Huntsville Sacred Harp Newsletter

Number 20, August 1994

David Ivey, Editor (
16021 Deaton Drive, Huntsville AL 35803
(205) 881-5291

Friday Night Singing

Summer: August 5th
7:00 - 8:30 pm
Burritt Museum

Arranging Committee Tips

By Linton Ballinger

For those of you who regularly attend Sacred Harp singings, you are familiar with the election/appointment of officers to manage the event. The officers usually include the Chairperson, Vice Chairperson, Secretary, Finance Committee, Memorial Committee, and Arranging Committee. While all of these positions/committees serve important roles in having a good singing, the Arranging Committee is key to the success of the singing. From serving on one or more arranging committees each year over the last forty years, the following tips are provided in case you have the honor to serve in this capacity.

The most important objectives of the Arranging Committee are: (1) ensure all singers who will direct songs are recognized and called; (2) orchestrate the schedule and tempo of the singing; and (3) ensure all song leaders leave the singing with a favorable attitude. In accomplishing the first objective, one needs the names of those who will direct songs. These names may be obtained either by having attendees register when they enter the building, or by the Arranging Committee listing them by recognition. The first method has the advantage of providing the address, who will lead, and other information about the singer. It is often used in large singings with diversified location attendees. If the other method of listing leaders is used, be prepared with pencil, paper, and a copy of the most recent Sacred Harp Minutes book as a reference for names of singers. If you do not know the name of a singer, ask someone.

The next task of the committee in accomplishing the first objective is estimating the number of leaders to be used. The total number will dictate whether you permit leaders to lead one or two songs. Also, it will dictate the promptness of adhering to recess and lunch break times. Most singers, especially those who travel a longer distance, want a full day of singing (usually 9:30 am-2:30 pm). They do not want to be held past 3:00 pm or released much before 2:30 pm. The estimate of singers is very difficult because they arrive at all times, even after the noon lunch break. One of the best barometers is to look at the minutes for the last year. Usually the number does not vary significantly. It is important to call all leaders, because those not used may not come again. If anyone is to be omitted due to time constraints, let it be "home folks."

Achieving the second objective is to a large degree driven by the number of leaders in attendance and the characteristics of the individual leaders. For singings with a large number of leaders, you must adhere to a tight schedule; that is, minimize the number of recesses, get started early, and resume singing promptly after each break. The Arranging Committee must prompt the Chairperson to keep on schedule. You may also need to prompt those pitching the music to give the sound as quickly as possible after the leader calls the page number and is ready to sing. Also, in controlling the tempo of the singing you have some singers who favor the slower songs or will sing all verses of such songs. If the singing starts to drag from too many such leaders, call a leader who usually sings a more upbeat song to get the tempo increased. Also, call an "up tempo" leader early after the start of each singing period to set a pace for that session. Other tips for expediting the singing is to call the next leader from the opposite side of the room from the side where the current leader was seated. This permits one to be coming while the other is going. Also, prompt singers to assist those with special needs to get to the floor as soon as possible. If you have a leader who starts to talk or delays in identifying his or her song, politely ask, "What was your song number?" This usually gets things moving. After calling a leader, identify the following leader. This technique gives the next leader time to select his/her song and be prepared to direct. This increases the number of leaders that you can use.

The third objective is most important. You want all attendees to feel welcome and to leave the singing with a "I want to return again" attitude. This is fairly difficult to achieve since singers are individuals with varying attitudes and characteristics. Some want to direct early, some only after lunch, and some do not want to follow certain other leaders. The more you know about these desires, the more likely you are to successfully accomplish this objective. The following are some tips to assist you in this area.

  1. Always call local leaders to direct for the first ten or more leaders until the class is "warmed up."
  2. Identify members of the same family and spread their lessons throughout the day. This is sometimes difficult due to married names. This practice reduces the feeling of favoritism.
  3. Follow the same plan for leaders of a given church, community, or area. Spread them out throughout the day for the same reason. If a singer did not get to direct when he/she wanted, at least they know someone from their family or area who did.
  4. Small children should be called to sing early in the day before someone gets "their song." The risk in doing this is many of them will not remain in the class and sing after they have directed.
  5. Look in the minutes and see who was called to sing in the last session of the previous year. To keep from making them think that they are called after everyone else has directed, move them up to an earlier morning session. The same principle applies to those who direct just before lunch. It is best to use a local or family leader just before the noon meal if possible.
  6. Be sure to ask all willing leaders to direct. If you have to omit any because of time constraints, leave out the "home folk" leaders.
  7. Try to identify any singer who must leave early, or for a two day convention, singers who cannot attend the second day. Call these leaders before they must leave.
  8. Some leaders have special times of the day that they prefer to lead. Try to honor their preferences.
  9. Analyze the gender composition of your leader list. Try to evenly disperse male and female leaders throughout the day.
  10. If you are aware of conflicts between singers or families, refrain from calling them consecutively.
  11. Do your best to pronounce the names of the leaders clearly and correctly. Often the congregation likes to know where they live. It is good to give this information and a welcome, especially to those who have traveled a long distance, or who are attending the singing for the first time.
  12. As noted under the first objective, give leaders advance notice of being called. Directing songs make some people nervous, so you do not want to do anything to cause a leader any embarrassment.
  13. Sacred Harp singers have a tradition of honoring their senior lifelong singers. Be sure to ask them to direct at an appropriate time during the day.
  14. If you do not have time to call all leaders, at the end of the day, state this fact and invite them to come back the following year so that you may call them early in the singing.
  15. Use leaders who have been at the singing all day before using those who come later in the day, especially those who come in the afternoon.
  16. At the end of the day before you turn the singing over to the Chairperson for final closeout, thank all the leaders for their cooperation.

