The Chicago class once again hosted the annual Midwest Convention, held this year on April 28 at the Historic Pulaski Park Fieldhouse, and on April 29 at the Irish American Heritage Center, both locations on Chicago’s north side. Attendance was robust, belying low expectations for a Midwest singing date falling at the end of April (the result of an obscure calendrical formula based on “5th Sundays” combined with a date obverse to a former (!) formula of the Union Musical Convention in the Atlanta area. (It is said that only 3 Chicago singers are privy to this occult knowledge.)
The new Saturday location, with its ornate plaster barrel-vault ceiling, was a big hit. The moveable “singing wall” behind the last row of tenors had to be moved after the first recess to accommodate more singers, who after lunch numbered 140 around the square. The largest contingent of visitors by far came from Minnesota (and 14 other states were represented). The bass was especially strong.
On Saturday evening, hostess Kris Richardson invited singers to her home on the north side for refreshments and an enjoyable sight-reading session from the forthcoming Shenandoah Harmony led by Pennsylvanians Dan Hunter and former Chicago alto Kelly Kennedy. “And not one note of gospel all evening,” one Chicago singer muttered with satisfaction as she left. Rochelle Lodder reports that the Hyde Park group has been singing many of the “sampler” songs at its weekly singings.
Sunday the class, led by Chairs Susan Geil and Randy Neufeld, reconvened in the Fifth Province Room at the Irish American Center, without loss of attendees. The singing wall had to be moved back once again at a recess, and when we resumed after lunch the class had swelled to about 155. A moving Memorial Lesson, led by Kathy Williams and Kelly Kennedy, was held just before lunch.
This singing marked the debut of a double-CD of the 2011 session of this convention ably recorded by Ohio bass Shawn Fenton. This recording has been enthusiastically received and can be ordered directly from Shawn Fenton, 18 Sue Dr, Germantown, OH 45327, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Cost is $15/copy plus $2 postage (add 50 cents per additional item).
I have asked other singers for recollections and comments about the singing. Here are a few:
Carol Mosley: “Joy. Just pure joy.”
Petrina Patti: “An astounding experience; I had those songs running through my head for days afterwards.”
Ann Sleeva: “It was great to have members of the Chicago Children’s Choir bring the class back from a break with Lisa Grayson.”
Co-Chair Randy Neufeld: “The first day at Pulaski Park was the best ever…the room had great energy and old Park District charm. I’m always amazed that so many drive so far.”
Jim Swanson: “On Saturday I was struck by the sound: sitting in the back row of the bass, it was like I was right up front.”
Steven Schmidgall: “The opening chord made my hair stand on end and I was sure nothing could be better … but I was wrong. Saturday evening had ‘Fasolakia Lamb’ at the Original Psistaria Greek Restaurant on Touhy. It was great to hear Jim Helke (recovering from heart bypass) lead ‘The Spirit Shall Return.’ Sure was a GREAT day to be a bass. I stretched my personal ‘Sacred Harp’ so much that a day after returning to Minnesota I still sounded like Johnny Cash.”
Ginny Landgraf: “Leading ‘Granville’ on Saturday I led it fairly slow and sang the crunchy unprinted tenor notes. The intensity of the room and class were perfect. Once the last chord died, I said to Judy Hauff (sitting on the front row) ‘Thank you, Judy.’ She said, ‘Thank you, class.’ It was one of those moments during which no one person could take credit for something bigger than all of us.”
Jeff Breting: “Most memorable for me was singing with the MINNESOTA BASSES and sitting next to Jim Swanson. I also enjoyed having lunch with Johanna Fabke and hearing her recollections of being in Chicago during the early days of improv theatre and comedy. I will also remember sharing rides with Donna Van Stralen of Minnesota and rearing about her amazing adventures serving in Haiti after the earthquake.”
Ted Johnson: “I suppose I can look back on our 2012 Midwest Convention with either a short-term perspective or a long one. Long-term, we do go back some years now to the 1980s, when we first became part of an emerging Sacred Harp diaspora. That’s still only a small piece of what extends so much further back into the American past—the long moving river to which our recent stream connects, but I got the feeling that this year, among our new friends and our old ones, with fresh officers and a different venue, we once again helped carry forward—and were strongly carried along by—the living current of tradition that helps keep us afloat.
“As for the short term, the individual moments and experiences, it’s hard to remember them now—I may have been zoned out. That’s what happens at singings at their best: you can enter into a space where time is both rushing and standing still, and here you may connect to singers past, present, and to come. The photographs I took are little frozen slices, glimpses into that timeless space. From the look of things, we were having a good time.”
Photographs by Ted Johnson.