Arranging Committee Tips

By Linton Ballinger

From Huntsville Sacred Harp Newsletter, Number 20 (August 1994)

David Ivey, Editor (david.ivey@asc.edu)
16021 Deaton Drive Huntsville, AL 35803
(205) 881-5291

[Editor's Note: Linton Ballinger comes from a large family of fine singers in Fayette County, Alabama. Huntsville and Madison County are fortunate to have several members of the Ballinger family living here and working hard to support Sacred Harp in our area. Linton provides much insight with this helpful article based on his experience of ably serving many singings as an arranging committee member.]

For those of you who regularly attend Sacred Harp singings, you are familiar with the election/appointment of officers to manage the event. The officers usually include the Chairperson, Vice Chairperson, Secretary, Finance Committee, Memorial Committee, and Arranging Committee. While all of these positions/committees serve important roles in having a good singing, the Arranging Committee is key to the success of the singing. From serving on one or more arranging committees each year over the last forty years, the following tips are provided in case you have the honor to serve in this capacity.

The most important objectives of the Arranging Committee are: (1) ensure all singers who will direct songs are recognized and called; (2) orchestrate the schedule and tempo of the singing; and (3) ensure all song leaders leave the singing with a favorable attitude. In accomplishing the first objective, one needs the names of those who will direct songs. These names may be obtained either by having attendees register when they enter the building, or by the Arranging Committee listing them by recognition. The first method has the advantage of providing the address, who will lead, and other information about the singer. It is often used in large singings with diversified location attendees. If the other method of listing leaders is used, be prepared with pencil, paper, and a copy of the most recent Sacred Harp Minutes book as a reference for names of singers. If you do not know the name of a singer, ask someone.

The next task of the committee in accomplishing the first objective is estimating the number of leaders to be used. The total number will dictate whether you permit leaders to lead one or two songs. Also, it will dictate the promptness of adhering to recess and lunch break times. Most singers, especially those who travel a longer distance, want a full day of singing (usually 9:30 am-2:30 pm). They do not want to be held past 3:00 pm or released much before 2:30 pm. The estimate of singers is very difficult because they arrive at all times, even after the noon lunch break. One of the best barometers is to look at the minutes for the last year. Usually the number does not vary significantly. It is important to call all leaders, because those not used may not come again. If anyone is to be omitted due to time constraints, let it be "home folks."

Achieving the second objective is to a large degree driven by the number of leaders in attendance and the characteristics of the individual leaders. For singings with a large number of leaders, you must adhere to a tight schedule; that is, minimize the number of recesses, get started early, and resume singing promptly after each break. The Arranging Committee must prompt the Chairperson to keep on schedule. You may also need to prompt those pitching the music to give the sound as quickly as possible after the leader calls the page number and is ready to sing. Also, in controlling the tempo of the singing you have some singers who favor the slower songs or will sing all verses of such songs. If the singing starts to drag from too many such leaders, call a leader who usually sings a more upbeat song to get the tempo increased. Also, call an "up tempo" leader early after the start of each singing period to set a pace for that session. Other tips for expediting the singing is to call the next leader from the opposite side of the room from the side where the current leader was seated. This permits one to be coming while the other is going. Also, prompt singers to assist those with special needs to get to the floor as soon as possible. If you have a leader who starts to talk or delays in identifying his or her song, politely ask, "What was your song number?" This usually gets things moving. After calling a leader, identify the following leader. This technique gives the next leader time to select his/her song and be prepared to direct. This increases the number of leaders that you can use.

The third objective is most important. You want all attendees to feel welcome and to leave the singing with a "I want to return again" attitude. This is fairly difficult to achieve since singers are individuals with varying attitudes and characteristics. Some want to direct early, some only after lunch, and some do not want to follow certain other leaders. The more you know about these desires, the more likely you are to successfully accomplish this objective. The following are some tips to assist you in this area.

  1. Always call local leaders to direct for the first ten or more leaders until the class is "warmed up."
  2. Identify members of the same family and spread their lessons throughout the day. This is sometimes difficult due to married names. This practice reduces the feeling of favoritism.
  3. Follow the same plan for leaders of a given church, community, or area. Spread them out throughout the day for the same reason. If a singer did not get to direct when he/she wanted, at least they know someone from their family or area who did.
  4. Small children should be called to sing early in the day before someone gets "their song." The risk in doing this is many of them will not remain in the class and sing after they have directed.
  5. Look in the minutes and see who was called to sing in the last session of the previous year. To keep from making them think that they are called after everyone else has directed, move them up to an earlier morning session. The same principle applies to those who direct just before lunch. It is best to use a local or family leader just before the noon meal if possible.
  6. Be sure to ask all willing leaders to direct. If you have to omit any because of time constraints, leave out the "home folk" leaders.
  7. Try to identify any singer who must leave early, or for a two day convention, singers who cannot attend the second day. Call these leaders before they must leave.
  8. Some leaders have special times of the day that they prefer to lead. Try to honor their preferences.
  9. Analyze the gender composition of your leader list. Try to evenly disperse male and female leaders throughout the day.
  10. If you are aware of conflicts between singers or families, refrain from calling them consecutively.
  11. Do your best to pronounce the names of the leaders clearly and correctly. Often the congregation likes to know where they live. It is good to give this information and a welcome, especially to those who have traveled a long distance, or who are attending the singing for the first time.
  12. As noted under the first objective, give leaders advance notice of being called. Directing songs make some people nervous, so you do not want to do anything to cause a leader any embarrassment.
  13. Sacred Harp singers have a tradition of honoring their senior lifelong singers. Be sure to ask them to direct at an appropriate time during the day.
  14. If you do not have time to call all leaders, at the end of the day, state this fact and invite them to come back the following year so that you may call them early in the singing.
  15. Use leaders who have been at the singing all day before using those who come later in the day, especially those who come in the afternoon.
  16. At the end of the day before you turn the singing over to the Chairperson for final closeout, thank all the leaders for their cooperation.

After providing the above information, I hasten to add that most Sacred Harp singers are good natured, forgiving Christians. It is difficult to make a serious mistake. However, your effectiveness and the resulting quality of the singing will be improved by using some of these guidelines. Now that you have had Arranging Committee training, I look forward to your participation on the "committee" soon. Good luck!


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