Monday, May 30, 2011

Death in a Major Key

Because we wanted to squeeze just a little more vacation out of our vacation, Daniel and I traveled to Chicago this weekend to sing at the Midwest Sacred Harp Convention.  For those of you who don't know what Sacred Harp singing is- and I would have counted myself in this group this time last year- you get together with a bunch of other people and sit around and sing old-timey hymns in four part harmony.  Pitches in the scale are given shapes (which is why this style is also called shape note singing) so you sing through the song using the shapes first and then using the words.  Each person takes a turn selecting a song and leading it. Here's Daniel leading.  I didn't lead anything.

The thing that makes Sacred Harp "interesting" (the preferred pejorative) is that it is about singing to God, not performing for humans.  Therefore, the most prized qualities of a Sacred Harp singer are loudness and enthusiasm not finesse or intonation.  I think it's best described as a combination of church choir and marching band.  The other fun thing about the songs in the Sacred Harp hymnal is that they are almost all about death- eminent or otherwise. Click here for a more through "official" description of what Sacred Harp singing is all about.  

Here's a good example of a song being done by a Chicago group in 2007.

Although Sacred Harp singing is popular in the south, the whole thing feels very "Midwest-y" to me.  This prompted me to think about a few ways the Midwest is very different from where I grew up- Florida.

1. Beards - Beards are not a big thing in Florida, but men in the Midwest seem to pride themselves on having impressive facial hair.  And while I thought that growing a beard was about keeping your face warm in the winter, evidently even your facial hair needs special protection from the elements.

2. Potluck - If you were going to have a large group lunch when I was growing up, it would be pizza.  Or if you had the audacity to ask people to bring food, they would all show up with Publix rotisserie chicken and chocolate chip cookies.  Not so in the Midwest.  Someone made a huge dish of barbecued ribs for lunch - two days in a row.  And- defying stereotype- every potluck I've ever been to has had plenty of salads and vegetarian options.

But yeah, sometimes people make some weird/nasty stuff.

Credit: Toothpaste for Dinner.
Even that might be too spicy for the people from St. Paul.

3. Events at places that look like Hogwarts - Watch out, UF, The University of Chicago will give your lovely vine clad halls a run for their money.

I got in a nice run through the campus yesterday morning and checked out all the pretty Gothic style buildings.  Not a place I'd like to go to school, though.  UC is infamous as The Place Fun Comes to Die.

4. Perception of temperature - Yesterday in Chicago it was rainy with a high temperature of 64, which was universally pronounced as being far too hot.  Note that the average high in Orlando in January is 72.

5. Central air conditioning - Okay, so a big part of the last one is that everything in Florida is air conditioned.  I think they even passed an amendment to the state constitution that requires chicken coops to be air conditioned.  But people, please, 64- with or without AC- is not hot.

6. BratFest - And the multiple alterna-BratFests.  Some things cannot be parodied.

So what are the quirks of the place you live?  Got any hobbies that are hard to explain to your friends?  Going to a BratFest or other sausage-related event this Memorial Day weekend?  Have a special serviceman/woman you are remembering*?  Hope you are sleeping in! 

My family will remember my cousin Chris who was killed in Iraq 2007.