From my notes; posted more than a month after the singing
The drive to the Mount Madonna Center, a yoga retreat center, took me out of Gilroy, at about 200 feet above sea level, up Hecker Pass along narrow winding mountain roads, up into the Santa Cruz Mountains along Pole Ridge Road to over 1,800 feet above sea level, and then down a few hundred feet to the retreat center. It was getting dark as I pulled into the retreat center, and the Arati service was just ending at the Sankat Mochan Hanuman, or Hanuman Temple. I could smell the incense as I got out of my car and walked down to the community center, carrying my Sacred Harp book.
At the door of the community center, one of the Santa Cruz singers saw the maroon book in my hand, and told me where the singing was going to be. It was obvious that we were supposed to take off our shoes, so we did, leaving them in the shelves provided at the door for that purpose.
Pretty soon, people began to gather. I was glad to see Janet Herman, who knows Sacred Harp inside and out and is a darned good musician to boot. We were there to introduce the Mount Madonna residential community to Sacred Harp singing, so having someone like Janet was important. I was also glad to see Ed walk into the room; he’s got a better bass voice than I, and with him there I wouldn’t have to worry about holding down the bass section on my own.
Soon Aaron, also known as Rajeev, came in; he had learned Sacred Harp singing back East somewhere, and since he is living for a few months in the Mount Madonna community, he decided to introduce them to Sacred Harp. He got us organized setting up chairs, and said he was pleased to see so many of the regular Santa Cruz singers there — he had been worried about getting even one experienced singer on a part, but we had at least two experienced singers in every section.
It turned out to be a good singing room, and I do enjoy singing with the Santa Cruz singers: they are tuneful, enthusiastic, and fun. Some members of the Mount Madonna community wandered in; some joined in singing, some sat with us and listened with their eyes closed, and some just stood at the door and listened. We had some good, powerful singing, especially considering that there were only a dozen or so experienced singers. But we did notice when Janet, our strongest leader, had to step out to chase after her toddler.
I left right when the singing ended; it was an hour and a half back to my house, and I had to get up early to go to church. As I drove out past the now-dark temple, I thought a little bit about the incongruity of singing Protestant hymns near a Hindu temple — the Protestant tradition does not look kindly on graven images. I still remember sitting next to my mother when my home church started lighting a candle at the beginning of every Sunday service; “Graven images,” she muttered under her breath; and we were very liberal Protestants. I decided that it is a mark of both our postmodern era, with its dizzying religious diversity, and a mark of northern California culture, that there could be a Sacred Harp singing next to a temple to Hanuman — and it didn’t seem all that incongruous.