Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Shape Notes in Toronto!

(I'm having to publish this later, but it's not letting me add the original date! This event happened Monday, November 28, 2005)

I'm so excited! I've found a shape-note singing group in Toronto!

I figured it would be next summer til I was surrounded by more shape-noters, but I have discovered a small underground community in the great T.O. They meet on Wednesdays, which this season has conflicted with Alpha. But tonight, they had a special workshop, so I got to join in.

The workshop was lead by Shelley Posen, who, on a small-world note, knew my parents at the time they were pregnant with me! Shelley is a specialist in folk music and has attended many singing conventions in the Southern States. He absolutely knew the Stamps-Baxter music and school. Due to the crazy rain traffic, we missed the intro, so I really have no idea why there are 2 different kinds of shape-note systems.

You see, this group does not do the Stamps-Baxter kind of shape-notes. They do the Sacred Harp version, which uses only four shapes instead of the seven I learned this summer. In some ways, it was easier to learn the names of the shapes, because there were less of them. But it was also harder because you no longer have one shape equaling one note. In Sacred Harp, "do" is not "do". It is "fa". But "fa" is also "fa". So you have 2 pitches called "fa". Very confusing. And then in a minor key, "fa" shifts to the tonic. The first "fa", not the second "fa", I think. Arg!!!

After the intro, we all sat in a square formation to sing, with one part on each side of the square. The tenors generally had the tune, which I found interesting, yet each part always had a harmony line that was as singable as a tune. The leader stands in the middle and chooses the "fa" (which some of us call "do"). The leader then counts you in, and off you go. Apparently, in Southern Sacred Harp circles, only the best shape-note singers sit in the front row. If you're a first-timer, you sit in the back until you are invited to move up front. We only had 2 rows, so I arrogantly chose first-row centre. Isn't that where the smart kids always sit?

Tonight was great. I'm really hoping I can join the group again sometime. Wednesdays seem to be getting competitive for me, with Alpha, possibly post-Alpha, big band rehearsal, and now shape-notes. Can't somebody change to Tuesday???

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