A weblog by Will Fitzgerald

A singing vacation

II can’t do justice to the vacation time we were privileged to have last week, but I wanted to write down a few things, even if it’s just for our own memories in the future.

The basic goal: go to Camp Fasola, a singing camp put on by the Sacred Harp Music Association, now in its fifth year. Dear wife Bess suggested we go, and so she, I, and our daughter Jane, along with two of Jane’s friends (Rachel and Emma) headed down to Alabama.

Well, first we had to pick up Rachel, a friend from our days in Evanston. Her family and ours are great friends, and it was good to see her family for a bit. We got to eat together at ‘Tacos del Mar,’ a new restaurant opened by another friend from a long time ago, and browse the bookshops preparing for the trip.

Picking up Rachel meant going to Evanston, not exactly on our way to Alabama … but we went even further away to Plow Creek community in Tiskawa, Illinois, where we rendezvoused with Emma, who was at Cornerstone, a kind of Christian Woodstock held every year. We stayed with friends at Plow Creek, the Piches, whom I met in San Francisco at the Sojourners Community (it’s feeling like a small world). Emma’s family, and another family, the Aldermans, met us for a picnic in Princeton, Illinois after church on Sunday, after which we finally started in earnest towards Alabama.

Camp started at 3 pm on Monday, but there was a Independence Day singing during the day; we arrived early enough that I got to participate, while the ‘girls’ explored the area. I led my first song in the south, Cambridge (287 in the Sacred Harp):

The Lord will happiness divine
On contrite hearts bestow;
Then tell me gracious God is mine,
A contrite, heart, or no?

Thy saints are comforted, I know,
And love Thy house of prayer;
I sometimes go where others go,
But find no comfort there.

It’s been on my heart as I’ve thought of the daughter of friends who recently committed suicide due to despair caused by schizophrenia.

Jane, Emma and Rachel went off to Youth I, Bess to Adult I, and I to the other adult classes. We all learned a lot. Rachel probably learned the most, eventually (at the community singing on Thursday), leading a tune *by herself.* Quite amazing really, but all three girls did great. Bess learned a lot of the basics, and I think I finally understand what people mean with they talk about “shuffling” (i.e., adding syncopation) and “the raised 6th” (singing minor songs in the Dorian mode). I think I can finally hear and reproduce the difference between standard minor and Dorian mode! We’ll see if it sticks.

In some ways, it seemed like mostly I learned lots of new ways to be *wrong*. There was a strong emphasis on learning to lead songs in the right, decorous manner, and some of the comments about people’s leading styles were quite harsh. People weren’t always kind in their comments about others. But, in the end, it was a great learning experience, and we were all glad to have gone.

I especially enjoyed singing out of Lloyd’s Primitive Hymns, a text-only hymnbook used by some Primitive Baptists. Eugene Forbes of Mt. Zion PBC attended the camp, and several of us gathered together to sing of our Lloyd’s each morning. I sang a ‘Mennonite’ tune to Wesley’s “Jesus, United by the Grace,” which Eugene enjoyed, as well as Tallis’s canon (Lloyd’s has Thomas Ken’s “All praise to thee my God this night”, but Eugene was unfamiliar with it.)

Tom Malone, who often sings with us in Michigan (he lives in East Lansing, where his wife is attending Michigan State) was everywhere, doing everything: leading a wonderful class on Marcus Cagle and another on the Reese Brothers, all of whom are composers represented in the Sacred Harp; prompting Eugene for PBC tunes; singing new compositions with his eastern friends; getting the young men to sing a special sequence at the Wednesday evening session. Alas! His true colors came out, and I’m sure we’ll lose him to the east when his wife finishes her studies. But we *will* enjoy him while he’s here.

Judy Hauff of Chicago, our Midwest Sacred Harp doyen, was asked to teach, and she did a great job — she’s the one who taught the classes that helped me understand shuffling and the raised sixth, with lots of good examples and vast knowledge.

I got to meet several people I’ve only known electronically, including John Plunkett (who led a great session on another composer, King) and Karen Willard. I had a great conversation with Aldo Ceresa and Jesse Pearlman Karlsberg about composing (they are writing some really good stuff, as are others out east). My friend Teri Barbour from California was at camp, and it was a joy to have here there (I should have stood up with her when the California singers were recognized, but I was in Michigan mode). Several other ‘worthies’ were in attendance in part or in whole, including Richard DeLong (who lead a very good class on keying), Jeff and Shelbie Sheppard, Hugh McGraw and Terry Wooten. I hadn’t met Wooten or McGraw or the Sheppards before, so this was a honor, really.

David Ivy, who organized the camp, did an outstanding job, as usual — he is an amazing organizer and effective advocate for shape-note singing, and a genuinely nice man; a mensch. His wife, Karen, was the men’s counselor (although I didn’t have much interaction with her). Matt Hinton, who recently did a documentary on the Sacred Harp, spoke (eventually, effectively) on the ‘Theology of the Sacred Harp’ at the opening session.

After three and a half full days of classes and singing, there was only one thing to do–sing some more at the first annual singing at the Schoals Flats Primitive Baptist Church south of Atlanta. After a camp where we emphasized technique and doing things correctly, it was nice to just *sing* again — although I was much more conscious of rhythm, pitch and mode as a result of camp. I got to sing next to Matt Hinton and Justin Squizzero. Our voices were pretty tired, but my voice came in after about an hour (and some prodding by Richard De Long, who was keying) and things went pretty well.

Meanwhile, Bess and the girls went into Atlanta to visit Ebenezer Baptist Church (Martin Luther King’s church) and the MLK mausoleum and civil rights museum.

And then, the long ride home. We left Rachel off at South Bend where her father was waiting, dropped Emma off at home, picked up the dogs from the kennel (they were *very glad* to see us), and started back into our lives in Kalamazoo. It was a very full, very fulfilling time away.


2 responses to “A singing vacation

  1. Paul L July 11, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    Wow. What a wonderful report, Will. I’d been following the daily updates, but yours kind of put it all together. I am sure my 13 and 16 year old would be wonderful singers if only I could get them to something like Camp Fasola. . . .

    Although we had a successful singing school at our weeklong workshop at Friends General Conference which ufortunately meets during the same week as Camp Fasola, you’re tempting me to go south next summer. . . . that is a very hard choice for me, obviously. But your description makes it sound kind of like graduate school (without the bad parts) and something that I need to do if I want to continue to teach Sacred Harp singing.

    We sure enjoyed having Linda S wing with us, and know that you will, too, in Goshen & Kalamazoo.

  2. R. L. Vaughn July 22, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    Will, I really enjoyed the Camp Fasola/vacation report. Sounds like you all had a wonderful time!

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