All-day singing FAQ

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Frequently asked questions about Bay Area all-day singings:

What do you sing?

We sing the oldest form of American 4-part choral singing. More specifically, in the Bay area we sing from the 1991 Denson edition of The Sacred Harp. We can loan you a book, or even sell you one for $22.50 (our cost).

Who can come to an all-day singing?

Anyone and everyone. At Bay area all-day singings, we have lots of people who have never sung anything before, we have professional musicians, and everything in between.

What if I’ve never been to an all-day singing before?

We welcome newcomers! Ask the registration folks where you should sit. Try to sit next to someone who seems to know what they’re doing (avoid the front row, as people who sit there are expected to know what they’re doing). Ask questions during breaks and dinner-on-the-grounds — Sacred Harp singers in the Bay area are friendly, and we love to talk about singing. And if you’re completely new to Sacred Harp singing, ask at the registration table for the “First Time Singer” instruction sheet.

Can I lead a tune?

Yes, this is a democratic singing tradition, and anyone can lead a tune — in fact, we encourage everyone to try leading! Here are four things to remember about leading:

(1) We only sing any given tune once in a day, so if you call a tune and someone says, “That tune has been used,” then you should call a different tune (in other words, have two or three tunes ready to go just in case someone has called your first choice).
(2) You don’t have to lead by yourself! When you fill out your registration card, you can indicate that you want help, and a friendly singer will be assigned to stand next to you and help you lead (or you can find your own friendly singer to help).
(3) You should plan to sing only a couple of verses of the tune you lead, to allow us to have more leaders and to sing more tunes in a day.
(4) At the larger singings (Golden Gate, All-California), you will lead just one tune when your turn comes. At the smaller singings (Palo Alto, Ziegler Memorial), you will probably be asked to lead two tunes when your turn comes (though if you just want to lead one, that’s OK).

What is dinner-on-the-grounds?

It’s one of the nicest traditions of Sacred Harp singing. It’s the noontime meal where we share food, meet and eat with singers from all over the place, and eat till we burst. It’s a chance to meet and welcome singers from far away. It’s an open secret that some singers really come, not for the singing, but for dinner-on-the-grounds.

Should I bring food to dinner on the grounds?

If you live within a couple hours, yes! We have to feed all the people who come from out of state or from far away, so bring lots of food.

How much food should I bring to dinner-on-the-grounds?

Bring a substantial main dish and a couple of side dishes, or a main dish and desert. You want to bring enough to feed 8-10 people, and still have some left over to bring to the Saturday night social afterwards. Sacred Harp singers consider it a matter of shame if there’s not way too much food. (There was one Bay area all-day singing where there was enough food to stuff all the singers to bursting, with enough left over to supply the social, give lunch and dinner to the caretaker at the site, and feed two homeless men who wandered by — that’s what we mean by enough food.)

What should I bring to dinner-on-the-grounds?

Bring food you want to brag about! Dishes that are high in calories are good, because when you sing Sacred Harp all morning you get hungry. Meat dishes, casseroles, and sweet deserts are traditional in the South — in the Bay area, you’ll also see vegan and vegetarian dishes, Asian cuisine, and of course tofu.

How do I keep hot food hot?

Usually there is neither time nor facilities to heat up food at an all-day singing, and there may not be enough outlets to plug in your electric crock pot. So heat up hot food before you leave in the morning (ceramic and glass dishes hold heat best), then keep your dish hot till lunch by: (a) packing it in an insulated cooler; (b) wrapping it in several layers of old bath towels and placing everything in a canvas tote bag; or (c) wrapping it in layers of newspaper and putting everything in a cardboard box.

How do I keep cold food cold?

There may not be refrigerator space at the site. So just in case, pack your cold food in an insulated cooler with plenty of frozen cold packs or ice (and when you get to the site don’t leave the cooler in your hot car). Be especially careful with any food that might spoil, such as cold meat, mayonnaise, etc.

What should I wear?

Why not dress up for an all-day singing! In the old days in the Sacred Harp heartland of the deep South, men wore suits and ties and women wore dresses and fancy hats, but today dress codes for traditional singers have relaxed — sports shirts and slacks for men, skirts or dresses or nice slacks for women. In the Bay area, most people dress much like today’s Southern singers, but you’ll also see anarchists in their best all-blacks, artists wearing creative outfits, Silicon Valley folks in khakis and their best Hawaiian shirts, hippies in their finest tie-dye — along with a few men in ties and a few women in dresses and hats.

That’s a lot of singing! How can you sing for an entire day?

While you are singing, it’s important to stay hydrated and take care of your throat — drink constantly, especially if it’s hot, and soothe your throat when needed with cough drops (peppermint oil works especially well, e.g., Altoids or menthol cough drops). And not everyone sings for the entire day! Some of us volunteer in the kitchen or at the registration table because we know we can’t sing for five hours straight, and others take breaks and skip some of the singing.

What else happens at an all-day singing?

Typically in the Bay area (but not always), we hold a Friday night social beforehand, a chance for local singers to hang out with each other and to greet any out of town singers who come in early. There is usually a Saturday night social, where we eat food left from dinner-on-the-grounds — in the Bay area, there may be more singing at the Saturday night social, but sometimes we just eat and talk. And if an all-day singing doesn’t wear you out, there are often local singings after the all-day singing, e.g. the Monday singing in Berkeley, or one of the Sunday singings elsewhere in the Bay area. Check the flyer or Web site for the individual singing to see what other events may be planned.

One reply on “All-day singing FAQ”

Fine advice, Dan.
In your very last line you might now specify the Sunday Palo Alto singing and its time.