Monday, August 14, 2006

Second annual Ogema singing

What a weekend.

It was our second annual Ogema, Wisconsin, Sacred Harp Singing School and singing weekend at Nils' & Peg's place. There was a nice size crowd there, about twenty or so, of whom twelve to fourteen sang at any one time. There were seven of us from Twin Cities meeting (including 15-year old Dylan who was in our workshop at the Gathering and who came with his dad -- Dylan already has his favorites: Amsterdam, Russia, and Mear and knows them by number, too) and the rest from various points in Wisconsin. The mix of experienced and new or relativel new singers was good, too, and the parts were balanced as long as I sang as the third alto, which I did almost all weekend.

Doing so was a very instructive experience. I've noticed before that life looks different from the tenor section than it does with my fellow basses, but it looks really different from the alto bench. I think it's because they sing all those thirds that are usually sung as passing tones by the other parts, but the real thing was singing in the middle of the chord. I found it harder to tune properly -- perhaps as a bass I just do the best I can and expect the rest of the square to tune to us, but the altos are squeezed between the basses on the one hand and the trebles & tenors on the other without as much wiggle room. I did OK, I suppose. At least I sang the wrong notes boldly as I'd instructed the others to do.

I also noticed was how exhausting it was to be learning the part anew with each song -- I realized that half the time I sing bass on auto-pilot and only have to occasionally glance at the words to be sure I'm on the right verse. But I didn't know squat about the alto parts, and each time through was a trial -- I have much more sympathy with new singers whose noses are stuck in the books: they have to be until they learn the parts.

The quality of the singing in general was good. We sang again in the screened-in building between the two lakes, and it was surprisingly easy to sing in given the lack of solid walls. The ceiling and wood floor must have helped a lot. The volume was never overwhelming, but the sound was sweet.

The sonic and spiritual highlight was certainly singing David's Lamentation (sound file; words here), which we did in memory of our Friend Hibbard Thatcher of Nashville Monthly Meeting who died on August 5. Those of you who know the song know that there's an agonizing, three-note descending phrase sung to "Oh my son" followed by a full measure rest, reprised with "Oh my son" just a little more softly. For my money, these phrases are the best marriage of text to music in the Sacred Harp, or in all of Western music for that matter. (How's that for a bold statement?)

When we sang the words and came to the first rest, we could hear the echo "Oh my son" ringing from the hills. And then again. It gave each of us goosebumps as we heard it together and caught each other's eye. I'm sure Hibbard would have been pleased. (It's funny -- that was the only song where we produced that ringing echo -- even others that had brief rests after a phrase didn't resound so clearly and distinctly.)

Besides excellent singing, the food was magnificent and abundant. And the fellowship joyful and rich.


I came home and was relieved that the house hadn't burned down, as usual. But I woke up this morning with a splitting headache so I took a sick day and did household chores. The headache was gone by supper time, so I rode my bike to Loring Park to join my friend Anne and other friends for a music & movie in the park night. The music, buy a band named "Vicious Vicious" I missed, but I had a great fun time watching the movie. The best line: "Lawyers shouldn't marry each other; it's in-breeding and makes idiot children who become lawyers."

Then I rode home along the almost-completed and surprisingly busy (for 11 pm) Midtown Greenway and saw a 3/4 moon rise orange and gigantic from the east looking like one of those orange candies in the sky. At one point, the moon was in line with the red lights of the KSTP towers and it looked like a light sculpture. I love riding my bike at night on a cool summer night.

And now to bed.

Tomorrow is Second Daughter's 26th birthday, and the Feast of the Assumption.


Liz Opp said...

One of these days, Paul, I'm gonna make it to your Sacred Harp singing event!

Liz, The Good Raised Up

E. Senger said...

Glad to hear your good report. Sorry we couldn't be there to raise our voices (and spirits) with the rest.