Monday, July 30, 2007

3d Annual Pearson Homestead Singing

On Friday, four of us drove to our friends' homestead near Ogema, Wisconsin (about 180 miles east of here) for the 3d Annual Pearson Homestead Singing weekend. 

I wrote about last year's singing here , and the first year's here. I'm glad I checked the previous years' reports, because I was about to begin this one with "What a weekend!" just as I did last year's. And reading about the beauty of the place, the joy of singing in the outdoor screened building, the mountains of delicious food, and the deep and interesting conversations driving there and back (and stopping for ice cream on the way home) tells me that I really may not have much left to say that would be new.

This year, we had 16 or 17 singers in all, a little fewer than past years. Most of them Quakers from the Twin Cities and Eastern Wisconsin, with a handful of singers from the Twin Cities and Madison singing groups to boot. Only one singer was entirely new to Sacred Harp, but she is an experienced and well-trained musician who understood perfectly how to read the shapes and how to sing, and so the singing school didn't last even a full hour and she was ready. We stopped singing separate parts shortly after lunch on Saturday.

We were showered with a blessing of basses [did I just coin a new aggregation term? In addition to a blessing of basses, may there be a treasure of trebles? an aggravation of altos? a trophy of tenors?]: six of the 16 were natural basses, and if we had each stayed in the bass section we would have blasted out all of the other parts. So, just like last year, I spent most of Saturday singing as the second alto, and just like last year I found it exhausting learning a new part, even to familiar songs. Later in the day when a versatile Twin Cities singer (herself normally a tenor) arrived and was able to replace me in the alto section, I went home to sing bass. That made five of us singing out of our regular sections in order to balance out the group -- two natural basses sang tenor; a tenor sang treble; and another tenor and I sang alto

Even with so many of us singing off part, the quality of the singing was extraordinary. The parts were balanced. The acoustics were amazing -- even though the walls are screened, the wood roof and floor provided enough resonance to make it easy to sing and be heard without straining. Once again, we roused an echo off the surrounding hills with David's Lamentation (#268), much to the delight of LeVerne. But we got it from other songs too, particularly later on Saturday. 

After she retired from singing on Saturday evening, Elizabeth came back to the singers and urged us to go outside and walk around the hill behind the screened room to the camping area and listen to the singing from there. I did, the next morning, and was as stunned as she was. I don't know if it was the filtering effect of the trees between the hill and the singing, or the effect of the sound off the water of the lake, or what, but from this distance (which might have been 100 yards or so) the music was extraordinarily clear and beautiful. The edges were smoothed just a little to make the blend particularly pleasing.  With the smaller number of Sunday morning singers (about 8 at the time) the articulation of the words was especially sharp and I could hear each word clearly. It was easy to imagine being on a ramble in the woods and hearing this sound come from who-knows-where and stopping dead in my tracks. You would have gotten no argument from me if you said it was an angel choir. Is this heaven? No, it's Sacred Harp singing

God also gave us three of those spectacular midwestern summer days he is so famous for. Radiantly warm -- mid-80's, I'd say -- but low humidity. Just warm enough to be happy to be in the shaded screened building, but comfortable enough to be happy sitting around the dinner table outdoors, or on the porch. Swimming was also just the right thing for later in the afternoon. Bright blue sky; puffy white clouds. An almost-full moon rising early in the evening. A night cool enough to appreciate having brought the sleeping bag. 

On Saturday, especially in the afternoon and evening, we sang more challenging songs -- challenging to me who was unfamiliar with many of them (even after having returned home to the bass section), at least, and songs that don't get sung so often. We sang a whole string of Christmas songs and then Easter Anthem (#236). We sang Sawyer's Exit (#338) [to the tune of Rosin the Beau], Plenary (#162) [to the tune of Auld Lang Syne], the temperance hymn Oh, Come Away (#334) ["Heav'n's blessing on your plans, we pray! Ye come our sinking friends to save, And rescue from a drunkard's grave; We welcome you here!"], and two songs with words in them that don't come up in everyday conversation, The Last Words of Copernicus (#112) ["And thou refulgent orb of day in brighter flames arrayed. . ."] and Kingwood (#266) ("Unthinking man, remember this, Though fond of sublunary bliss, That you must groan and die"]. On Sunday we struggled through the sublime Rose of Sharon (#254) -- twice! (Though we didn't do it a lot, one of the nice things about an unofficial singing like this is that we can decide to sing a song over again, or work on a difficult part, if we want to without anyone getting all huffy about it. I understand and accept why we don't do this as a matter of course, but it is nice to have places where we can

Also on Saturday, Carol led a song in memory of our friend Minja Lausevic, a delightful woman and singer who died two weeks ago at the age of 41. It made me remember that it was two years ago that we remembered the similarly premature death of Elizabeth's partner, Lou Ann, and last year of Hibbard Thatcher

On Sunday, we sang for an hour, then had meeting for worship, and then sang some more. We stopped at noon, and then ate our last dinner together. There was still lots of good food, and apparently lots of good conversation left, too, because we just sat around and talked and talked, with some nice long moments of silence, too. It was so peaceful and relaxing. I'd been reading the final Harry Potter book, and at one point I said, "I feel that, if I had a wand, I'd just wave it and have all these dishes wash themselves and put the food away. But wait! I have ten of them," and so began to finish up our time together. 

I also greatly enjoyed the conversation I had on the way home with my friend, Frank. We've known each other for years, but only recently have had the opportunity to talk at length. (I had a similar pleasure driving his wife to yearly meeting in May.) We have a lot of common interests, and viewpoints as it turns out, and it made the long drive home seem effortless.

Of course, it was effortless for me -- Gerry did all the driving in his 25-year old VW Vanagon. Despite his giving us all of the necessary disclaimers befitting a vehicle of that age and era, the old thing drove flawlessly. (The four of us in the bus were in our 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, respectively; I don't know why, but I found that interesting.)

Now, back on the front porch with the full moon high over head, it is warm and the crickets are cricketing. It's time for bed. "I lay my body down to sleep, peace is the pillow for my head, while well-appointed angels keep a watchful station round my head." (Hebron, #566)


Linda said...

So you sang about refulgent orbs and sublunary bliss... what about timorous worms? I don't think a singing is complete without timorous worms.
Thanks for the lovely account. It's nice to live vicarously!

Liz Opp said...

One of these days, Paul, I'll be able to attend a sing. Thanks for the continuing inspiration for me...

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Paul L said...

Linda -- We sang so many songs, we may well have mentioned a timorous worm or two. . . .

littlevinecollection said...


I'm new to Sacred Harp, but I've been an astronomy buff for a long time. "The Last Words of Copernicus" was a neat find while thumbing through the book at a singing not long ago.

A refulgent orb, indeed!