Putting Down Roots


at the top of your lungs
February 19, 2011, 8:11 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Today, I went to my almost-first-ever all-day shape-note sing. It was a bit over an hour away (turn at the “Goat Day” sign, Beverly said, indicating that “Goat Day” was the only big event that ever happened in Blountstown), and so I got to ride up with one set of neighbors, and down with another set.

The standard schedule for an all-day sign is to show up in the morning (9:30, in this case), sing until lunch, eat a delicious potluck, and then sing until the middle of the afternoon. All told, it’s about 5 hours of singing, which is a lot regardless of singing style. But the thing about shape note singers is that we sing LOUD. It’s a central part of the philosophy. Whereas in choral singing you try to blend with the group, I have been told by multiple people (who were only half-joking) that, when you’re singing Sacred Harp, if you can hear the person next to you you’re not singing loud enough.

You belt it out: you’re giving it everything you’ve got. The idea is to be letting your voice ring out, worshipping God with every ounce of power you have. A word that gets used to describe this is “unrestrained.” You’re not holding your voice back if you’re doing it right.

Think about shouting for five hours. Then think about doing that in a room full of other people, some of whom are Mennonites in bonnets, some of whom are 80 year olds in polyester suits, and some of whom have told you stories of feminist consciousness-raising groups in the 70s. Think of that shouting being done in four part harmony to beautiful poetry.

The result is a wonderful catharsis, and ears still ringing with the music, and a throat that absolutely can’t handle any more singing, at least until tomorrow morning.

(Listen to this song to get a sense of what this kind of singing sounds like.)

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