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Singing at home

Thirty at a local singing

The second session of the fall singing school segued right into the regular bimonthly Palo Alto/South Bay singing. At the start of the regular singing, I counted about thirty singers, of whom perhaps half were new, or relatively new, singers; the rest of the singers were regulars from the Palo Alto, Berkeley, and San Francisco local singings.

There were seven of us in the bass section, of whom three were brand new singers (although all three had other extensive singing experience). From the beginning I felt that we were singing well together. The singing school that preceded the regular singing had ended with our singing master telling us about accent, and I think perhaps we picked up on that.

One of the first tunes we sang was a fuguing tune, and the basses all came in strongly, accenting the first and third beats; this energized us, and I think helped us to sing better, to sing above what you might assume was our average level of competence. With such a strong, big bass section, I couldn’t resist: I got up to lead 268 “David’s Lamentation,” and the basses performed admirably; as did the rest of the class.

And it wasn’t just the bass section: the whole class sang quite well. Part of that, of course, was because we had 30 singers. When there are six or seven people in each section, you have enough people to support each other and cover over mistakes in intonation, rhythm, articulation, and so on. It’s often easier to sing well in a larger group.

But it was more than just size. After the break, a fair number of people who had been at the singing school left — two hours is a lot of singing, and some people were ready to head home — and we dropped down to about twenty singers. But among those twenty singers were some fine singers: Julian, Terry, Carolyn, Linda, and Mary in the tenors, Arnold and Terry in the trebles, Kendall and the woman whose name I’m blanking on in the altos, Carl and Peter in the basses. In that third hour, we had some of the best singing of the day. It does take time to get used to the mix of a given class, and perhaps we finally got used to each other. Or it could have been the spirit of the class, or (as Quakers might have it) a Spirit-led class.

Whatever the cause, it was a good strong singing.

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Singing school, part 2

We had the second session of the fall singing school today. Julian Damashek was our singing master this time, and his session was quite different from, but equally good as, the first session taught by Marsha Genensky.

Julian taught a quite traditional singing school: much of what he taught was material that can be found in the “Rudiments of Music” section at the beginning of the 1991 Sacred Harp. He focused on tune, time, and accent. He began with tune, or getting the notes right, and went over the fa, sol, la system of shape notes, and how that makes it easy to sing the tune. While this was review for some of the new singers, there were a fair number of new singers who had not been able to attend the first session of the singing school and for whom this was new information.

He then went on to talk about time, and led the class in beating time for both double time and triple time tunes. He asked the singers to stop worrying about the tune for just a moment, and concentrate on beating time (even if they got a few notes wrong). So we all beat time together for a 4/4 tune, a 2/4 tune, a 3/4 tune, and a 6/4 tune.

By this time, the hour allotted for the singing school was almost over, and Julian just touched on accent. He told the class that in Sacred Harp singing, you accent the first and third beats in a 4/4 tune, and in a 3/4 tune you accent the first beat and, to a lesser extent, the third beat.

Teaching from the “Rudiments of Music” is really important, and really difficult. Having sat through some mediocre singing schools on the “Rudiments of Music,” I can tell you that when the singing master is not perfectly focussed and organized and is less than warm and entertaining, a singing school on the “Rudiments” feels like a waste of time. Julian was focussed, organized, warm, and entertaining, and I enjoyed every minute of his teaching.

Due to heavy work schedule, posted 4 days late.