After providing the above information, I hasten to add that most Sacred Harp singers are good natured, forgiving Christians. It is difficult to make a serious mistake. However, your effectiveness and the resulting quality of the singing will be improved by using some of these guidelines. Now that you have had Arranging Committee training, I look forward to your participation on the "committee" soon. Good luck!

[Editor's Note: Linton Ballinger comes from a large family of fine singers in Fayette County, Alabama. Huntsville and Madison County are fortunate to have several members of the Ballinger family living here and working hard to support Sacred Harp in our area. Linton provides much insight with this helpful article based on his experience of ably serving many singings as an arranging committee member.]

Singing Announcements

This is a partial list of singings within driving distance of Huntsville. Please consult the Directory and Minutes of Sacred Harp Singings 1993 and 1994 for a complete listing.

May 14 Harmony Church, Lawrenceburg, TN
May 15 Cane Creek, Heflin, AL
May 22 Gum Pond, Cullman Co., AL
May 29 Tuscaloosa Community Center, Tuscaloosa
Jun 5 Liberty Church, Henagar, AL
Jun 11-12 Hopewell Church, Oneonta, AL
Jun 16-18 National Convention, Birmingham
Jun 19 Macedonia Church, Macedonia, AL
Jun 26 Mount Lebanon, Fayette, AL
Jul 2-3 Liberty Convention, Henagar, AL
Jul 9-10 Cullman Co. Convention, Cullman, AL
Jul 17 New Prospect, Bremen, AL
Jul 17 Mount Zion Church, Fyffe, AL
Jul 23 Cotaco Convention, Gum Pond, AL
Jul 31 Lacy's Chapel, Henagar, AL


Saturday, May 14th, 3:55-4:20pm, South Central Bell Stage
Please come and sing with us at Panoply this year. Note that Panoply is not the same weekend as our All-Day Singing (as it usually is). We need your help to make a good presentation of Sacred Harp to the Huntsville community. This year the Bell Stage has been moved to the north end of Big Spring Park at the corner of Clinton and Monroe. Please arrive at the Bell Stage by 3:40pm.

Millard McWhorter:
Portrait of a Sacred Harp Saint

By Sam Jones

A half-used bottle of Watkins vanilla flavoring in our kitchen cupboard triggers a flood of Sacred Harp memories for me. This tall bottle came to our house from a box of Watkins home products that always traveled in the car trunk of one of the most enthusiastic singers I ever knew -- my Uncle Millard McWhorter. Millard, known to family members from his youth as "Buster", devoted most of his life to Sacred Harp music. Nearly every Sunday (and often the Saturday before) found Uncle Millard and Aunt Pearl on the road to some little church in North Alabama -- or almost any place in the country -- to attend a singing. Part of their livelihood was the sale of Watkins products. Also in the trunk of that old Buick rode boxes of Sacred Harp songbooks and records, because Millard was a tireless, unpaid promoter of the old music he loved so much.

I really believe Millard lived to sing. It simply "turned him on" and kept him going. And Pearl was his willing accomplice. She always went along and never failed to take a bounteous box of home-cooked food for the noontime spread that was a part of every all-day singing. My wife and I used to marvel at the regularity and high quality of these food offerings, provided at considerable sacrifice and requiring hours of preparation the night before. Millard and Pearl, having frequently driven long distances from their home in Birmingham, would be among the first to arrive at singings and the last to leave. It was Pearl's custom, many times, to have mailed a card or note ahead of time to remind relatives and friends to be there. Millard would often provide rides to friends who had no transportation, and both Millard and Pearl made a point of keeping up with sick folks and those in need -- always ready to spread the news and start an offering. They seemed to know and love everybody.

Millard greeted all with a big grin, a handshake, and a hug -- a man full of grace and sensitivity, to whom tears came as easily as laughter, and who loved to tell or hear a good story. Actually, he was seriously ill most of his life, but hardly anybody knew it. After losing most of his stomach to a cancer operation in the 1940s, he was forever after troubled with recurring illnesses. But "I'm doing just fine" was always his response when one greeted him, and he certainly acted like it.

