The 27th Annual All-California Sacred Harp Convention

I spent the long weekend in San Francisco at the All-California Sacred Harp Convention. It was my second time attending this convention in as many years. The All-California rotates between Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego; it was in Los Angeles last year.


Wrong state, I know, but I picked one of these up in Minnesota in December and can’t resist sharing it. That is a shape note bumper sticker on my cello case, because I don’t have a car.

I rode up to the Bay Area in a small carpool from Los Angeles. We took Route 101, and a lot of the drive was quite picturesque. California has a lot of hills. We saw cows, horses, sheep, goats, and alpacas on green slopes, drove through clouds, and occasionally caught an ocean vista.

San Francisco is a beautiful city, one I’d like to spend more time in someday. I stayed with a friend from college, a fellow shape note singer and linguist. The convention itself was in Alameda, in a park recreation center. It was a big crowd, over two hundred singers, and the singing was excellent. On Saturday, I led the tune Clamanda (whose text appears in disguised form in Ancillary Justice!), and on Sunday, I led Plenary (which has the same melody as Auld Lang Syne). Multiple people at the convention seemed to know of me as a linguist, which I found slightly curious.

A funny side effect of shape note singing is that seemingly random numbers start to take on meaning. A leader announces the tune she’s going to lead by calling out the song’s page number, and Sacred Harp songs are generally referred to by both their tune name and their number. The more singings you attend, the more tune numbers you start to have memorized. So for example, on the journey home, we stopped at a Trader Joe’s to get a few things for lunch. When I saw $3.68 on my receipt, I thought, Huh, that’s 368 Stony Point. Also, back when I was revising (mostly shortening) Book 2 at the end of last year, I tracked the downward progress of my manuscript’s page length by Sacred Harp tunes. I remember passing through 270 pages, which corresponds to Confidence (“Away my unbelieving fear…” I can totally edit this book down!).

An account of my weekend wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the food. At the dinners on the grounds, there was key lime pie and chicken mole and butternut squash risotto and what seemed like half a dozen pans of macaroni and cheese, among many other dishes. At his house, my friend fed me homemade soft pretzels and apple pie, and on Sunday evening we visited another college friend of ours (my fellow co-president of Folk Dance Club, whom I hadn’t seen since we graduated) and we all made crêpes with sweet potato and spinach and ricotta fillings.

Anyway, I’ll have Sacred Harp songs swirling through my head for days, I expect. I hope to be in San Diego next year!

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