Singing at home

Oh well

A frustrating evening for me: when we started singing, for once my allergies weren’t active, and I could sing without thinking about it. But within half an hour, the sun was down and the night-blooming plants let loose their pollen, my head plugged up, and I had to work hard to sing. Sometimes I really hate living in the Bay area — there is always something in bloom.

Aside from that, it was a pretty good singing.

Other events

SF Free Folk Festival

Google Maps told me it was going to take 34 minutes to get to the site of the San Francisco Free Folk Festival. I should have known better; with the heavy traffic on 19th St., it took me an hour. And when the dust finally settled, I didn’t walk into the Sacred Harp workshop until fifteen minutes before it was supposed to end.

But from what I heard of it, it was a good class and a good singing. There were experienced singers in every part, which helped a lot: Terry and Kate in the trebles; Gary, Linda, and Jennie in the tenors; Peter and Ned in the basses; and Mary in the altos (if I’ve forgotten anyone, forgive me, and leave a note in the comments). In addition to the experienced singers, there were six or eight trebles, maybe eight tenors, half a dozen basses, and half a dozen altos. Now let’s hope that some of those new singers — many of whom sounded pretty good! — come join us for local singings and all-day singings.

Then when the Sacred Harp workshop was over, I had to hop in my car and drive to Hayward for a friend’s ordination, so I didn’t even get to enjoy anything else at the festival.

Singing at home

An unusual singing

At tonight’s weekly singing in Berkeley, we had an unusual situation: there were far fewer men than women. One of the reasons I like singing Sacred Harp is that there are usually as many men, or even more men, than women. That “choir-y” sound that too many church choirs have (and which I find less pleasing than the Sacred Harp sound even when the church choir is better rehearsed and more skilled) comes in part from an oversupply of sopranos.

Because there were so few men, Hugh, who usually sings treble, came and sang with Mark and me in the bass section. I had never sung next to Hugh before, of course, and it was great fun to do so; and I have to say that for all that he’s a treble, he certainly made a pretty good bass.

It was also fun hearing about the Mississippi Sacred Harp convention from Hugh. (At the last minute, I had managed to get the entire Memorial Day weekend off, and I thought about going, but unfortunately last-minute air fares were far too expensive.) It was good to hear that Jackson and Erica drove up from New Orleans to go to the convention; and of course Warren was there; and only after hearing about the people who were there did the fine singing get mentioned.

[Posted six days late due to heavy work commitments.]

Singing at home

Twice as many basses

Today at the second Sunday Palo Alto singing (which took place on a first Sunday, which I’ll explain in a minute), we had two tenors, two trebles, one alto, and four basses. This, to my ear, is an almost perfectly balanced proportion of voices. As William Billings said in his essay “To the several Teachers of Music” in The Singing Master’s Assistant, Lesson XIII:

“ONE very essential thing in Music, is to have the parts properly proportioned; and here I think we ought to take a grateful notice, that the Author of Harmony has so curiously constructed our Organs, that there are about three or four deep voices suitable for the Bass to one for the upper parts, which is about the proportion required in the laws of Harmony….” (The Complete Works of William Billings vol. II, ed. Hans Nathan [Boston: American Musicological Society / Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 1977], p. 18)

That’s not far from the proportion that we had in today’s class, and we sounded wonderful. Billings is right: the laws of harmony are such that a group of singers sounds its best with a big bass section. In Western harmony, the bass grounds all the other voices, and big bass sound — “majestic,” Billings calls it — makes every other voice sound better. And yes, as a bass who loves to sing bass, I am biased — but try it sometime, have twice as many basses as any other part, or three times as many, and see how good you sound.

And why was the second Sunday singing on the first Sunday? We’ll be singing at the San Francisco Free Folk Festival next week, supporting Terry and Peter in their Sacred Harp workshop.

[Posted a week late, due to heavy work commitments.]