Four of us made the journey up to Healdsburg tonight to attend what seems to be the start of a new local singing. And the word “Journey” is an apt description of our trip: accidents, construction, and a winter storm with high winds and lots of rain backed up traffic around the Bay area; it took me two hours to get from San Mateo to Berkeley, so I was over an hour late picking up Carl, Gretchen, and Elizabeth; which meant we arrived in Healdsburg an hour late.
We walked in to the Felta School House in Healdsburg a little more than an hour late, and we were pleased to see that Terry, another regular with the Berkeley weekly singing, was already there. By this time, I had been driving for three hours, and I was ready to sing. The local singers were taking a break — they had already been singing for an hour — but they were all willing to start singing again.
Two things quickly became apparent. First, the Felta School House is a wonderful place in which to sing. The wood floors and wood walls made for a warm, resonant sound; the old-fashioned slate blackboards provided some additional brightness, and the ten-foot high ceilings kept the space from being too bright and too loud. Second, the local singers included some fine voices; if they keep it up, they could become a really fine local singing. We even sang the Easter Anthem — something of a challenge considering how many newcomers there were — and the class sounded very good indeed.
Caroline ended the singing at about 9:20 with no. 347 Christian Farewell. This well after the stated ending time of 8:30, and I was very grateful that the local singers were willing to stick it out that long, allowing some extra singing time to those of us who were so late.
I believe the Healdsburg folks have the makings of a fine monthly singing. A lot of the local singers were friends and family of Dominic Zeigler, the 23 year old singer who died suddenly in January; and what better way to keep alive his memory than by singing together regularly? With that thought in mind, some of us offered some advice to them on how to jumpstart a new monthly singing:
- Coax experienced singers to some sing with you by showing up at other local singings and making personal connections
- Don’t be afraid to use a pitch pipe when first starting out — David I. Lee, on pp. 44-45, offers specific advice on how to do so in his Sacred Harp workbook
- Learn how to sing by listening to, and singing along with, recordings
(I made the further heretical suggestion that one of the best recordings to sing along with is “Rivers of Delight” by Larry Gordon’s Word of Mouth Chorus. Though disdained by some Sacred Harp purists, to my mind this album is an excellent learning tools: it’s a studio recording rather than a field recording so every part is crystal clear; it’s sung by a disciplined ensemble who sing very precisely together so the new singer isn’t distracted by the melodic and rhythmic ornamentation of live singings; and because many singers in the northern/urban revival have learned to sing from it, the songs on the album are frequently sung at local and all-day singings.)
At last it was time to leave. We slowly put away chairs, and also spent a lot of time talking to our new friends in Healdsburg. We finally got in the car at 10:00 to begin the long drive home. We listened to “Rivers of Delight,” and then to “Awake My Soul,” on the drive home; Carl and I picked apart the performance by the Word of Mouth Chorus, and talked about the traditional Southern singing practices in “Awake My Soul”; and sometimes we all sang along to a favorite tune. After dropping the others in Berkeley, I finally arrived home at a quarter to midnight, very glad that that I’m on vacation this week and don’t have to go to work tomorrow.