Singing at home

30 once again

Just before break this evening, I looked around and counted 30 singers: 7 altos, 5 trebles, 14 tenors, and 4 basses. Of those, at least two were completely new singers, and another half dozen relatively new singers.

Best of all, the class sounded really good. We have sometimes struggled a little with intonation over the past few months, but tonight all sections were right on pitch. Early on, the tempos started dragging a little, but when Jeremy was leading he called our attention to it by tapping his foot — the class quickly responded and caught up with him, and after that we rarely fell behind the leader’s tempo. And the class didn’t shout or bellow tonight; we were loud, but tuneful and musical. This wasn’t the most ecstatic or transcendent Berkeley weekly singing I’ve ever attended, but it was one of the more musical singings we’ve had.

We lost one of our basses at the break (he had to join the tenor front bench). At the end of the evening, Philip turned to Jeremy and me, the other two basses, and said, “For only three of us, we did a great job.” We did, too: we hit all but one of our entrances on fuguing tunes solidly, we were working together as a team; there’s a good analogy here somewhere between a well-functioning bass section and team sports.

Singing at home

A big weekly singing

About halfway through tonight’s singing, I realized that there were a lot of singers present. I took a moment to count, and discovered that there were 30 of us, including three visiting singers from Baltimore. And there were eight of us in the bass section. It was loud; my ears are still ringing a little.

One of the Baltimore singers (I didn’t catch his name) got us off to a really good start. Early in the evening, he led us in singing no. 276, “Bridgewater.” Over the past few months, we’ve been singing at a generally fast tempo, and tempi at the All-Cal Convention were fast, too — this if fine, and it’s a lot of fun to sing fast, but we have been sacrificing a certain amount of accuracy as a result. So the singer from Baltimore stood up, gave us a really good pitch, and then proceeded to lead “Bridgewater” at a tempo that seemed slow to me at first. But very quickly, I realized he was leading it as exactly the right tempo. It was slow enough that he was able to include some very nice traditional ornamentation; and although not all singers in the urban revival sing good ornaments, his were tastefully chosen and executed very well indeed. More importantly, the slower tempo allowed us to really focus on our intonation, and the quality of our voices. We sounded really good!

And we kept on sounding good through most of the singing. Towards the end, as voices got tired, we got a little shout-y. But overall, it was a very good singing indeed.

Singing at home

Dealing with post-convention let-down

The All-California Convention, which ended yesterday, was a wonderful singing: not only were there lots of powerful singers present, but the general feeling was warm and friendly. But now it’s over, and given my work schedule it’s unlikely I will be able to attend again until it comes back to the Bay area in three years. This morning I was tired and cranky and glad I didn’t have to go into the office — I had a full-blown case of post-convention let-down.

The best cure for such a thing is to attend another singing. And the weekly Berkeley singing was perfectly timed. Several out-of-town singers stayed over from the convention, and we had singers from Los Angeles, Washington state, and New Jersey. We also had some new singers who had sung from the Sacred Harp for the first time at the convention, and one new singer who had found us on the Web the night before and showed up to sing for the very first time.

At the peak attendance just before the break, I counted 29 singers, which was a good turnout indeed. We didn’t sound our best on the first few tunes. You could tell that many of us had spent a dozen or more hours singing over the past two days: voices were a little rough, our intonation was off, people sounded a little tired. But as we warmed up, the singing got better and better, and all those strong out-of-town voices energized us regular singers.

During the break, another one of the basses mentioned that the convention had made his singing noticeably better. I said I felt the same way. Later, I realized this has not been the case with every all-day singing or convention I’ve attended; something about the quality of the singing at the recent All-Cal seems to have rewired my brain and reshaped my voice so that it’s easier to sight-read, and easier to produce a good true tone.

And then, wouldn’t you know it: on the last tune of the night tonight, we in the bass section flubbed an entrance. We are not perfect singers yet; we’ll just have to keep singing until we are.

All-day singings & conventions Singing at home

All-California Convention, day 2

A quick post, since I had to go straight from the second day of the All-California Convention to work.

The statistics: 211 singers registered over 2 days, 94 people led 179 tunes. Singers came from 15 states, including Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, New Mexico, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts; one singer came all the way form Poland.

The scene:

Gosia Perycz of Poland and Steve Helwig of Eugene, Oregon, bringing in the alto section on no. 208 “Traveling On,” at the All-California Convention, 15 January 2012, Casa de Flores, San Carlos, California.

Caption corrected — thanks Melissa!

All-day singings & conventions Singing at home

All-California Convention, day one

A short post on the first day of the All-California Convention — it has to be a short post, because I have to go do some cooking for tomorrow’s dinner-on-the-grounds.

We filled the Casa de Flores in San Carlos; it was standing room only right after lunch. Well over a hundred people were registered today, with singers coming from as far away as Alaska and Poland. Today’s class sounded very good; every section was strong; there were lots of altos, which I always like. Generally a very strong singing.

We haven’t had any rain in the Bay area for months, so the air has been filled with allergens. So I knew my voice wouldn’t last long today, and it didn’t: I had about an hour of good singing. But I got to sit in my favorite place, the back row of the bass section, and I wound up sitting next to David, and I always enjoy sitting next to him; he sings with lots of good ornamentation, and he also sings with abandon. It was a really good hour of singing.

The most powerful moments of the day for me: watching Will and Bess lead a lesson they dedicated to Will’s dad, who died a month ago; assisting a singer who led a song for the very first time at a convention, and knowing from his body language that it was an amazing experience; and singing Billings’s Easter Anthem with Jerry setting a quick tempo that perfectly matched the mood of the class.

Now it is time to bake a pie and prepare a ham for tomorrow’s dinner-on-the-grounds.

Singing at home

Back on track

The Berkeley singing has had some problems with intonation and tempo for the past few months. But tonight we were back on track. Even though some of our regulars still aren’t back from their holiday travels, we sang well tonight.

So what changed over last week? I don’t think it was any one thing. It helped to have both a strong male and female singer on the tenor front bench. But the treble bench sounded great with only women.

I have to ascribe a good bit of the sound of a given singing to the nebulous notion of “chemistry” — the interaction of musico-human personalities. I know I sing better when I sit next to certain people, and those certain people include both those who are really good singers, and those who are not so good.

Once I sang extremely well sitting next to someone who had never sung before; he was easygoing, our voices sounded good together, so I guess we could just concentrate on the music. Another time, at a big convention, I sat next to someone who was supposed to be a topnotch singer, but I found sitting next to him felt like uphill work, so I soon moved away.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney were never as good separately as they were together. There’s always a good deal of chemistry in making music.

Singing at home

All men, for a moment

At the beginning of today’s Palo Alto singing, there were no women. Terry can sing alto (in range!), so he held down the alto bench; Arnold sang tenor; Will and Phil held down the tenor bench; and Neal and I sang bass.

I have heard that old recording of the Denson Quartet, an all-male Sacred Harp ensemble. But I have never experienced being part of an all-male singing. It was a little disconcerting at first, with the alto part often sounding higher than all the other parts, but I found myself liking the sound.

Two women came later and sang treble, and of course it was nice to have them there. An all-male Sacred Harp singing is fun as a novelty, but I do prefer having both men’s and women’s voices for a fuller sound.

But Terry had to hold down the alto bench all by himself for the whole two hours.


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