Minutes of Sacred Harp Singings

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Garden State Convention

Upper Montclair, New Jersey

May 15-16, 1998

Friday, May 15

The sixth annual session of the Garden State Sacred Harp Singing Convention was held at the Montclair Friends’ Meeting House.

The class was called to order at 7:30 p.m. by Gina Balestracci, who welcomed everyone and led song on page 66. Frank Ostertag led the class in prayer. Jean Seiler, last year’s Vice Chairman, led song on 40.

The Convention then went into a business session. The following officers and committees were elected and appointed: Chairman—Gina Balestracci; Vice Chairman—Susan Bingham; Treasurer—George Seiler; Secretary—Barbara Stamps; Chaplains—Frank Ostertag and George Seiler; Memorial Committee—Jean Seiler, Katharine Hough, and Bill Holt; Arranging Committee—Karen House, Kelly House, Cath Oss, and Bradford West; Pitching—Ginny Landgraf, Paula McGray, and Bob Parr; Resolutions—Gary Smith; Food—Diane Mennella, Virginia Douglas, and Ellie Soler; Housing—Susan Bingham. The business session was closed.

The class resumed singing with Frank Evans leading song on page 49b. Leaders: Adrian Mariano 148; Paula McGray 36b; Blake Morris 415; Tom Tucker 300; Dan Hertzler 324; Evan Duncan 84; Allen Fannin 270; Barbara Swetman 203; Bob Parr 442; Cathy Tucker 547; Jeff Colby 101t; Dan Brittain 405; Cath Oss 318; George Seiler 31t.


The class resumed singing with Susan Bingham leading song on 178. Chairman Gina Balestracci introduced Jeff Sheppard and Shelbie Sheppard of Glencoe, Alabama, teachers of the singing school. The singing school concerned itself with matters of traditional Southern practice in shape note singing. Jeff Sheppard began by talking about the history of Sacred Harp and singing schools, the ones that lasted several weeks, that were still being taught when he was a child. Jeff Sheppard led song on 49b after explaining that notes with lots of white are slow; notes with mostly black, you go; and notes with wings, you fly! Shelbie Sheppard then explained how accenting notes makes a big difference, and how rests are just as important as notes and should be observed. Jeff Sheppard led song on 168, inviting newcomers to the center of the square; then 155, explainging that the tempo should be somewhere between dragging and running. Jeff led 148, then Shelbie led it because it hadn’t been accented the first time. Jeff led song on 273, then Shelbie led song on 358 to make everyone aware of dots. The singing school was open to the floor, to anyone who wanted help with leading a specific song. Gina Balestracci asked about leading 376, which was sung several times in several different styles. A quartet (Ginnie Ely, Dan Brittain, Paula McGray, Shelbie Sheppard) sang it as done in parts of the South, then everyone sang it, then Dan Brittain led it as it is written on the page. The singing school ended with song on 182, led by the Sheppards.

The evening session ended with Neely Bruce leading song on 414b. Frank Ostertag led the closing prayer.

Saturday, May 16

On Saturday morning the class reassembled, and the session was called to order by Gina Balestracci leading song on 77b. George Seiler led the opening prayer.

Leaders: Bill Holt 59; Dennis Leipold 56t; Gary Smith 569b; David Hough 384; George Seiler 347; Sarah Smith 129; Curtis Stamps 155; Jean Seiler 299; Gabriel Kastelle 240; Seth Holloway 354b; Kelly House 85; Karen Snowberg 362b; Gerry Hoffman 328; Roland Hutchinson 553; Dennis O’Brien 474; Jim Wantland 34b; Howard Katz 30b; Dottie Hurley 178; Susan Bingham 39t.


The class resumed singing with Gina Balestracci leading song on page 168. Leaders: Laura Clawson 217; Laura Densmore 312b; Katharine Hough 378b; Peter Irvine 72b; Dick Levine 383; Bradford West 236; Claire Chapin 344; Richard Schmeidler 254; Kat Kinkade 208; Ginny Landgraf 447; Lyra O’Brien 179; Guy Bankes 287; Elise Meyer-Bothling 37b; Ginny Ely 196; Jeff Sheppard 436; Susan Bingham 455; Lynne deBenedette 171; John Redman 358; David Martin 276; Jim Ulrich 117; Tim Brown 198.

At this time the session was turned over to the Memorial Committee. Jean Seiler led song on page 122 for the following deceased: Wilma Vernon; Alabama—Q.E. Taylor; California—Mary Lou Jolly; Colorado—Barry Sullivan; Georgia—Terry Sahler; Maryland—Susan Wantland; New Jersey—John McNeilly; New York—Harriet Kresch and Bill Wakefield; North Wales, United Kingdom—Sian, Iaan, and Jos Nefyn-Pwllheli; Ohio—Mary Wise; Pennsylvania—Catherine Cessna and Ruby Lahr; Texas—Mark Timpani.

