Some brief notes on the monthly singing sponsored by Norumbega Harmony:
I first sang Sacred Harp with Norumbega Harmony at the New England Folk Festival, and it felt like coming home to sing at their monthly singing once again after a lapse of half a dozen years. It was a somewhat different crew of singers, but the overall sound is the same.
I had forgotten how disciplined the singers of Norumbega Harmony are. They do not fudge notes, not ever; they seem to hit every note dead on pitch, and in perfect tempo. This discipline is coupled with very little ornamentation — the typical New England folk musician uses very little ornamentation, so this is a strong regional tendency — and the pairing of musical discipline and lack of ornamentation works especially well with eighteenth and early nineteenth century tunes. it is an absolute pleasure to sing along with Norumbega Harmony on tunes by Billings, Ingalls, Edson, or one of the other composers of the First New England School. This is not to dismiss their singing of later tunes, for they sound very good on those as well; but I feel they show an especial affinity for the New England composers.
It’s interesting to compare singing in the Bay Area with Norumbega Harmony. In the Bay area, the singing is most powerful when it is moved by ecstatic impulses (which can also make it a little wild, especially when the tempo is very quick). With Norumbega Harmony, the power comes through the discipline; it may be less intense, but on the other hand since the power is driven by disciplined singing it never seems to flag. There is I think a theological point here, something about the difference between the ecstatic or mystical religious impulse, and the religious impulse based on regular religious practice.