Phillip, Carol, and I were standing around outside All Saints Chapel after singing was over. There had been about twenty people, and about half the class had been brand-new or relatively new singers. Phillip and I had both been sitting on the second bass bench, on either side of a new singer.
We agreed that when you sit on the second bass bench in All Saints, the only basses you can hear well are the ones on either side of you. You can hear the trebles across the hollow square; if you’re on the right hand side of the basses you can hear the tenors pretty well (that’s where I had been sitting), and if you’re on the left hand side you can hear the altos pretty well (that’s where Phillip had been siting); but you can’t really hear the front bass bench much at all. So because we were sitting on either side of a new singer, we were pretty much on our own.
Phillip said that he liked sitting in the back, because it forced him to sing without relying on other basses. I agreed; I had enjoyed being forced to listen to the tenor section, and tuning the bass part that I was singing to them.
And this led us into a discussion of who exactly we listened to in each section; because we realized that we had been listening to singers in the other sections that we knew were reliable. “In that section, you can totally rely on so-and-so,” we’d say, “they’re always perfectly in pitch, they always sing all the notes right.” Interestingly, these singers weren’t always the loudest singers, or the singers with the best voices, or the most musical singers — although sometimes they were that, too — they were the ones you can rely on to get you back on track when you mess up, the ones we rely on.
This strikes me as a worthy goal, perhaps the most worthy goal in Sacred Harp singing: to become one of those singers we rely on.