Sacred Harp numerology for my birthday

That’s where this is going, aimed at SH82t (Bound for Canaan) and SH82b (Edgefield) — ’cause I’m about to be 82 and so have been posting about 1982 — and SH96 (Few Happy Matches) — ’cause my birthday is 9/6. All of this triggered by someone’s having chosen to lead SH82t (which I’m fond of; it’s a Joy of Death and Transfiguration song and a shouting song: Hallelujah! I’m going to die!) at yesterday’s Marian Bush Memorial Half Day Singing in Palo Alto, which I participated remotely in because of my medical conditions. So I’ll have to tell you about my birthday, about Marian, about my afflictions, and about this weekend’s singings (Saturday 10-4, Sunday 1-4). But the numerology is the point, so I’ll talk about that first, but save the actual 82 and 96 songs for the end of this posting.

SH numerology. Two previous postings on this blog:

— in my 7/3/19 posting “Numerology”, about SH63 Coronation, SH198 Green Street, SH314 Cleburne, and SH485 New Agatite, referring to the 1991 edition of the Denson Revision Sacred Harp:

Songs are identified by three things: their page number (with t for top or b for bottom added if necessary), the tune name, and the first line of the text (So: 49b, Mear, “Will God forever cast us off?”). As with hymns in general, the same text can be set to any number of tunes, and the same tune can be used for any number of texts.

[then on the numerology. with page numbers interpreted as references to numbered bus lines, or highway numbers, or (especially) dates]

In my current life, I don’t see many buses. But dates, dates do it for me. Yesterday (7/2) was Bellevue (72b), today (7/3) is Cusseta (73t) and Arlington (73b). D-Day (6/6) is the wonderful Jordan (First) (66). In the reverse direction, St. Thomas (34b), the standard first warm-up song in Palo Alto, is my grand-[child] Opal’s birthday (3/4, March 4th).

— in my 5/5/21 posting “Musical numerology: two days in May”, with songs for 5/4: SH54 The Blessed Lamb; and for 5/9: SH59 Holy Manna. To which I now add: page numbers as references to years — specifically, p. 82 as a reference to my 82nd birthday (ordinal number 82) and to 1982 (cardinal number (19)82).

My birthday. More extensive discussion in my 8/26 posting “Moon Over Palo Alto”, with birthday plans folded in among the red bean mooncakes for the Mid-Autumn Festival — including my decision to incorporate 1982 into my conception of the occasion.

I note that 1982 was 40 years ago, that I was born in 1940, and that SH40 is the wonderful Lenox (named for Lenox MA): “Blow ye the trumpet, blow, / The gladly solemn sound / … The year of jubilee is come”. (You can see the full SH song in my 10/14/17 posting “A musical journey to NW MA”.)

Marian Bush. In two previous postings on this blog:

— in my 4/17/16 posting “Marian Bush”, a death notice for Marian, with affectionate notes, and an excellent photo of her in action as a Raging Granny.

— and then in my 8/29/19 posting “79”:

The SH on my future. Looking forward [to my 80th birthday], I’ll be facing more musical welcomings of death:

And if to eighty we arrive
We’d rather sigh and groan than live

This from the text of two SH songs I posted about on 2/13/17 on “Our allotted span”, Mortality SH50t and  Exit SH181. … Marian took up shapenote singing, with the Palo Alto group, when she was roughly 80, and often chose one of these songs to lead, with gusto. (She continued singing until close to her 100th birthday; the Palo Alto group now holds an annual memorial singing for her, at the end of August …)

My afflictions. Hard to talk about these, but they’re relevant to the singings. First, for about two weeks they were almost completely incapacitating: the simplest tasks took hours, of trying to get my body to function through them, of working through erratic cascades of extravagant pain (flaring up for a few minutes or up to an hour, sometimes with quite visible symptoms, often not, only to be replaced by something utterly different), some of types not previously in my experience.

Periodically, I lost my voice, could manage only a barely audible rasp. That was my state on Saturday morning at breakfast with Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky. I didn’t feel particularly bad — lots of meds got altered and replaced after my rheumatologist got a truly alarming in-office demonstration of my suddenly dropping away to incapacity (and then coming dramatically back to life in about 3 minutes) — but I was undeniably in no shape to sing anything.

