First observe of how many Notes compass the Tune is. Next, the place of your first Note; and how many Notes above & below that: so as you may begin the Tune of your first Note as the rest may be sung in the compass of your and the peoples voices, without Squeaking above, or Grumbling below.

Big Singings, a Guide for the New Singer

Thanks to friends on FB for the recent thread on this subject which confirmed and added to my thoughts, especially Margaret Bradshaw’s mention of book-on-seat etiquette.. Additional comments are welcome. I’ll see if refinement is needed and can then put this out in another form, probably as a Google Doc. It’s two full pages as laid out.

THE BIG SINGING: A Guide for First-Timers

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Bring food; sign in; move around; be ready; help out; enjoy.


A big singing may be an All-Day Singing (one day) or a Convention (more than one day). Only minuted* sessions count; added activities like a night-before singing school or a day-after regular singing don’t convert an all-day to a convention. At either, singing will run from morning till mid-afternoon (typically 9:30 to 3:00 or 10 to 3:30) and will include a potluck lunch known as Dinner on the Grounds. There will be one or two breaks in the morning, making two or three sessions, and one or two sessions in the afternoon, with as many as 90 songs.

*Big singings from the Denson Sacred Harp report leaders and song choices along with other basic information to the Sacred Harp Publishing Company in the form of minutes. The information is tabulated, printed, and available online.


I. Before the singing

If you are a local, and you are able, please bring something for Dinner on the Grounds (or breakfast). A main course would be great but snacks, bread, dessert are all good; you do not have to make it yourself and it doesn’t have to be large or fancy. I have never known a box of donut holes to go unmolested. If you want suggestions, talk to the Food Chair, who may have an idea of some of the dishes already planned, and will also know whether there are facilities for chilling or heating up food at the venue. Also, be aware that many people find it fun as well as traditional to dress up a little.

II. Arrival

Registration usually opens about half an hour before the singing starts. Whenever you arrive, at the REGISTRATION DESK, fill out a registration card with your name, your address (town or city is fine), when you’ll be there (morning and afternoon), and whether you would like to lead. YOU DO NOT NEED TO LEAD. If you aren’t ready, you don’t want the anxiety, or you just don’t feel like it, there is no dishonor in saying No. If you want to lead, see below for advice. Fill out a nametag and wear it. Pick up a loaner if you need one. Get some coffee. If you brought food, put it where instructed. Put your bag, coat, etc., out of the way.

Figure out where your part is sitting and find a seat for the first session. SEATING GUIDANCE: Singers will move around between sessions so that everyone who wants to gets a chance to sit on the front bench. If you are not an experienced singer, don’t take the middle seats on the tenor front bench, but otherwise you should feel free to sit up front for a session. A book left on a seat during a break is a marker: don’t move one, but also don’t leave your book on a seat you aren’t returning to.

III. During the singing

Remember that registration card? The ARRANGING COMMITTEE is responsible for calling singers to lead. Using the cards to plan the flow, they call each leader up to the square and announce the next, who then has one song to get ready.

PRAYERS AND SPECIAL SESSIONS: There will be three or four prayers offered during the day: after the first song calls the class together; before lunch; to close the singing; and if there is a Memorial/Sick & Shut-Ins lesson. There may be a BUSINESS MEETING to formally elect the officers of the singing. The MEMORIAL LESSON generally falls shortly before lunch, on the second day if it’s a two-day singing, and it honors members of the singing community who are unable to come to singing and those who have died in the preceding year. The TREASURER’S LESSON will come early in the day. You can make a contribution then or put it in the container which will doubtless be on the welcome table. Whatever you can give will be accepted with thanks and goes to the expenses of the singing (the venue fee, equipment for lunch, and similar).

HELPING: If you want to help during the singing, see the Food Committee to help with lunch or just pitch in with setup and cleanup. If you brought food, follow the Food Chair’s instructions as to setting it out. There will be utensils you can borrow.

