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Make Heaven's Portals Ring

What with the resounding six hours of singing yesterday at the Hyde Park All-Day/Annual/Anniversary/Whatever Singing, I have finally passed the test of chairing a semi-major singing event from the beginning. The Hyde Park Singing isn't a massive event, but it is big enough to require a certain amount of work.

The first issue we had to deal with was our venue change. After we got bumped from Quaker House, we searched frantically until we came up with Augustana Lutheran on 55th St. The Lutherans were very nice to us, though it was clear that they really had no idea what they'd agreed to let us do -- at one point, they thought we had planned to sing on Sunday, and offered to turn their worship service over to us, which would not have been a good idea. But they gave us the full run of their lovely, modern social hall, complete with commercial kitchen (two stoves, two microwaves, two dishwashers) and china to use at dinner.

The first time in a new space is always a little weird. You don't know how the chairs ought to be set up best, you don't know what the acoustics will be like, and you have to make a hundred little guesses about where people and things ought to go for the best flow. We'd decided to set up the singing slightly off-center in the room and arrange dining, sales, arranging/secretarial, and registration tables around it, and put the food in the kitchen. This seemed like it ought to work, and it kinda sorta did.

The other part of being chair is finding people to do the various jobs that need doing. Most people know what each of the jobs entail, it's just a matter of finding people to do them. lcohen had been last year's co-chair, and was helpful in determining things like scheduling. Our other outgoing co-chair agreed to be Coffee Committee. We had a volunteer from the North Side for registration. One alto very cheerfully agreed to be secretary, to the great relief of another alto, who does a lot of secretarying and for whom that job has lost much of its charm. I asked a friend from out of town to arrange, because he does it a lot and is good at it, and canyon_lady got to share the job and learn how it's done. Now she, too, has been initiated into the siblinghood of Sacred Harp arrangers, mua ha ha ha ha. rhobike couldn't make it to most of the singing, as she had a regular obligation elsewhere, but she hosted our out-of-town arranger, and provided a pot of tzimmes for dinner. There is one Chicago singer who is regularly called upon to be the Finance Committee and ask for donations, and he agreed to do it for this singing.

The biggest surprise was that plorkwort turned up on Thursday evening, all the way from Boston. I'd been sort of desperate to find someone to give a memorial lesson, because the people I'd originally asked hadn't gotten back to me -- a crossing of the communications wires, as it turned out. But I needed someone to do the memorial lesson, and plorkwort was very gracious when I asked on Thursday if she would do it at a singing on Saturday.

With all of this venue-switching and seat-of-the-pants organizing, the singing could easily have tanked. But it didn't. Everybody and everything rose to the occasion. Enough people came for setup that it went smoothly, but we didn't have so many people that they would trip over each other. It turned out that the kitchen choreography wasn't as great as we'd thought, but that was something we needed to learn from experience, and the singers were gracious about it. All the announcements about the venue change worked, and people arrived at the right place.

Augustana Lutheran has lots going for it. The room is big and bright, the chairs are light to carry and comfortable to sit in, and there are plenty of them. The bathrooms are modern. The kitchen is commercial, and we have free use of it. Best of all, the building is eminently handicap accessible, which Quaker House isn't, and is right on a bus line. A Very Scientific poll at the end of the singing (done by Applause-O-Meter) showed that people liked it. We may be back next year.

But it was really the people at the singing who made it work. They accepted all of the weird crud that goes with a new venue, and were willing to work with us and be flexible. After I was formally elected chair, I made this awful JFK joke -- "Ask not what this singing can do for you, but ask what you can do for this singing." People laughed, but they took it seriously. Singers switched out at the registration table without being asked, and six or seven people took it upon themselves to do kitchen prep and immediate cleanup. Enough people stayed behind for final cleanup and teardown.

Everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time. Acoustically, the room is very live, and it took some time to adjust to that, but we got a fantastic sound going. It's true that, once you get things started, a singing pretty much runs itself, but it was so nice to sit there and sing and know that everyone was having this fantastic time at our party, especially after so many people had worked so hard to make it happen.

And now, I'm happy that the singing went well, and I'm very happy that it's over and I don't have to chair again next year!


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 4th, 2007 02:33 pm (UTC)
Wow, that sounds like a lot of work. I'm glad everything went well.
Nov. 4th, 2007 02:39 pm (UTC)
It was certainly more work than I'd expected, because of the venue change. But it all worked out in the end.

This experience has, however, solidified my determination to avoid chairing the Midwest until I am ABD.
Nov. 4th, 2007 02:44 pm (UTC)
Sounds like a nice sing. We went to our regular monthly sing last night and I was just not that into it:( I think partly I was distracted by my brother being there (in another room and not singing) and partly it was the sound. The particular place we were singing has some pretty bad sound. It needs a lot of strong tenors to really help carry it and we just didn't have that last night:( I'm hopeful that next month will better.

