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.

Other local singings

Norumbega Harmony

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.

Singing at home

Raised sixths, and postmodern rootlessness

The first part of this week’s singing was the monthly “Other Book” singing, a time to sing from the Cooper book, Norumbega Harmony, Eclectic Harmony, etc. In the spirit of openness that has marked the Berkeley singings over the past several weeks, I saw a willingness of all singers to experiment, and of more experienced singers to do a little more teaching for the rest of us.

One subject came up that has been passionately discussed many times by singers of the urban revival. Towards the end of the “Other Book” singing, I asked us to sing Lebanon by William Billings, no. 2 in Norumbega Harmony. I had been playing through it at home, and noticed that if you try to raise the sixth, as is common Sacred Harp practice for songs in a minor key, at one point you get part of a diminished chord. So I was curious as to how we would sing the song. Unfortunately, since we don’t really know the song, we sang a fair number of wrong notes (I know I sang plenty of wrong notes), so I couldn’t be sure: did the experienced singers raise the sixth, or not?

Other local singings

“Norumbega Harmony” monthly singing

I had hoped to attend the open monthly singing of Norumbega Harmony today, but the demands of a professional conference kept me from attending. But I’ll record a few memories from the times I attended this singing in 2009.

Norumbega Harmony is an atypical local singing. The core group of singers meet weekly to sing together in an invitation-only singing, and once a month they host an open singing. They have a “singing master,” Stephen Marini, who founded the group in 1976 (prior to any contact with Southern singers) and continues to be a central force. They perform Sacred Harp music; they are not purely participatory. In addition to singing from the Denson revision of the Sacred Harp, they have long sung other material gleaned from old New England songbooks, and in 2003 finally published their own songbook.

What I noticed most in the three or four times that I came to one of their open singings was how friendly everyone was; it was the most welcoming local singing I have attended. Perhaps because the regular singers see each other every other week of the month, they are much more open to meeting and welcoming newcomers. (Indeed, the second time I attended with my friend Ted, who is an experienced singer with a full bass voice and the ability to sight-sing, we were invited to join the regular weekly group; I can see why Ted was invited, but that I was invited to join shows that it’s a pretty open group.) This was by far the friendliest New England singing I attended; it felt much like the friendliness and openness of the Boston-area folk music scene.