We had to drive up from Birmingham, so I arrived about half an hour late to the annual singing at the Macedonia Church in Macedonia, Alabama. Carol dropped me off, and drove off to walk through Cathedral Caverns while I was singing.
From the moment I walked in the door, it was obvious that these people had sung together for a long time — generations, really. You can tell when a group of singers knows each other well; there’s a unity of purpose that comes with long acquaintanceship, and that can only come with lots of time spent singing together.
I wanted to sit in the back of the bass section and mostly listen, but there were only five other basses, so there wasn’t a place for me to hide; I had to sing, though compared to them I was rhythmically sloppy. And they sang faster than I was used to, so I missed some eighth notes here and there. But perhaps that’s the best way to listen: sit in your section, try to keep up with the people next to you, keep your voice down, and listen to how the other sections interact with yours.
As people were called up to lead a lesson (most leaders did two songs in a lesson), I began to realize that there were an awful lot of Iveys and Woottens in this singing. Or to put it another way, I was singing with Sacred Harp aristocracy, so I hoped to sit in the back bench of the tenors and not lead a song; I don’t much like to lead in any case.
But after the morning recess, the basses got me to sit on the front bench for a while, and when the chair asked me to lead a lesson, I said I guessed I would. Not that I led the lesson; the front bench of the tenors led the lesson. The second tune I led took off at such a fast clip that I just waved my hand up and down, and hung on for dear life until the end.
At lunch, I wound up sitting and talking with one of the basses. I said I was surprised that there were so few basses; only about half a dozen of us, when there were a good forty or fifty tenors. (There were perhaps seven altos, and maybe eight trebles.) He said it was a little surprising, and hadn’t always been that way. Then we got to talking about universalism — turns out he’s in the universalist camp, theologically speaking, and is a little disappointed in Rob Bell for not quite going all the way — and that conversation consumed us for the rest of lunch.