For Minnesota locals who find themselves at loose ends next Friday evening (12-15): The concert is 7:30 pm at Wesley United Methodist Church at 101 East Grant Street in Minneapolis -- it's the church right next to the Convention Center, a block east of Nicollet. There are a variety of performers, not just us. We'll be singing 4 songs, which we've been practicing. Yes, practicing, which is a difficult and unusual notion for those of us who consider "performing" to be an entirely different activity than "singing" and not even a fraction as much fun. Our goal is to show what it's like when we get together and sing 7-shape old-time gospel music for fun, so that's almost ok. But that being the goal is no excuse for not being as rock-solid as we can manage on the music itself and thus we practice. We are not exactly looking forward to using a microphone for the first time; hopefully we'll be able to crowd around a single mike and thus recreate how we actually sing with each other. I may have to stand back a few feet.
This is the second of what may originally have been planned as a one-off night of gospel music, organized by the church's music director Bruce Gleason. Bruce is a music professor at a local college, and once a quarter or so he brings his students to a shapenote singing or sometimes a convention. For the first concert he asked if a group of the local shapenote singers could open each half of the concert. This comes dangerously close to performing but we sort of owe Bruce the favor because of his support for our singings. So we sang and it was fun and some of the other performers (including the church's own choir) were very good although the show went on a little long. Which is why it will be shorter this time.
Attendance seemed moderate to me, but apparently the church felt the concert a big success so Bruce is arranging another. Maybe "concert" isn't even the right word here. Bruce himself calls it a "Jamboree" instead. It definitely seems to be a program geared for the church members themselves. The church, by the way, is one of those social justice churches that feeds the homeless and organizes volunteers.
When Bruce told my friend Jim that he was thinking of maybe organizing this second concert, Jim told him that he could probably get a gospel quartet together if Bruce were interested. And that's how this came about, Jim and Denise and our friend Cathy and me. I was the last holdout. I sing lead (written as the soprano line in the music, which I sing an octave down), Jim is on bass, Denise is alto, and Cathy sings the written-tenor part an octave up as the soprano. The tenor-soprano switch is actually traditional for this music. At one point we tried having me and Cathy switch parts, to see what that would be like, but the nature of our voices did not suit that permutation.
It's definitely fun music we'll be singing, and we're singing things a little bit off the beaten gospel trail -- two with the sort of complicated polyphonic chorus that chacterized 1920s gospel, the sort of arrangements that bluegrass groups sometimes do (speeded up fourfold from the tempo of the older recordings).
I think we will be able to manage having a blast singing here, despite the microphone and the performer/audience sitution. Whether the folks in attendance will enjoy it as well remains to be seen.