Friday, September 17, 2010

"Good Though"

As you can tell from this site, the Riverside Folk Song Society is now over 50 years old. In that time, like a person with yoyo dieting, it has grown to great numbers, then decreased gradually, then gotten larger again, over and over. As a result, some folks who were members in the early days have disappeared (moved, stopped doing music, found other music groups to satisfy the "need," become ill or ended up caring for an ill loved one, or passed away). Some people have left only to return to the fold. Some attend only when they host (this for a variety of reasons, including an inability to drive at night). Some attend almost every meeting, but never host (again, for a variety of reasons, including not having a home or yard with sufficient space, and for that we thank them for not hosting!). Some have put in many rounds of hosting but are no longer in a position to "entertain" a large group. Some folks come early (even too early - if you arrive much before our 7 pm start time, the host may not be ready for folks to flood into the house!); some folks arrive exactly on time; some people show up at the old start time (8 pm), when we have been "rolling" for a half hour (note: it's OK to arrive late, but not OK to expect everything to stop while you unpack your instrument ... best to wait until it is convenient to move through the room to the case storage location). Some people take advantage of the 7-7:30 visiting and tuning time to do just that, others wait until their turn, then start to tune (not cool). Some people always stick to the theme for the first half (the theme is abandoned in the second half); others have fun with making their song fit the theme (we love that! Always good for some laughs the way some people make the connection); others ignore the theme altogether (not a cardinal sin, but it is nice if some effort is made - see previous remark about stretching to make the song fit the theme).

When our group was small (about 30 in number, though attendance generally wasn't more than a dozen folks, and only half to three quarters of those played instruments and/or sang - others preferred to listen, which is absolutely OK), we would go around in a "circle" as many times as the hours allowed. But now that we have grown again, going around in a circle has some decided disadvantages. (When I joined in 1981, there were a large number of folks and the way the meeting was handled was for all those who wished to share a song or 2 - or more, if time allowed - signed on a clipboard that asked for a check mark to indicate whether the song was a "solo" or "group" - it was OK to check for both.) Because using the "circle" method creates a problem in keeping things going (especially when there are a lot of listeners, the room does not lend itself to an actual "circle" - who's next?; or some people are "hidden" from immediate view), we have elected to return to the former "sign-in" method with an appointee calling on the "performers," giving each person a turn or two advance warning, focusing on also balancing between solo and group songs - it can be a bit much for everyone to listen to 10 solos in a row, especially for those who are just dying to play along!

This puts a big requirement on attendees - it is everyone's personal responsibility to get his/her name on the sign-up sheet (and listeners, please don't sign up ... it's rather awkward when you are called on and you don't have a song to share - though you are welcome to request a song). Those who show up late often end up getting fewer turns (it's not fair to those who were there on time for you to expect to "make up" for your absence by taking extra turns). If you have to leave early, be sure that the leader knows so that he/she can make sure you get your turn before you exit (but that doesn't mean that you should get extra turns to make up for the time you will miss by leaving before the end of the evening). The leader also works to get all the songs people want to perform scheduled into the format (7:30-9:00ish, break, 9:30-11:00) - it is not appropriate for us to just stay longer in the host's home because we have one more song to do! Will everyone get to present the same number of songs? Probably not. If you do a 10-minute piece, chances are the leader will not call on you when there is only a 3-minute time period to fill. But if you don't speak up and you have a song you really want to play, then that is your fault. Often the "sign-up" sheet is abandoned after break if we have lost a large number of people before we resume (then it is likely that the format will go around in a circle or even be a "volunteer if you have something to share" method). Note: if we are going around in a circle and you change seats, do not be surprised if you get missed (however, some people try to get additional turns that way, and that is quite inappropriate!).

How to get "more" turns:
1 - bring singalongs (ideally without a bunch of song sheets for things we've never heard of, unless they are very simple - time is lost when songs sheets are passed around) - try things with easy choruses or songs we all know in keys that are familiar to most (B-flat may be comfortable for the voice, but the autoharpists and dulcimer players may not be very happy).
2 - keep songs within a reasonable time frame (3 to 5 minutes is normal; though there are exceptions for great singalongs that everyone is getting into and involve a lot of breaks for the musicians).
3 - don't tell us you are unprepared or that you have nothing for the theme (the leader will likely skip over you since you have already told us that you aren't in a position to be part of the group).
4 - be a good sport, even if you have a "better" version of the song that was just presented, keep that to yourself (note: if the theme is "summer," it's a good bet that at least 3 people will come with "Summertime"; consider alternatives for that eventuality).
5 - keep your intro within reason (we do not need to know every bit of history about the song; but some background is interesting and may add to the understanding of the lyrics - especially how it fits the theme); rule of thumb: if the intro is longer than the song, it is too long!
6 - communicate: do you want people to play along? (if so, be sure to tell us the key) Note to musicians: "playing along" does not mean hogging the spotlight - unless you have been expressly given a break, your involvement should not be louder than the person who is presenting the piece (exception: when the presenter makes it clear that it is a total group effort, not "his/her song").

