All-day singings & conventions

Photos from the 2018 Seattle Convention

Photos from the second day of the 2018 Pacific Northwest Sacred Harp Convention — Washington (a.k.a. the Seattle Convention):

Above: Corrie Van Duzer from Denver engaging the tenor front bench.

Above: Joel Chan from San Francisco in the hollow square.

Above: Back row of the basses.

Above: Looking across the tenor section towards the back of the room. Although it wasn’t “standing room only,” at the peak attendance seating was tight enough that eight or ten people chose to stand at the back of the room.

All-day singings & conventions

539 Supplication

Bob Schinske leading 539 Supplication, from the 1991 Denson edition of The Sacred Harp, at the 2018 Pacific Northwest Convention — Washington (a.k.a. the Seattle Convention).

This is another one of those Sacred Harp songs that is rarely led, yet is worth singing. My first impression is positive: good melody, solid bass and treble parts, and the composer must have liked altos (or maybe was married to one) because the alto part is definitely above average. I’ll going to have to sing this one through a few times, and see if it grows on me.

All-day singings & conventions

213b Warning

Sean McPherson leading 213b Warning, from the 1991 Denson edition of The Sacred Harp, at the 2018 Pacific Northwest Convention — Washington (a.k.a. the Seattle Convention).

The story goes that 213b Warning was composed as a space filler for an earlier edition of The Sacred Harp. And it’s a tune that is not often led at all-day singings and conventions, ranking 441 overall since 1995. Yet it’s actually a lot of fun to sing (once you get past the bizarre way it’s notated), and I was glad that Sean chose to lead it at this year’s Seattle Convention.

All-day singings & conventions Reflections on singing

473 Carmarthen

Cornelia Stanton leading 473 Carmarthen at the 2018 Pacific Northwest Convention — Washington (a.k.a. the Seattle Convention):

I had been standing in the back of the room recording video for a quarter of an hour when Connie got up to lead Carmarthen. From where I stood, there was a noticeable difference in the quality of the sound as she began leading — brighter, more vibrant. I suspect this was because Connie made lots of eye contact, and smiled a lot. When I have sung in traditional choirs, the directors will often to tell the choristers to smile so that we will sound better, and of course the same thing should work for Sacred harp singers as well: catch the eyes of singers, smile at them, they will smile back, and that will brighten up their sound. In any case, I always enjoy it when Connie lead because of the joy she communicates to the class.

All-day singings & conventions

Seattle Convention 2017

Another wonderful Seattle convention. Carol and I have managed to make it to this convention nearly every year for the past five years or so. As usual, the singing was superb; not only does Seattle have a core of talented and powerful singers, Portland is close by with another pool of amazing singers. Best of all, the singers are so friendly.

The singing was so good I mostly forgot to take photos. Then when I did try to take some candid photos of the tenors, Clarissa caught me in the act:

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.

All-day singings & conventions

Seattle convention, day one


Above: Looking through the bass section to the tenor back benches.


Above: Tenors.


All-day singings & conventions

Seattle convention, day 2

What makes for a really good convention? Good singing, good food, and good people — not necessarily in that order. The Seattle convention always seems to have all three of these things, and this year was even better than before.

Good singing: The Pacific Northwest has more than its share of fine singers, and you can count on most of them turning out for the Seattle convention. I feel there is something of a regional style in the Pacific Northwest, which could be characterized as loud but very tuneful, and a strong rhythmic drive without excessive emphasis on the first and third beats. Ornamentation is subtle or non-existent. Tempos vary widely, from fast to stately. I would call the tuning just intonation, with pure octaves and fifths, and sweet-sounding thirds with a distinct difference between major and minor thirds.

The overall impression is of a strongly rhythmic and sweet sound. Given how many Pacific Northwest singers also sing from the Christian Harmony and Cooper book (indeed, the Seattle area has the most important Cooper book singings outside the South), I wonder if singing from those books has some influence on the regional style. Regardless of the technical details, the sound is warm and full and loud, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Good food: Let’s start with at least three different kinds of pulled pork, including alder-smoked pulled pork. Now add a wide variety of casseroles, cooked greens, homemade bread and rolls, and many more dishes that I didn’t get a chance to sample. Finish off with blueberry pie, a dozen varieties of cookies, and really good coffee. Incredible food.

Good people: The Pacific Northwest singers are a really lovely bunch of people who have built up a culture of friendliness and hospitality that is hard to beat. They also seem to be really good at bringing along new singers, and welcoming younger singers. They somehow seem to maintain high musical standards without being judgmental. This kind of openness and hospitality fosters the kind of warm personal relationships that are so important for Sacred Harp singing.

