I’ve been searching for music groups with which I can participate while here in Washington. I haven’t found a drum circle or musician’s circle like some of the ones in Upstate South Carolina, but I’ve been having fun with the Bring Your Own Guitar group. Finally I found a Shape Note Singing. I knew I had to check it out.
NOTE: I started writing this post a couple of years ago and for whatever reason never finished it. After this past weekend’s William Walker Singing I decided it was time to dig it back out.
After my disasterous attempts at leading a couple of songs at the Sacred Harp singing at First Christian Church last Friday (back in 2015, when I first started this post) I decided that I needed to familiarize myself a bit more with the material. I put together a method for studying, and came up with a simple, mobile solution for having my favorite tunes on hand. In the process, I also stumbled on a community obsessed with record-keeping, more so than just about any obsessive sports fan I’ve ever encountered.
Saturday was one of those busy days where I needed to be about five people. Between potential paddling trips, Artisphere, Furman graduation, and other local festivals, there were lots of choices. I decided to head over to Furman for the 2015 Nan Herring Shape Note Singing.
The Nan Herring Singing is held each year on “the Saturday before the Second Sunday,” using the parlance of the singing community. This year and last year the date conflicts with Furman Graduation. This was not the case before Furman went on a semester system and graduation was in early June. The last time I came to this singing was in 2008, before the change, and we were able to use Herring Hall, where we rehearse for Chorale. This time, due to conflicts with the Furman Singers needing their home space, we held the singing on the stage of Daniel Recital Hall.
Saturday morning I skipped out on a bunch of gardening chores that Laura had lined up for me and went to a shape note singing at Furman. When I arrived, there were about thirty singers already in their open square configuration, singing away.
Unlike the William Walker Memorial Singing at Wofford a couple of months ago, this event was held in a room designed for singing. The sound in Herring Hall (where the Greenville Chorale rehearses) was much more resonant, and the tunes sounded much better than they did in the dead room at Wofford.
The group started singing from the Southern Harmony, which has the more traditional do-re-mi scale. Even so, I struggled with the note names on the initial sing-through, and wound up singing “la” for most of the notes. For the second hour of the morning, they switched to the Sacred Harp, which uses the four-shape fa-so-la scale. It was much harder, and I never really got the hang of the note names. There was a break when we switched from one tune book to the other, and I had a chance to talk with several of the singers. I was told that Southern Harmony tends to be a bit more subdued, whereas Sacred Harp singing is always more raucous. Even though the notes were more difficult for me, I was up for high-energy raucous singing.