On excellent advice from pretty much everybody, including some other singers, I had already announced that (with all of my medical vulnerabilities) I would not be taking part in in-person singing with a crowd of others. (I truly do not want to have COVID-19 again.) So, as I reported in my 8/27 posting “Eat Your Woolly Mammoths!”, I would be watching and listening on Zoom, and singing along at home as best I could (My attempts at singing could be absolutely wretched, but no one would hear me, because I was muted.)

I was physically up to this, thanks to all that medication-jiggling, which had returned me to the unpleasant but familiar status quo ante (dyspnea on exertion, florid osteoarthritis and myopathy, and more, just the usual).

The singings. As Saturday morning wore on towards the 10 am beginning of the All-Day Singing, my speaking voice came back, and things got better as I warmed up. Not fabulous, but I did a decent job, could last through the day, and found the whole event satisfying. People explicitly chose to lead some of my favorite songs for me, including several of the Death and Transfiguration ones — among them SH122 All Is Well, with verse 2 beginning: “Weep not, my friends, weep not for me, / All is well, all is well!” (all is well because the singer will soon ascend to heaven: “I soon shall be / From ev’ry pain and sorrow free, / I shall the King of glory see”).

After Jacques died, All is Well became very hard for me to sing, especially that second verse, which reduced me to tears every single time. Because the singer in the song was J, and I wept for him, because all was not well, he was not ascending anywhere (neither of us believed in the resurrection and afterlife), he just fucking died on me, and I was bereft.

Saturday it was suddenly different. Now I was the singer, telling my friends not to grieve for me — not because I expected to go to some better land (SH454 The Better Land), but because I accepted and did not fear death and erasure, whenever it comes; in the meantime, I’ll live my life as best I can, getting from day to day. I sang the song with my friends to reassure them (they know my ways), and I sang it dry-eyed for the first time in over 20 years. That felt genuinely good.

On to Sunday, the Marian Bush Memorial Half-Day Singing. Sunday morning was packed with a ton of household chores to be done, and I ended up having no time to warm up, just jumped right in starting at 1 pm.

And produced the strongest, most sonorous singing I’ve managed in years. Utterly surprising, and totally fabulous. Thrilling. I had no idea I’d ever be able to do anything like that, ever again. (And I might never be able to do it again — so I treasure the moment.)

After about 75 minutes, a wall of exhaustion closed in, and I had to pick and choose which songs I would attempt during the remaining time. But that beginning was a great gift. Weep not for me, my friends — for a little while yesterday I was Apollo Resplendens.

SH  numerology: 82 and 96 = 9/6. All with tunes from the first (1844) edition of the Sacred Harp — which have no doubt some folk or hymn tune history before King and White set them in shapenote style.

(#1) Page 82; both songs have treble (top line of music) counter-melodies to the tenor (next-to-last line of music, with the melody), so they’re duets with accompaniment

82t is an old friend: SH82t Bound for Canaan, with the chorus: “I’m on my way to Canaan, / To the new Jerusalem.” You can watch it here — being sung at the Ninth Ireland Sacred Harp Convention, Cork, March 2019.

82b Edgefield, less familiar to me, is missing an alto line (as a number of the early SH songs were). Note that the text is by John Newton (of “Amazing Grace” fame). You can watch it here — also being sung at the Ninth Ireland Sacred Harp Convention.

(#2) Page 96: with a sweet, dance-like tune (but, oh, those words, conveying: shape up, don’t be a vile unbelieving worm!); here, the treble sings high harmony to the tenor

You can watch it here — being sung at the Southwest Theological Seminary, Fort Worth TX, on 1/28/12.

Now on the calendar: the mooncake birthday breakfast for 4 on Saturday 9/3, Labor Day on Monday 9/5, my birthday (and the Marquis de Lafayette’s, 1757) on Tuesday 9/6, Negation Day on — groan — Friday 9/9 (linguists and philosophers have our little holidays), Mid-Autumn Festival on Saturday 9/10 (extending over the following two days), the next regular Palo Alto SH singing on Sunday 9/11 (1-3 pm).

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