We each had a chance to select our favorites. Someone would volunteer to stand in the center and lead the group, though I will confess I could not take my eye off the book long enough to be led by anyone. Some songs were slow and ponderous (I liked these best); others were so fast I just kept my mouth shut and slid my finger along the staffs, trying to figure out where we were. And through it all was the harmony I'd come looking for, rich and intoxicating. The ending notes were the best: powerful and resonant. All voice types were welcomed. Some folks sounded "trained," while others just sang in everyday voices. I've heard some recordings of Sacred Harp sings in the rural South and noticed a peculiar nasal stridency that is both compelling and scary. The Ark group has a gentler sound.
Through it all, a seven-month-old named Carl sat on the floor by his mom and played with toys. Three hours is a long time to be a baby at a Sacred Harp sing. But when Carl made his presence known, during a morose minor-key plaint, he was right on pitch.
[Originally published in May, 2005.]