GENERAL: Have fun singing and listening, watch the leaders as much as you can, remember to rotate benches, leave or take a break if you’ve had enough, try not to forget your water bottle.

IV. After singing

The chair will speak and there will be reports from the Secretary and the Treasurer. A RESOLUTIONS COMMITTEE may offer general thanks and a resolution to meet next year. Announcements of singing events will be made. The final song (often 62 PARTING HAND, but not always) will be sung standing, even milling around and shaking hands or hugging – a tricky moment for new singers who may never have had the chance to sing this song. A prayer of dismissal closes the singing.

At NYCADS, the singing is often followed by a composium, an opportunity to sing newly composed songs and offer feedback to the composer. There will generally be a SOCIAL of some kind in the evening.

LEADING AT A BIG SINGING – advice for new singers
• Have two songs you are prepared to lead, ones you know well so you can enjoy them. (Two, in case one is used before you are called.) You will not be judged on the rarity or complexity of your song. Simple and popular songs are great.
• Be efficient. When you hear your name called as the following singer, get out of your seat and to a corner of the square if you can. While the previous song is going on, find your song in the book. Decide which verses you plan to lead and whether you want to take a repeat. Remember that it is better to leave the class wanting more than to wear them out, and that there are many other leaders who need time.
• When you’re called to the square, come up as quickly as you can and say the number of your song loudly and clearly. Look up rather than at your book when you say it.
• Let the pitcher key your song.
• If you prefer to sing a line other than tenor, let the tenor front bench know.
• Announce your verses before the notes (or after) and use your fingers if you can to remind the class of your verse numbers.
• The front bench tenors are your team for the length of your song. They will help you and give you back the energy of the square. Look at them and use them.
• When you’re done, relish the sound and the experience BRIEFLY and then scoot on out of the square. Get some more coffee if you want, maybe one of those donut holes you brought.
N B Mandel 9/18/19

Brooklyn Singing Checklist

IMG_20181209_145507Please let me know if you think anything is wrong or missing. Once it’s settled, I can print a copy or two for the file.

Brooklyn Shapenote Singing checklist

Unlock the downstairs door by 2:00 [it is sometimes open]. Use the key marked H or P (different in diff. key sets) on the top lock.

Organize setup:
Move the table
Make the square
Find a folding chair or two (might need to look downstairs)
Set out the books
Find, fill, and plug in the hot water kettle
Get the white box with tea equipment out
Put up a sign on the gate and/or the door (optional but nice; there’s tape in the box)

Open the singing:
Greet newcomers and note that the call goes around the room, bathroom downstairs
If needed, give a quick introductory lesson
— It’s advisable to wait till a few songs in
— Maybe offer the teaching opportunity to another singer

Pitch or recruit pitchers, or both – we often divide up the job by book
Keep track of time (break will fall about 3:30)
Call the break, ask for donations, and have announcements
Lead a callback or ask someone else to do so
Announce nearly closing, ask for cleanup help and pick a closer-picker

Oversee resetting the room:
Table back to the center
Unplug & empty the teakettle
Books and white box back on the shelves
Count the money and hold for me (or slip under Fr. Wallace’s office door with a note)
Take out the trash; need to open the gate into the church sideyard (key marked G-D)
Take down the sign
Lights out

LOCK UP the entry door after the last singer is out of the building.



Weds singings STAY IN GREENWICH VILLAGE this summer, 2016

There’s an old post that may be confusing people. We’re staying at St. John’s, Christopher Street, through the summer, not moving to St Peter’s, Chelsea (we use that air-conditioned room).

Midweek singing January 23, 2013

At St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Citicorp Center, New York.  Singing from THE SACRED HARP, 1991 Denson edition.

Following his much-appreciated leading lessons, and at the request of some singers, Aldo offered a short lesson and guidance in keying.  I’ve posted the sketchiest of notes below.

Present: Jacob, Rebecca, Riley, Charlotte, Will, Aldo, Stevie, Nancy B., Mary Jane, Douglas, Jason, Carol, Sam, Ezra, Adam, Sarah K., Cory, Andrew O, Liesl (returning!).  New: Laura (friend of Andrew’s).