In front of a Sacred Harp class, Millard was a sight to behold. His face aglow, he seemed to vibrate when he led a song, and his enthusiastic joy was contagious. He always had some little tale or joke to tell. He also loved to pull pranks, and was seldom without a big smile. Although Pearl attended all the singings with Millard, oddly enough she did not take part in the singing until a few years before Millard's death in 1981. After she started leading and singing, she quickly became just about as eager a singer as he was. Following his death, she continued to attend every singing she could get to, and sang at every one. Pearl Groover McWhorter died in 1990, and was buried beside Millard and their 3-year-old son Tommy at Antioch Methodist Cemetery east of Heflin, Alabama.

Millard and Pearl were born and raised in rural Cleburne County, which has been a hotbed of Sacred Harp music since late in the 19th century. He was the youngest of 11 children of Millard F. McWhorter, Sr., a native of Ireland who came to this country in 1864 at the age of six. Millard Sr. was a student of T.J. and S.M. Denson, giants of Sacred Harp who spent much of their life in Cleburne County. Millard Sr. was a lifelong teacher, composer, and singer of the Sacred Harp in a wide area of East Alabama and West Georgia.

Millard Jr. spent most of his life in Birmingham, where he was employed at a steel mill until ill health in middle age forced him to make a living as an insurance salesman and at various other irregular jobs. Millard's faith and spirit, aided immensely by Sacred Harp music, sustained him until his death at the age of 78. He had attended a singing just a couple of weeks before he died. The last time I visited him, even though he was frail and weak, he greeted me in the same old way he always had: "Sam, I'm doing just fine." Millard and Pearl are survived by a daughter, Dixie Pearl Cavanaugh, who lives in Vero Beach, Florida, and by two granddaughters and two great- grandchildren.

[Ed. Note: Millard McWhorter first introduced me to my now good friend, Sam Jones, of Huntsville at the first National Sacred Harp Convention at Samford University in Birmingham in June 1980 just after I moved to Huntsville. I am able to testify firsthand to Millard's love for Sacred Harp and its people. He never missed a chance to greet and encourage me during my years as a teenager, college student, and young adult.]

The Influence of the Singing School

By David Ivey

[Reprinted from the Winter 1987 Huntsville Sacred Harp Newsletter]

Of all the influences which have shaped the Sacred Harp musical tradition, probably none has been more important than that of the singing school. It is from this humble and practical music education setting that we today have the four shaped notation used in The Sacred Harp.

The early Americans needed a musical revival. Their necessary preoccupation with settling a new land and gaining their independence had resulted in a type of musical drought, at least for the common folk. But by the mid to late 1700s self taught early American composers were developing a new kind of music that was different from that of their English forebears. Further, they ingeniously sought to devise a musical system that would allow everyone to learn and participate in singing. This was influenced, of course, by the overarching paradigm of democracy in the new American society.

The system may have been known to the early teachers from their English background since shaped notes were known to have been used as early as the days of Shakespeare. In any case, William Little and William Smith are generally credited for first using this four note teaching system in this country through their publication of The Easy Instructor in 1798.

Originally, the singing of the notes was most likely intended to be only a device for learning the music. But the habit of "singing the notes" stuck with this acapella music, and today we continue this tradition of first sounding the fa, sol, la, and mi before singing the verses. But there were other influences of the singing schools. The democratic practice of having all singers direct songs, instead of having a single song leader, probably arose from the teaching of people to lead music in the singing school. It should be noted, however, that women did not direct songs until this century. The women did attend the singing schools, though, because these events were popular courting opportunities for the younger set. The phrase "lead a lesson" certainly came from practice during singing school "lessons".

I believe, though, that the singing school had other non-musical influences that were just as important. The singing schools served as a vitally important social function by bringing people together, providing them an opportunity to fellowship, fostering bonds among them, and providing relaxed settings for common folk to blend theirvoices together in order to express praise and adoration unto their God. The bonds were able to grow deeper in regular singings started as a result of the singing schools. It remains so even today.

In this modern day we do not have to schedule our singing school "after the crops are laid by," and we for the most part do not depend on it as a primary opportunity for recreation and socializing. But for many of us, Sacred Harp is an important part of our lives. For some it serves as a link to a simpler time. For some, it is a connection to good friends. For some, it is an opportunity to preserve a folk tradition for their children and their children's children. For some, it is a unique opportunity for worship and religious experssion. For some, it is a chance to participate in a music that is unique, strong, wonderfully harmonious, and fun to sing.

[Ed. Note: Because of a large number of requests by new singers, a singing school is being planned for late summer or fall. Please watch for more information, or if you are not on the mailing list, please write to me of your interest.]

Burritt Museum: Thank You!

The Huntsville Sacred Harp Singers extend our deepest appreciation to Burritt Museum for hosting Sacred Harp singing events for the last ten years. We especially thank Mr. Pat Robertson for his help in providing the use of the facilities of the museum and park and for publicity of our singings there.

The Burritt church building is a comfortable and accoustically alive place to sing . . . a prototypical room for singing Sacred Harp. It is just the type of place in which Sacred Harp ought to be carried on. Again, thank you.

Friday Night Singings

Summer: August 5th, 7:00 - 8:30 pm
Fall: November 4th, 7:00 - 8:30 pm
Burritt Museum

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