These are some of the elements that help the evening to be a success.

I have been involved in song circles all over the country since I was 15 years old. I have seen groups die out, I have seen groups thrive. Most of the successful ones have protocol that is understood by the group. If you are new to this group, observe how things operate. If it is not your "cup of tea," then maybe another group would be more to your liking. If you see something that you believe could be improved upon, it's fine to voice an opinion, but before you do, let me share something . . .

It is said that 10% of the group does 90% of the work. I have observed this group for nearly 30 of its 50 years and I have to say that we tip the scales a little more towards 25/75, though at times it's been closer to 50/50. But, right now, with 108 names on the email list (yes, some of those folks live out of the area and are kept on the list so they know what we are doing, but at least the same number represent a couple rather than a single person) we are sneaking close to that 10/90 ratio. Our attendance is sometimes as high as 40 people, so that can put a strain on any household and minding our manners becomes a necessity, not a nicety. Don't assume that the home has room for your 3 guitars with different tunings, mandolin, banjo, and hammered dulcimer (call the host first, if you feel it necessary to bring it all). And those of us who are putting in effort to keep communication flowing, food trays filled, and songs sung could use some "attaboys." Don't forget to thank the host/hostess for offering up his/her home to a group which could be all of 5 people or 50 good-sized adults. Before you make a complaint, ask yourself "what can I do to solve the problem"? Then take the initiative to do it.

In the past, the leadership in this group has consisted of a president, meeting chair (to find and arrange the meetings and send out notices), and treasurer. Over 10 years ago we had a meeting and established a new president (there had been rotation on all these jobs with the exception of treasurer). Tim Sullivan took on the role & did a great job until he moved to Oregon; Bob Palmer accepted the position (we had no elections since there was only one candidate) for a trial year - we are well past that now! He is doing a stupendous job with the newsletter, communicating on various concerns, and getting the word out about who we are. Then there is I - the membership/meeting chair (we abolished the treasurer position when Catherine Woodruff could no longer handle it and no one else would volunteer . . . since I had agreed to take over the meeting scheduling from JoNell Bevington, who had been doing it for about 10 years, I figured I could do the treasurer stuff too - after all, most checks were written to that person to reimburse for stamps and copies). I have been doing this for over 10 years. I appreciate the kind words people have offered re: the task and thank you for them. Last year we had a membership meeting (very few attended, but many who couldn't be there did communicate via email re: their wishes for the group and the $600+ we had in the treasury). We no longer had a need for funds since we have gone "green" - people can print out their own flyers and the communication is handled via email; if we have a desire to spend money on an item - a memorial in remembrance of a society member, etc. - we can take up a collection towards that goal. But now we seem to have a need for more space and people are asking about recreational centers or church basements. OK, that makes sense, but most require at least a $100 deposit for that (FYI, my husband and I put up that deposit for the church rental for the anniversary party as all the food and other necessities took up every bit of the treasury and then some). Who wants to (or is able to) put that $$ on the line - after all, deposits are returned only after the venue is back in proper order, meaning that those same 10% will be left cleaning up after everyone else has gone home - also, most venues within our means require that we vacate by 10 pm, and that means with the facility cleaned, so meetings would have to end by 9:30 at the latest, otherwise there is likely to be an extra cost . . . and these are only if we could locate meeting places with no other charge involved. Personally, I am done being the responsible party for the funds of the organization. Also, since we are not a recognized non-profit group (positive: no taxes to file), many venues will not rent to us (insurance/liability issues). Many are not aware that, in cases of organizations, when there is a complaint against the group, it is the officers who are "on the line" (translation: sued). Am I paranoid? Perhaps. Also being practical - I am too old to lose everything in a law suit! Hence my reluctance to change to meeting in public locations.

Finally, I want to suggest to all who have not heard it (or not heard it recently), to listen to U. Utah (Bruce) Phillips's story "Moose Turd Pie." I couldn't find a clear version on the Internet, but there is a written version on Blinkynet . . . Please read before complaining.

Oh, and I will maintain the blog, but will resign from my role as Membership/Meeting Coordinator as of the end of 2010. It's been Good Though.