Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,

We'll Camp a While in the Wilderness

This weekend's roadtrip with Jim and Denise to the all-day shapenote singing in Dodgeville Wisconsin included all the fun and adventure you would expect with the extra added bonus rarity of not encountering terrible snow or ice for any leg of the journey. We drove to Mauston Wisconsin on Friday night and stayed at a perfectly fine motel, we ran into our friends Matt and Lara and their boy Charlie in the morning, and we drove the final 90 miles through truly beautiful countryside.

It's said of nearly everywhere, I know, but I've been around this country a bit and I can tell you that the area of the Wisconsin River Valley is among the most beautiful locations you will find. This is where Frank Lloyd Wright grew up, and where he built his first Taliesin home and studio. It was a pleasure to arrange our trip to drive through this area during the morning daylight, because once it gets dark you are pretty much staring into the frightening void with a good chance of getting lost in Reedsville.

We came all the way home on Saturday evening, stopping for an adventure of a dinner at a pizza and pasta restaurant back in Mauston. It was an adventure because so many things about the restaurant and the food were as awful as you might fear, but the wait staff was perky and eager and the owner was earnest and sincere and then, after inedible salad and terrible pasta (how do you ruin pasta and tomato sauce that badly?), out came a pizza that was truly delicious, even memorably so. Jim noted that if he kept a livejournal the restaurant experience would be an entry all its own.

From Mauston it wasn't much more than three hours home, with me briefly snoring away in the back seat. I was back home and snuggled in by midnight.

But it was what came between the drive to and from Dodgeville that was just marvelous. It was a very good, solid singing in a great setting: A small 19th-century restored church on the grounds of Folklore Village Farm. The ceiling was higher than ideal for what I look for in a singing space, but the sound enveloped you and the windows were gloriously large. There were enough singers that every song was strong, but few enough singers that every voice in the room mattered for the sound and feel of the day. We just nailed lesson after lesson.

The Wisconsin singing is Old Home Week for the core of the midwest singers from Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Iowa, and Wisconsin. The group in attendance included many of the people I've been singing with since I arrived in the midwest in 1988, and with whom I have shared many experiences and travels. There were also many singers who are newer to my acquaintance, including lcohen who was a delight to see over on the treble bench. My local singing was quite well represented, with 18 or so Minnesotans (depending on how you count). I myself did a good solid shift on the front bench lead section, which is hard but fulfilling work, and I felt very much at home.

So all of these things combined: the setting, the singers, the history, the day, and my own mood. And the result was one of the nicest feelings I've had singing in a long time. Every now and then, when singing shapenote, I am overcome with a certain sort of joy and emotion, as I look around and sing out with the others in the room. This feeling is, in fact, what keeps me attending singings, rather than, say, the specific historic and musicological picayunities that are discussed so exhaustively on a shapenote mailing list or two. I don't attend singings to raise my sixths, or to recreate historical performance practice. No, I attend singings because of the way it can make me feel.

Unfortunately, it's been a while since the singing hit me so strong. But on Saturday it did. My voice has finally recovered from the dreadful Sydney flu I brought back from Australia, and singing itself felt physically smoother and easier than it has in a long time. I was very happy to be with the others in the room, and I was wholly caught up in the excitement of the singing.

I woke up this morning after the best night's sleep in ages with an odd feeling of invigoration that I couldn't attribute to anything specific. Then I remembered Saturday's singing.
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