37 Aldo
155 Aldo
101t nbm
56b Andrew
114 Riley
Lesson: Aldo
102 (?) Douglas
32t Charlotte
277 Jacob
504 Stevie
— 318 for F Maj
— 171 F Maj with the F Maj triad in the tenor
— 129 D min; can be hard to pitch (nbm)
FM aj and E min will generally sit on same pitch
as will A Maj and A min
— 198, 280, 82t for B Maj
— 47b for A min (Jacob)
— 274 for pitching to have high notes pop out (Nancy)
52 Sam Read the rest of this entry »

Rudimentary humor.

Reading through the Rudiments of Music in the 2006 Cooper Revision, on the subway, I actually did laugh out loud at this.  These Rudiments are written in the old-fashioned catechism style, as a series of questions and answers. Apparently, after eighty-five of these, the author’s patience gave out.

84. Q. What effect has a sharp set immediately before a note?

A. It causes the note to be sung or played half a tone higher.

85 Q. What are these characters so placed called?

A. They are called accidentals.

86. Q. Why are they called accidentals?

A. For want of a better name.

(I’m studying up on Cooper songs for Brooklyn singing tomorrow. There’s some good stuff there!)

Jesse P K on Sacred Harp in Ireland

Don’t miss Jesse Pearlman Karlsberg’s scholarly and inspiring essay on the First Ireland Sacred Harp Convention, held in Cork in March, 2011.  (From Southern Spaces, a digital publication from Emory University.)  Musical selections included.  Jesse is interested in the simultaneous narratives of authenticity — “traditional” and “academic” — visible in the recent history of shapenote singings and vividly so in the Cork singing.

As singers from the convention in Cork now express their participation in Sacred Harp singing through communication, travel, organizing, and music-making, they model their expression on “traditional” practices that they learned in academic and informal situations.

The Cork singers will be hosting the second annual Ireland Sacred Harp convention on March 3 and 4, 2012. I can’t go — I have a concert to sing here in New York — but I envy those who will.

In defense of “regular” singing

Some objections to singing from notation:

(1) That it is a New Way, an Unknown Tongue. (2) That it is not so Melodious as the Usual Way. (3) That there are so many Tunes, we shall never have done learning. (4) That the Practice of it give Disturbance; Roils & Exasperates men’s Spirits; grieves sundry good People, and causes them to behave themselves indecently & disorderly. (5) That is Quakerish & Popish, and introductive of Instrumental Musick. (6) That the Names given to the Notes are Bawdy, yea Blasphemous. (7) That it is a Needless way, since their good Fathers that were Strangers to it, are got to Heaven without it.

Thomas Symmes, Utile Dulci. Or a Joco Serious Dialogue, Concerning Regular Singing (Boston, 1723)

Cited here (with thanks to Martha Henderson at the Fasola Singings list for the reference).

What the lists mean.

I guess I didn’t imagine that anyone not a shapenote singer would see these entries, and be mystified.  But one did, so just in case there is a second, I’ll explain.  The Sacred Harp, the tunebook we sing out of, has 570-something pages, on most of which there are one or two songs. Any singer can call any of the songs to be sung by the group, so for efficiency’s sake (and because it is traditional), they are referred to by their page number and, if necessary, placement (top or bottom — “t” or “b”).  They do have names as well, tune names that may have nothing obvious to do with the text.

For example, tonight Ryan gave a (very) short lesson, since we had several new people, and as the starter song he called forty-five on the top (45t).  It’s a tune called NEW BRITAIN (caps are conventional for tune names, I gather) but you would know it better as “Amazing Grace.” There are indexes in the book, by first line and by tune name, and they do get used as people rummage for their songs.  Some experienced singers know pretty much every tune by its number; I know just a couple of dozen. But at a singing it’s convenient for the leader to call a page number that everyone can turn to right away.

And the name, I suppose obviously, is the person who selected and led each song.