Tonight, Carolyn hosted about 18 Bay area singers in her home to sing from the latest issue of The Trumpet, the thrice-yearly online publication of new tunes in the Sacred Harp tradition. We started with the first tune, “Freta”; and with at least a few good sight-readers in every section, the class sounded good, loud and confident. We sang through every tune in order, and then went back to sing through a few of the tunes one more time.
The tune I liked the best was Daniel Read’s “Stafford” with the original alto line restored. The new tune I liked best was “Marcia” by John Bauer and Judy Hauff: it has a nice melody; a pleasing combination of 3/2 time with melisma on the third beat; and the introduction of the IV chord at measure 12 comes at a powerful moment in the lyrics for the first and third verses. And we had great fun singing “Catalina” because the composer, Leland Kusmer, was singing with us; he talked with us about how he couldn’t make up his mind whether the tune should be sung slow or fast; so we sang it both ways, and some of us liked it slow and some liked it fast.
I had read through this issue ahead of time, and I thought I was going to like some of the tunes more than I actually did. “Okolnik” proved very challenging for us to sing, with the alto part being especially uncomfortable; and it wasn’t clear whether to sing a raised sixth or not (we decided that it’s best to sing it without the raised sixth). “Altamont” looked good on paper, but didn’t prove to be as fun to sing as I had hoped. “Zane’s Trace” was fun for us bass singers, but the altos complained that their part didn’t seem right to them. The new words to “Stafford” had nice imagery, but the couplet “I rise each day to see my praise / Race each ascending dove” just didn’t work for me. Of course, it’s never fair to sing through a tune only once — some tunes need time to grow on you. And most of the tunes were plain tunes, but it’s excruciatingly difficult to write a new plain tune that stands out among all the brilliant plain tunes that have already been written.
In the end, every tune in this issue of The Trumpet was worth singing at least once. And I wouldn’t mind singing “Freta,” “Catalina,” and especially “Marcia” again some time.