The Memorial Day holiday weekend meant we had just five singers at the fourth Sunday singing in Palo Alto: three basses, one tenor, and one treble. That was too many basses, so I said I would sing tenor with the caveat that I couldn’t sing any tunes with particularly high notes. Terry was pitching for us, and with me singing tenor he had a bit of a challenge balancing my inability to sing very high against the lower limit of the basses and the other tenor. But though we had to skip a few tunes that we would have liked to sing, and though we missed the altos, and though I was occasionally unable to sing the very high notes, we did pretty well.
In fact, I had a lot of fun at this singing. When you’re singing with just a few voices, you really get to hear the other parts; and since I was singing a part that was unfamiliar to me, on some of the tunes it felt like I was hearing them for the first time.
This singing also proved to be a good workout for me; the Bay Psalm Book of 1689 warns us against “squeaking above, or grumbling below” (and indeed it is easy to hear both problems among Sacred Harp singers today). I had to work on not squeaking. When you sing Sacred Harp at the upper end of your range, there is a natural tendency to sing notes a little flat, and there’s also a natural tendency to let the quality of your voice degenerate into either a loud piercing tone or what I can only describe as a hooting tone. So I worked hard to hit the high notes right on pitch, and to keep the tone or timbre of my voice consistent all the way from the lower notes up through the highest notes. This meant I had to listen even more carefully than usual to the other singers to make sure I was in tune, and it meant I had to pay a great deal of attention to my breathing so I could maintain a consistent tone. In large part I succeeded in not “squeaking”;