Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

Songleading at the Ale

Andy got something exactly right when he told me about his leading a song at one of the singing sessions at the Ale, during a time when I had not been present. Andy is a good singer, and he sings in a choir, but the skillset of being a good singer and the skillset of being a good songleader are overlapping but not identical -- more significantly, the sorts of pleasures that both yield are (to me) entirely non-overlapping. This is one of the issues I have with people evaluating my singing (more particularly my voice) according to the standards of one of these things when I am doing the other, and it's why I am always caught up short and even baffled when people ask me whether (or where!) I perform, as happened twice this past weekend.

What Andy said was that he had led a song and it had gone well, and he described the happy feeling of getting something back from the others in the room as they join in with you. He specifically noted that this was what he sees happening when I sing, or maybe what he noted was that this is what I enjoy when I lead a song. When it goes well. This is what he got exactly right. I did an awful lot of songleading at the Ale, and there were many moments when it all felt glorious -- and what felt glorious is that the room gave back to me and we were all caught up in something delightful and wonderful and soaring, something that, unfortunately, we don't have much opportunity for in our daily lives.

Actually, there was a lot of singing at this year's Ale, both in passing and by arrangement. Each night there was a continuous singing session in the dining hall, where the bridge players would sometimes join in. I got Rick to lead The Nutting Girl, and there were a couple of renditions of Uptown-on-Calhoun's Yogi Bear song (to the tune of Camptown Races, a song that fills us in on what our cartoon friends were doing when the animators were off-duty). There were many people who led songs this year, which was great. Sunday night, on returning from a hot day's touring, there was a lineup at the men's shower. I threatened that I was going to sing to clear the bathroom, but Larry in the shower said that was more likely to keep him there longer. I started up Beulah Land, which continued into my time in the shower itself. I stood naked and wet leading a gospel song from a shower stall while men both in the bathroom and out in the adjoining dormitory room sang along the chorus and added instrumental sounds. For me this was like the mornings of football games at college, when the band members (we mostly lived in the same dorms) would crowd the bathroom and we'd sing while waiting our turn at the sink. I thought those days were gone forever.

Some other singing moments stand out for me as well.

On Friday evening, as people were arriving, I just walked over to Denise in the lobby of the main building of the Ale site and started singing "Hard Times Come Again No More". Within seconds we were surrounded by people who joined in, just for fun and just for kicks. We sang the song, and then we all moved along. It was lovely.

There were no places at the Camp with tremendously good acoustics, except for a small spot under a stairwell at the entrance to the men's and women's big sleeping rooms. On Sunday when we got off the returning touring bus Denise and I went to this spot and starting singing "Row On" (Row on, row on, another day may shine with brighter light; ply, ply the oars and pull away, there's dawn beyond the night). Bob W. found us and came right over to help get us through the words, and Sam and (I think) Mel and many others were there in seconds. Michael walked into the building, heard the voices ascending, and decided he needed to be there so he came as well. When we finished, I asked Michael to lead "Rolling Home" which is big and loud and has a great chorus and we sang our hearts out. Oh, it was wonderful. Then we broke up and showered and got ready for the evening.

My favorite singing moment came on Saturday, after we'd finished the morning's show dancing while we were waiting for our pizza lunch. We were under a sort of large picnic shelter in a park in Lincoln. I started up "Strike the Bell Second Mate" which is a song everybody knows or can pick up easily. It's a fun song to sing. I am convinced that the folks at the Ale all want to sing, given the right setting and opportunity, and this was the right setting and opportunity and the singing was big and huge and lively. The difficult part about leading this song is that all the verses and even the phrases of the verses are interchangeable and easy to confuse. For each verse you have to remember which area of a ship houses which seaman: The second mate is on the poop deck, the larboard watch is on the main deck, the lookout is forward on forecastle head, and old Anderson is aft at the wheelhouse. I got through it all until the final verse, where suddenly I couldn't remember on which deck our gallant captain stands. I just smiled and sang: "Down on the ... whatever deck our gallant captain stands, looking out to windward with a spyglass in his hand." Michael, who had made his way right to me when I started to sing this song, burst into laughter. Denise was standing next to me as well, and I heard her say (over the group singing), "That's sailor Steven!" Oh, the whole thing was such fun.

That's the world I want to live in: Where, while waiting for you lunch in a public place, you can start up a chorus of "Strike the Bell Second Mate".
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