I still haven't posted about the NY State sing. It was very good. Unfortunately, my voice was complete crap on Saturday and we didn't have as much time to sing on Sunday. But I'll take a 1/2 hour of charged intense singing over three hours of blah singing any day:)
Nov. 4th, 2007 02:56 pm (UTC)
The Hyde Park singing is a very nice singing. It's big enough to count as an event, but it's small enough to be intimate, and most people get to lead at least twice. It's not a big anonymous cattle call like the Midwest, but it does have a powerful draw from neighboring states.

The other nice thing is that we've been moving towards making it a two-book singing, using the new Missouri Harmony in addition to the Denson book. There are almost enough MH books to go around if everyone who has loaners brings them, and it really livens up the singing. You hear some great new tunes that way, and the class is usually big enough to get through unfamiliar ones pretty well. On the other hand, we still haven't attempted all fifteen pages of "Judgement Anthem."
Nov. 4th, 2007 03:04 pm (UTC)
The Berryville All Day sing is very nice too, although we only get through the leaders once, I believe.

What is the Missouri Harmony? I've heard of the Oberlin Harmony and the Christmas Harp. I think I've heard of one called The Eclectic Harmony, but dh doesn't seem to have heard of one called The Eclectic Harmony, so perhaps I've made that up:)

It can be fun to sing songs that are new but with enough people knowing the parts to really help carry it. I often don't have the energy or attention to sing completely brand new songs these days:)
Nov. 4th, 2007 04:18 pm (UTC)
There is a book called The Eclectic Harmony -- I own a copy. That's a spiral-bound collection of tunes from other sources, so it's kind of fun.

But the Missouri Harmony! In 2005, there was a substantial revision of the old 1820 book, and it produced this wonderful gem! It's almost a completely different book -- the committee threw out all the songs that appeared in the Denson book, and substituted rare old tunes and a selection of new material. They put out a call for new songs a couple of years ago, and apparently chose the ones for publication by sitting down and singing through each submission. One of mine is published there!

It's all newly typeset, and although there are some typos and awkward page-turns, it's pretty easy to read. Warren Steele has a review of it here. I think it's definitely worth owning, especially because it includes Ten Thousand Charms, which is one of the most exciting new pieces I've ever heard.
Nov. 4th, 2007 08:15 pm (UTC)
Ah, ok. I thought I wasn't crazy (yet):).

How have we never heard of the Missouri Harmony, I wonder? It sounds like a fabulous book to own. Is used more in the midwest?

I believe we sang Ten Thousand Charms at its Premier performance:) We know Hal Kunkel quite well and have sung with him for years. Have you met him? I keep hoping for more gems like Ten Thousand Charms.

One question I have about it is if it still charming years later after singing it over and over?

Yay for having a song published in a book. That's quite exciting. Maybe one day we'll get to sing it too:)
Nov. 4th, 2007 11:04 pm (UTC)
The Missouri Harmony is pretty popular in the Midwest. I think that's because the folks from St. Louis spend a lot of time promoting it there. The Hyde Park All-Day is now a two-book singing, and the Higher Ground Singing adopted the Missouri Harmony this year as well. Paul Figura led my song!

One question I have about it is if it still charming years later after singing it over and over?

Yes. For two reasons: 1) It's complex, and is a challenge to learn, so once you've learned it, you have a real sense of accomplishment, and 2) it's just that well written. Tell Hal Kunkel that we really like it out here in the Midwest.
Nov. 4th, 2007 09:06 pm (UTC)
I used to work on science fiction conventions, which sound, and are, a world away from Sacred Harp singing, but organizing an event is organizing an event. I understand the work and planning that goes into something like this. I can identify with new venue, getting people to volunteer, and crossed lines of communications.

It sounds as if it went off fabulously, a few glitches nonwithstanding. I salute you and your efforts!
Nov. 4th, 2007 11:01 pm (UTC)
People were asking me all Saturday morning how I was doing. My answer was generally that I had gone into full-blast "Arch-Generalissima-Mother-of-her-Country" mode. But there were a lot of experienced and willing volunteers helping me out on every step of the way, and all punches were rolled with. So things went nicely, and I'm glad.
Nov. 4th, 2007 10:43 pm (UTC)
It all sounds very impressive! I'm glad it all went so well, especially as you worked so hard. Congratulations on a successful chairing.
Nov. 4th, 2007 10:59 pm (UTC)
Thank you! It is a wonderful feeling to know that the party that you hosted went off well.
Nov. 5th, 2007 04:24 am (UTC)
Congratulations on chairing a fine singing. It went well, even the bad JFK joke, and I really enjoyed it. Will you be at the southern Wisconsin singing next week? (hope so)
Nov. 5th, 2007 04:29 am (UTC)
I'm glad you had a good time. I did, too, in the end.

Unfortunately, I won't be at the singing next week. I will be stuck in the kempuls for (yet another) all-day gamelan rehearsal.
Nov. 6th, 2007 12:12 am (UTC)
Wow! That was a lot of work. I am glad you found a place and it all worked out for you. I used to love doing conferences when I taught, but I remember being very glad they were over once they were. :-)
Nov. 6th, 2007 03:45 am (UTC)
It was more work than I had anticipated, primarily because of the venue change. There were more administrative decisions that had to be made based on the fact that we didn't know much about the space and hadn't established ways of dealing with it. But the singing happened, and I'm proud of that.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )