Will is visiting from Kalamazoo, and because we were a little short on basses, he came and sang bass for a while. He is one of those singers that I enjoy sitting next to. It’s not just his musical ability, it’s not just that he’s a good singer — he’s also a nice easygoing person who’s not competitive and not trying to prove anything; and he’s someone who obviously feels the meaning of the music (however he filters it through his own belief system) and expresses that meaning through his voice and presence.
After the break, Will went to sit in the back row of the tenor section. And while we already had a strong tenor section during the first half, I noticed that Will seemed to make the tenors sound even a little bit better. In the urban revival of Sacred Harp, we are taught that the best singers always try to sit on the front bench, because that’s where the action is; but having strong singers in the back row can help those of us who are merely average sing above our general level of competence. (Indeed, in other choral groups I’ve sung with, I always try to figure out who the best bass singer is, then sing right next to him, or in front of him, so I’ll sing better).
This made me think about the really excellent singers I’ve known who have consistently sat in the back: Natalia, who used to sit in the back row of the treble section of the Berkeley weekly singing and helped make that section sound sweet and powerful; Susan and Marsha, who tend to sit in the back row of the alto section of the Berkeley weekly singing, and make a good alto section even better; Ken who sat in the back row of the trebles in the Newton, massachusetts, monthly singing, always seeming to improve what was already a strong and melodious treble section; Mark, whom I’ve often seen sitting the the back of the Berkeley weekly singing and various all-day singings and conventions; etc., etc.
(I should add that while I prefer to sit in the back row of the bass section, it has nothing to do with thinking myself to be one of those good singers — I like to sit in the back row because I’m a pretty big guy, and I can spread out in the back row without worrying if I’m going to trip or kick a leader, or elbow the singer next to me, or generally feel claustrophobic.)