; this is supposed to be a hobby for me, and hobbies are supposed to be fun.)

We also had a couple of singers with big latency, on the order of 90 ms. That can work, but it’s super difficult; we weren’t quite up to the challenge tonight, and tempos kept lagging. Not only that, but sometimes some singers would be off by as much as an entire measure; that, of course, affected pitch. In addition, a couple of singers seemed to have a lot of noise on their connection, so sound quality wasn’t always that great.

Yet even with all the problems, there were good moments, too. This always happens when you’re making music: sometimes everything seems to go wrong, yet then out of nowhere there will be a moment of beauty to make it all worth while.

Online singing

BASH Zoom singing

We had a good turnout on tonight’s Zoom singing: I counted 30 people on about 24 log-ins, from five U.S. states and one foreign country. The foreign country was Turkey, where former stalwart Bay Area Sacred Harp singer Yuka has moved, and it was very good to see her again.

Leigh has gotten really good at using Mark’s Web app to find field recordings for us to sing to, and a couple of times she found a field recording led by the person who chose the tune.

Leigh has gotten so good — and it’s so interesting to hear the different field recordings — that most people let her find the song. But Paul and Lorraine and their children Sarah and John sang all four parts of the tune they chose. I have to admit I got a little choked up listening to them — it seems like it’s been a long time since I heard them singing together like that at one of our local Palo Alto singings.

All in all, it was a good evening. If you had told me eight months ago that I would find it satisfying to be on a Zoom call with 30 other people and sing along to a field recording, I’d have said you were nuts. But seeing all those other singers, and chatting during the break, was a big improvement over the usual COVID isolation. Also, I have to admit I find it hard to motivate myself to sing much at all any more, but this gets me singing — and of course once I sing I feel so much better, and resolve to sing all the time, and never do.

Online singing

Jamulus singing

A somewhat smaller group this time, with some excellent singers. We had a rocky first half hour, then we seemed to get into a groove.

We were doing well enough that I decided to take a chance and when it was my turn started us off on Worcester by Abraham Wood, one of my favorite First New England School tunes. It went surprisingly well. It probably helped that I was leading the tune as well as singing bass, because the bass line really drives the whole piece so I could set the tempo just by singing (it also helped that Jerry, an excellent musician with rock-solid time, was also singing bass). It also helped that I chose a moderate tempo, about 112 b.p.m.

Jerry then led Billings’ Easter Anthem. Here again, the bass line can drive the whole piece. He started us at about 120 b.p.m., and when all four parts came in the tempo would gradually slow to maybe 112, but then in the duets or bass solos, Jerry could pick up the tempo again. Interestingly, the recitatif at measure mm. 77-81 seemed to me to stay at tempo without slowing noticeably.

There were lots of other successes tonight as well — those two just happen to stand out for me. It was really the best music making I’ve yet done online.