Reflections on singing


I love “I’m on My Journey Home,” written in 1859 by Sarah Lancaster. Originally written as a three-part tune, the versions in the Denson book (345b) and the Cooper book (207t) each added different alto parts. The Denson book’s alto line is adequate, but it’s not a standout.

The Cooper book’s alto part, written by Belle Spivey in 1902, is much more exciting. Spivey daringly adds several crunchy dissonant intervals between the altos and some of the other parts (major seconds if singing in the same octave, ninths if in different octaves). If you ignore Lancaster’s treble part and just sing the tenor, bass, and Spivey’s alto line all in the same range, it’s a haunting sound. Like this:

“I’m on My Journey Home,” Cooper book 207t, minus treble part

Not a polished recording — pretty much everything was done in one take — but good enough to give the idea of the sound.

All-day singings & conventions

All-Cal, day two

My second day watching the livestream of the All-California Sacred Harp Convention. I managed to watch about half an hour before I had to deal with some work commitments — then I watched another half hour — then, to be honest, I fell asleep for two hours. I didn’t mean to fall asleep, but I’m still pretty tired from COVID. And then I had to go outdoors to move my car, because it’s snowing here and I had to get the car off the street and into my parking spot. This post is turning into my excuses for why I didn’t watch the livestream, but that’s just the way my day went.

I got the car parked in time to catch about the last 45 minutes of the convention. There was some fabulous singing and excellent leading in that last 45 minutes. I particularly enjoyed whoever it was that led 45b Villulia in memory of David Fetcho. It was the high point of the livestream for me. Of course, just at the emotional peak of the tune, the Zoom feed got choppy and I missed some of the best bits. A livestream can never be as good as an in-person singing.

Screen grab of the livestream showing two people standing in the middle of about one hundred people leading a tune.
Co-chairs Mark and Leigh opening day two of the convention.

I did not sing along to the livestream. I’m just getting over laryngitis (a nasty little side effect of my does of COVID), and my voice is still too fragile. So I spent my time looking at the video to see who I could recognize. Today the camera was aimed so that it included all four sections equally (thank you, Paul) and I saw quite a few people I knew. During the breaks a few people waved at us online viewers as they walked by, and one person even stuck their tongue out at us, which was hilarious.

This will probably be as close as I get to a Sacred Harp singing for several months. So I’m glad I could listen in.

All-day singings & conventions

All-Cal livestream

I finished work this afternoon just in time to watch the last two hours of the livestream of the All California Sacred Harp Convention livestream.

The organizers told us: “The All-Cal will be live streamed on Zoom through a 24 bit stereo audio interface, using two large diaphragm cardioid condenser mic’s in the NOS configuration.”

This led me to expect good sound, and I got it. When I listened through my Sony MDR-7506 dynamic stereo headphones, the clarity was astonishing. Excellent stereo separation, solid bass response, pleasing midrange and treble. With this kind of audio quality and a singing of the calibre of the All-Cal, this livestream was definitely worth listening to.

Sadly, I had chores to do, and could not stay tethered to the headphones for two hours. I plugged in a single small external speaker, which sounded just fine.

I hope to listen to more of the livestream tomorrow. Tomorrow is my last day of isolation for COVID. I feel pretty good now, and I’m bored out of my mind from being trapped at home. The livestream will be a welcome diversion.

Screen grab of a Zoom videoconference call, showing somewhat fuzzy images of Sacred harp singers sitting in a hollow square.
Screen grab from today’s livestream. Can’t see any of the basses, but I can recognize one or two altos, some of the trebles, and a couple of tenors.
Reflections on singing

Singing four part harmony at home

At the moment it doesn’t feel safe enough for me to sing in-person and indoors. It’s not just COVID. It’s also a very bad flu season, and RSV is a serious problem as well. I’m vulnerable to respiratory illnesses, so it’s safest for me to not sing in groups.

But I really miss four part singing. So I’ve been singing with myself, using GarageBand to record the four different vocal parts. When singing Sacred Harp, the tenor and treble parts may be sung in the lower (men’s) octave, but the alto should always be sung in the upper (women’s) octave. However, one of my vocal problems is serious difficulty singing in the falsetto range, which means I have to sing the alto part in the lower octave. Yet it turns out that many Sacred Harp tunes sound pretty good even with all the parts sung in the same octave.

In addition to singing traditional Sacred Harp tunes, I also sang a tune I wrote, “I Will Go on My Way.” Not that you need to hear me singing, but here’s a recording:

“I Will Go on My Way”
All-day singings & conventions New compositions

Market Street

In going through some old files, I stumbled across this audio recording from the 2012 All California Sacred Harp Convention. After the Saturday session, there was a special singing of new tunes. One of those new tunes we sang was one I had written, a plain tune called “Market Street.” Here’s that recording from a decade ago:

The words are from the poem “Let the Light Enter: The Dying Words of Goethe,” by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.

“Light! more light! the shadows deepen,
And my life is ebbing low,
Throw the windows widely open:
Light! more light! before I go.

“Softly let the balmy sunshine
Play around my dying bed,
E’er the dimly lighted valley
I with lonely feet must tread.

“Light! more light! for Death is weaving
Shadows ‘round my waning sight,
And I fain would gaze upon him
Through a stream of earthly light.”

Not for greater gifts of genius;
Not for thoughts more grandly bright,
All the dying poet whispers
Is a prayer for light, more light.

Gracious Saviour, when life’s day-dreams
Melt and vanish from the sight,
May our dim and longing vision
Then be blessed with light, more light.


Sacred Harp clip art

On the Sacred Harp Friends Facebook group, someone asked for Sacred Harp clip art. So I made a couple of images — a Sacred Harp leader, and a Sacred Harp singer — in both outline and filled versions. I’m releasing these four images into the public domain.

The first two images are a finer line, and will look good in larger sizes. The next two images are a thicker line, and can be shrunk down considerably. The images here are 1920 pixels wide.

New compositions

Two new tunes

Two Advent tunes: “Galilee” and “Prepare Ye the Way”.

It seems kind of pointless to post all these new tunes on this website. But when I post them here, somehow it gets them out of my head so I can stop thinking about them.

All-day singings & conventions

Norumbega Harmony Half Day singing

Here’s my photo of Glen (497) leading 178 at today’s half day singing in Newton, Mass., from the Denson book and the Norumbega Harmony:

It was a small but excellent singing. Distanced, masked, open windows. Yes, masks are annoying, but I felt very safe at this singing — given my health concerns, feeling safe is good. I’m grateful to the organizers for all the COVID precautions.

I don’t think I’ve ever sung as much Billings in a single singing. That’s one of the joys of singing from the Norumebega Harmony for me — I love all the 18th century tunes.

New compositions

Two new tunes

Wesport and Troops of Angels. Westport is the only new tune I’m really happy with from the past couple of years.

All-day singings & conventions

Video of Maine All Day Singing

And here’s a just-posted video of last month’s Maine All Day Singing. I’m just off screen to the far left, in the back row of the basses.

Click on the image above to view the video on Youtube.