Katharine Hough led song on 430 for the sick and shut-in: Alabama—Jap Walton; Arizona—Todd Morgan; Connecticut—Polly Calhoun; Maryland—Tom Padwa; Massachusetts—William L. Kriedler; New Jersey—Norman Wersan; New Mexico—Ben Hertzler and Dodge Wiggins; New York—Denise Montforte; Pennsylvania—Edna Lundgren; Tennessee—Laura Budai; Washington—Johnny Jeans and Jason Sweetland; Wisconsin—Evadne McNeil and Jo Weber.

Bill Holt summed up the Memorial Lesson by reciting the text to song on page 340, stressing how we should appreciate each other while we can. The class then sang the song. George Seiler closed the Memorial Lesson with prayer.

Leaders: Shelbie Sheppard 269; Tim Eriksen 33b; Gina Balestracci 180. George Seiler led the class in a blessing for the food.


The class was called back to order by Gina Balestracci leading song on page 218. Leaders: Brenda Pena 229; Cath Oss 367; Michael Kaye 163b; Dan Brittain 399b; Jeff Colby 67; Doron Henkin 95; Cathy Tucker 146; Bob Parr 304; Barbara Swetman 200; Allen Fannin 495; Tom Tucker 282; Dan Hertzler 480; Evan Duncan 191; Blake Morris 501; Adrian Mariano 504; Frank Evans 315; Bill Holt 352; Dennis Leipold 351; Gary Smith 31t; David Hough 137.


The class resumed singing with Gina Balestracci leading song on page 28t. Leaders: Ellie Soler 277; Judith Leninrad 186; Sarah Smith 30t; Jean Seiler 127; Gabriel Kastelle 522; George Seiler 183; Seth Holloway 294; Kelly House 532; Karen Snowberg 49 (t? b?); Gerry Hoffman 82t; Roland Hutchinson 250; Jim Wantland 327; Howard Katz 481; Dottie Hurley 271 (t? b?); Laura Clawson 335; Laura Densmore 29t; Katharine Hough 145t.

The Convention entered a business session to hear committee reports.

The Treasurer reported that the contributions received would cover the cost of the convention.

The Arranging Committee reported that 145 people from 13 states registered during the two days of the Convention, and that 61 leaders led 120 songs. State distribution of registrants is as follows: Alabama 4; Connecticut 8; Maryland 3; Massachusetts 16; New Hampshire 1; New Jersey 37 (t? b?); New York 47 (t? b?); Pennsylvania 13; Rhode Island 3; Tennessee 2; Vermont 1; Virginia 8; Washington 2.

The Chairman of the Resolutions Committee, after thanking the organizers of the Convention, made the following resolution: “A month or so ago, the movie channel on cable played “The King and I”. There is a scene in the movie where the King is presenting his wives to Anna. One of the wives, eager to show off her missionary English, stands, clasps her hands, and sings ‘There is a Happy Land....’ In almost every Ken Burns documentary we hear ‘Beach Spring’ as incidental music. Sacred Harp is a large part of the American musical tradition. Sacred Harp is alive. Let me consolidate that into one sentence: Sacred Harp is a living tradition. The definitions of living include growing and changing. As we look around, we see signs of growth. There are singers here from the West Coast, the East Coast, the South Coast, and all the coasts in between. I have been privileged to sing with, and call friend, singers from Canada and England. Sacred Harp has indeed grown, from a mostly Southern, rural, closely held activity, to a joyously vibrant movement, which, if we are careful to nurture it, will soon be worldwide in its scope. The other definition I mentioned is change. And Sacred Harp is changing. One of the signs of that change, and the direction of that change, is the presence here of so many living composers who write in the idiom. The music they write is rooted in the tradition, of course, but it is also firmly in the present. And the beauty of it is, as we sing their songs, they become traditional, and that process points to growth. And that growth is what we must resolve to be committed to. It is one thing to sing and be satisfied. It is quite another thing to want to see the singing grow, and that is the resolution I offer—to very loosely paraphrase Napoleon: We must sing and grow, sing and grow, always sing and grow!”

Committee reports were all accepted as presented to the Convention.

The Garden State Sacred Harp Singers then presented George and Jean Seiler, who have moved to New York State, with a plaque, signed by all the singers, thanking them for founding the Convention and local singings. The business session was then closed.

Singing resumed with Peter Irvine leading song on page 86. Leaders: Dick Levine 99; Bradford West 189; Gina Balestracci 268; Claire Chapin 213b; Richard Schmeidler 84; Jeff Sheppard 448 (t? b?); Shelbie Sheppard 211. Gina Balestracci led song on page 62 as the singers took the parting hand. The class was dismissed with prayer led by George Seiler.

Chairman—Gina Balestracci; Vice-Chairman—Susan Bingham; Treasurer—George Seiler; Secretary—Barbara Stamps.