So I’ve posted about rainbow things: rainbow food, rainbow clothing (including rainbow underwear), even rainbow sex toys, and more — but not about the Sacred Harp song Rainbow (344 in the 1991 Denson Revision), an ecstatic hymn of praise:


A fuguing tune, with the parts entering in an unusual order: treble, alto, tenor, bass. The most common order is: bass, tenor, treble, alto. (Refresher: tenor, the third line down, is usually the melody line. I’m a male treble, and this will be relevant.)

It’s one of my favorites, and indeed me leading Rainbow is now available on a limited-edition CD of Bay Area Sacred Harp singers put together by singer Dan Harper (who’s also a minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, where we most commonly sing). The cover of the CD, which shows Chris Thorman leading (and me in the photo right behind him):


The CD has one track from the Dominic Ciavonne Zeigler Memorial Singing (50 singers) this year; five tracks from the 2015 All California Convention (210 singers); one track from the 2010 Golden Gate All Day Singing (130 singers); two tracks from the 2012 Golden Gate singing (90 singers); two tracks from the 2013 Golden Gate singing (100 singers); five tracks form the 2016 Santa Cruz All-Day Singing (40 singers); and six tracks from the 2016 Palo Alto All-Day Singing (50 singers). Track 21 is me leading Rainbow.

Much as I like Rainbow, it does put me in the spotlight, since the trebles lead the fugue off. Not much of an issue at a big singing, but significant at small local singings, where I’m sometimes the only treble, so it’s a solo for me. I led it yesterday, when there were just two trebles, but we were both strong singers — and even better, my partner in trebling was a real treble, a woman singing the part as written (while I sang it an octave below that; I may be a male treble, but I’m not a countertenor).

3 Responses to “Rainbow”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    I know I’ve sung this sometime. Don’t think I know of another fuguing tune with SATB entry – I see that this is Timothy Swan’s idea and not the arranger’s (the mysterious Phil Tabor, who also had a lot to do with the New Harp of Columbia:
    Here’s a recording:
    My wife and I are both trebles, once loud, but beginning to weaken with age (we’re in our late seventies), and often the only trebles in a small group. What’s worse is when I’m the only male that shows up and I have to sing bass – no bass voice, and don’t read music very well either.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Thanks for the comments, and for the video. I lead Rainbow faster than this, and not so sweetly — ecstatic, as I said, even unhinged.

      The groups I’ve sung with have all been well-supplied with basses. I can do bass, though I have to pitch some of the really low notes up an octave. It’s alto that I have trouble with; I’m not comfortable in any octave I choose, and anyway it sounds really dark in the lower octave, not glass-breakingly piercing the way it should.

      • Bob Richmond Says:

        I’ve never understood why anybody would want to sing alto, but there always seem to be lots of women who insist on it. At least in the New Harp of Columbia we don’t have all those dull Denson altos. M.L. Swan often wrote quite successful alto parts, labeled “counter by Swan” – the HoC (1848) antedates the OED’s earliest citation of “counter” in this sense by a decade.

        It’s often commented that basses are in short supply in southern shape-note groups, compared with the rest of the country. Some say that basses are drawn off by white gospel music, one of the few vocal traditions that honors basses, but I think it’s more likely genetic – the South has a different mix of “Albion’s seed” than the rest of the country.

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