At many Sacred Harp singings, you’ll see the occasional case of ruffled feathers, and one or two hissy fits. Maybe these things happen at the Seattle convention, but if so they’re not noticeable. The only thing I noticed is that some of the convention officers looked a little bit busy (and I may have noticed that only because I’ve been in that situation before) — given how big this year’s convention was, if all that happened was that they looked a little busy, that’s a major accomplishment.

Isaac Watts put it well when he wrote:

How pleasant ’tis to see
Kindred and friends agree,
Each in his proper station move,
And each fulfill his part,
With sympathizing heart,
In all the cares of life and love.

That’s a fine description of the Seattle convention. With such a warm singing culture, it was easy to be friendly, and to welcome newer singers. I felt fortunate to meet Devon and Ed, two newer singers, and Aubrey, a long-time singer from Canada. I enjoyed seeing old friends from the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere; and my only regret is that, with so many people at the convention, there were a couple dozen people I didn’t get to talk with.


Above: Every good singing needs at least one baby.

Some random moments from the convention:

— I went to church on Sunday morning, and kind of forgot where I was. During the doxology, I sang the bass part (not quite the same bass part as 49t) quite loudly, and realized that no one else was singing harmony, nor was anyone else singing as loudly as I. Fortunately, I was standing next to my cousin’s daughter, who has a fine loud soprano voice, so I didn’t feel too embarrassed. Then the first hymn was a gospel-y arrangement of “This Little Light of Mine,” and forgetting myself again I sang it in my best Cooper book voice; but again, no one else sang harmony. So I toned it down for the rest of the hymns. Back at the convention, I mentioned this to Cornelia from Portland, and she said she had noticed the same thing at her church (of a different denomination). I wondered aloud how we could bring better singing to our respective churches, and Cornelia said she thought it is something you have to do slowly, over time, to loosen people up and get them singing better.

— One favorite moment from the convention: On Saturday afternoon, I wound up in the back bench of the bass section. There were perhaps thirty basses in front of me, and I was sitting between two very fine bass singers, Jordan and Jerry. It was an amazing sound, and I could feel my whole body vibrating, from the resonant chambers in my head through my chest and even down into my legs.

— Another favorite moment: In the last session on Sunday afternoon, I wound up sitting in one of my favorite spots: partway back in the bass section, right next to the altos. And oh, how fabulous those altos sounded. I know we need the tenors and trebles, but when I’m sitting in between a really good bass section and a really good alto section, there are moments when I believe we can do without the higher voices.


Above: A singer from Bremen, Germany (unfortunately I didn’t get her name) leading on Saturday.

And finally, a few facts and figures: There were over 180 singers in attendance over the two days of the convention, representing three foreign countries (Germany, Norway, and at least two provinces in Canada), and at least half a dozen U.S. states (Washington, Oregon, California, Utah, Ohio, Georgia). Over 180 songs led.

All-day singings & conventions

Seattle convention, day one

A quick summary of day one of the Seattle convention:— More people this year, from as far away as Bremen, Germany. The singing has been very good indeed; when I got to lead today, the sound in the middle of the hollow square was powerful and resonant. And best of all, the Seattle singers are so friendly, and the food is so very good.

Seattle convention, day one

(Above) This will give you an idea of the size of the class. Lindy, from the San Francisco Bay area, is leading.

Seattle convention, day one

(Above) Here’s the view of the class from the bass section. Ed, a new singer, assisted by Jerry, leading no. 56.

All-day singings & conventions

Seattle convention

This year’s Pacific Northwest Sacred Harp Convention — Washington (which for convenience I’ll call the Seattle convention) took place in the Sunset Hills Community Center in Seattle over the past two days, February 16 and 17. I was able to attend almost all of the Saturday session, and the last hour and a half of the Sunday session. Here are four brief vignettes of the convention as I experienced it:

(1) I stayed on the back bench of the bass section the whole time I was singing. I prefer sitting on the back bench, even though sometimes those of us on the back bench may sound a little more raggedy than the front bench singers. But the back bench was not raggedy at this convention. The whole bass section was strong, and that strength extended to the back bench, where were seated some very fine singers. I also like to sit as near to the altos as I can, and the alto section at this convention was also strong.

Where I sat turned out to be a good place to sit: the room brightened the sound and emphasized the higher notes, so that even though I was sitting at the back corner between a strong bass section and a strong alto section, I could hear the tenors and trebles clearly; I suspect I was sitting where the best sound was.

And this is the view from where I was sitting (click on the thumbnail below for a larger image):

Seattle, 16 Feb. 2013