Berkeley Singthing FAQ
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What is the Berkeley Singthing?
The Berkeley Singthing (so called because it is organized in the Berkeley conference) is an informal gathering of WELLperns and other friends for the purpose of group music-making. The Singthings have been taking place in Berkeley, Oakland and other East Bay locations since late 1991.
When and where do Singthings occur?
A Singthing happens when somebody decides to host one, and announces it in this topic -- typically every 1-3 months or so. A good Singthing venue will include a living room or backyard area large enough to hold 15 or more players and singers comfortably, plus an annex area with a table for food and room for people to converse without intruding on the music. Refreshments, both food and drink, are BYO.
What kind of music is played?
The demographic is predominantly Boomer, and the repertoire tends to cluster around the folk/country/light rock axis. Favorite sources for Singthing material include:
but anything tuneful and guitar-friendly will do.
- The Beatles
- Bob Dylan
- Emmylou Harris
- John Prine
- Everly Brothers
- The Eagles
- Nanci Griffith
- Guthries, Woody and Arlo
- Carter Family
- that old standby, anon
What instrument should I bring?
The most important instrument is your voice. Beyond that, some instruments seem to work better than others. The traditional stringed folk instruments--guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle--fit in nicely. Electrified instruments, percussion, or orchestral wind instruments can easily dominate and distract if not played very sensitively. If you bring one of these, try it gingerly, and be prepared to put it aside if it isn't working.
I'd love to come, but I don't sing well. Should I come and just plan to listen?
Singthings are about the joy of music-making, not about chops. We don't judge and we don't compare. Some people come just to listen. Some people sing along quietly to themselves, while others let fly with all gusto. Whichever way is your way, you will be welcome, and no one will belittle your musicianship.
I have this great solo number I do. Can I do it at the Singthing?
Singthings are best thought of as group music-making events, not performance events. People who show up with the intention of performing as a soloist seldom find what they are looking for there. If you are choosing a song, try to choose one that others will know. If you have your own unique version of a standard song--altered chords, altered lyrics, altered phrasing--by all means let the room know before you begin. Better still, do it the standard way just this once, or pick some other song.
Do people do solos at Singthings? Certainly, and so can you. Just be aware that solos are the punctuation; group singing is the text. And, while some solos can be just what the moment needs, others inserted at the wrong time can stop the energy cold and send everybody out of the room to look for hors d'oeuvres. Flow is everything. Group energy is everything. Stay attuned to what is happening in the room, and you won't go wrong.
Can I bring my kid?
More often than not, it doesn't work out well to bring kids to Singthings. If the children are very young, they can be a distraction for their parents; if older, they often get bored by all the "old-fashioned" music. Use your best judgment.
How can I greet my friends without bothering the music-makers?
Conversational noise is an ongoing problem at Singthings. With a solid crowd of 20 or 30 people, conversation can easily run roughshod over the music, making it impossible for the musicians to hear each other and forcing people to sing too loud trying to be heard.
A singthing is not a party with music; it's a musical gathering with the opportunity to socialize. Every Singthing has another room nearby in which you can take a break and catch up with friends. Please try to keep music in the music area, and conversation in the conversation area.
Page last updated: 1/15/2008