Awhile back on Fasola Discussions there was a brief but intense discussion about announcing and repeating the song numbers at singing conventions. Sounds like something simple enough to have no impassioned supporters or detractors, right? Wrong.
At Sacred Harp singings anyone who wishes is given an opportunity to call a number, stand in the "hollow square" and lead it (or "teach the class a lesson"). Some people come to the square and announce their numbers clearly and distinctly. Others may speak in a way that is less audible. When this happens someone may ask for the number, and someone may repeat the number loudly.
Knowing the page number of the song being sung is a necessary part of the democratic process of joining in sacred song. If you don't know the number then you're left out -- at least to begin with. After a song is started experienced singers will often know where to go. Beginners will still be left out. I believe it is a given that numbers MUST be repeated in such circumstances. Herein in the rub. Who will repeat it, how often and how loudly?
It has been suggested that there are some problems:
1. Loud calling or re-calling of the number disturbs the spiritual moment of preparation to singing.
2. Loud calling or re-calling of the number negatively affects sound recordings that are being made.
3. Loud calling or re-calling of the number should be undertaken by the officers of the singing or someone approved/appointed to that task (front row tenors, for example).
4. Loud calling or re-calling of the number can be more hindrance than help if the person re-calling the numbers is getting the numbers wrong.
To these stated problems I reply:
1. Even if this be true (though I don't understand it), not knowing the number certainly disturbs the spiritual moment and even the SINGING moment. So we either have two competing "spiritual moments" that cancel each other, or we have to decide the lesser of two evils? For comparison, might it be more or less spiritual for a minister to mutter his text so few could understand or state it and clearly so all who wish may read along?
2. I'm sure this can be true. But singings are for SINGING. Listening, recording, et al. are merely by-products. The recording of a singing should not trump the singing itself. Hopefully a happy medium can be achieved, but singing comes first.
3. This is not a universal tradition, but apparently held as appropriate in different areas. I don't think many will object to the convention taking the lead in this area. If this is the practice of a certain region or convention we should abide by it, and the convention officers should see that the service is actually being provided. Under this tradition, the convention officers should be notified if it is not, and they should make certain -- to the best of their ability -- that singers have the opportunity to know the page numbers of the songs being sung. (I say to the best of their ability because there are situations like folks not hearing because they or folks next to them are talking, people who have significant enough hearing loss that they will not understand the number regardless, etc.).
4. This is true when the numbers are called wrong. That is basically the same situation as not knowing the number to start with.
It is incumbent on leaders at Sacred Harp singings to learn to announce their numbers for all to hear (again to the best of their ability). Some folks are capable of being more distinct and articulate than others. For some perhaps the quiet muffled announcement is ignorance, misunderstanding, or just the thought that the front row WILL repeat their numbers. Some may have been taught this. If so, their teachers performed a disservice to the Sacred Harp community. Do not assume someone will or should repeat your song number. I was taught to announce the number loudly and clearly. I hope I accomplish that. To you leaders I say, "Do you just want those standing right in front of you to sing?" Or do you expect help from the larger group? Announce your number to whomever you expect to sing with you. Stand up, announce your number clearly before you come forward, and again when you are in the square. Speak the numbers distinctly by saying each number separately -- four, six, eight (468). Even turn around and say it once to the altos who are behind you! Someone pointed out that 3 digit song numbers can be repeated 4 times in less than 10 seconds. Everyone is entitled to locate the number being sung before the singing of it starts. Proactive leaders announcing numbers distinctly will go a long way toward reducing the need of loud repeating of numbers.
Lastly, let us all be considerate of one another and seek to have the best singing each time we come together.