Singing at home

Singing from The Trumpet

Will Fitzgerald, one of the editors of The Trumpet, the new online publication of new Sacred Harp compositions, was in San Francisco and arranged to have a singing of the first issue of The Trumpet at the Church of the Sojourners. We had a good turn out: four basses, four altos, three trebles, and eight or so tenors (a couple of whom helped out us basses when we got stuck).

We sang through all 14 songs, and I feel we gave most of them a reasonably good hearing, although our intonation wasn’t up to the usual standards of Bay Area singers. I appreciated the fact that the singers were willing to go back and work on a tricky bit now and again — more difficult compositions deserve that attention.

All the music was good, but I especially enjoyed the following:—

  • Buckley by Steve Helwig — a new setting of John Newton’s “Bartimeus,” Book 1, no. XCV in Olney Hymns — had a nice sound and was fun to sing; it was good enough that I wanted more verses, and a repeat on the final ten measures
  • Cedar Street by Charles Wells; the interaction between the tenor and bass parts in the sixth and seventh measures were a little challenging, but fun to sing
  • Girard by Gerald Hoffman had a very good “Sacred-Harp-y” sound to it

Some of the music was quite challenging: Lincoln Street by Dan Hertzler included a raised fourth degree of the scale in the bass part which, though it sounded good when we could actually hit that note, was difficult to sing. And The Trumpet was not limited to the pure Denson book sound; some of the music leaned more towards the gospel sound of the Cooper book, such as the fuguing section of Lincoln Street.

But the best song we sang all evening was not in The Trumpet; it was “Leave the Ground” by James, one of the regular singers at the Berkeley weekly singing. James wrote both the words and the music; both words and music were recognizably related to the Sacred Harp idiom, but stretched the idiom in new and delightful ways. I’ll quote just one verse to give you an idea of what I mean:

Now we must all shake hands and go home,
It’s over and done.
Cherubic cars are waiting,
We must drive till morning light,
Cherubic cars are waiting,
We’ll be all right.

The music made wonderful use of repeated unisons. I hope James publishes this somewhere; for lovely though it is, it’s far enough outside the conventions of the Sacred Harp idiom that I doubt The Trumpet will print it. Update: Of course “Leave the Ground” is published on the Web, with sheet music, full text, and funky version with electric guitar accompaniment.