The first thing is obvious: these singings last only 2 hours or so, rather than all day, and they recur monthly rather than annually. Usually those who attend are drawn from the immediate geographic area, rather than from all over as for the big annual all-day singings. Loaner books are always available at these singings, so visitors and the merely curious may drop in and find out what the singing is like without making an investment in a book.
The monthly singings employ either the Denson Sacred Harp or the Cooper Sacred Harp. Occasionally other shapenote books will be sung from. Monthly singings are also the place for local composers to try out their compositions with the class.
Monthly singings are often called "practice singings," as they are much less formal and the pace can be (though it doesn't have to be) much slower than at the all-day singings. This is the place to be actively learning how to sing this stuff. If the trebles, for example, need to sing their part to a given song twice, time can be taken to let them do that. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish a "practice singing" from a singing school, and at other times everyone just jells and the event feels like a big all-day singing.
Unlike the all-day singings, these events are not opened and closed with prayer, and most of the time the numbers of singers are few enough that leaders lead from their seats rather than from the middle of the square. Though the monthly singings are the ideal place to get comfortable leading from the square and the opportunity to do so should not be wasted.
Attendance is not taken, but social aspects are not neglected and absences are noticed and regretted. "Religion and politics get left at the door; we're here to sing" is a tradition upheld even at the monthly singings and this allows a deliciously disparate group of people to mingle and share a love of this music without the tensions that might otherwise erupt.
There's no potluck meal, usually, and singers bring their own beverages/water bottles.
Many of the monthly singings are held at local churches because those tend to have better acoustics than private living rooms, and they are more cheaply and readily available than commercial spaces. Some singings pass the hat in order to pay the rental fee.
Those lucky enough in their home address can attend more than one monthly singing and thus get to sing more than just once a month. There's no rule says you have to attend only one, or that you have to attend every time.
Questions? Email us at PNWSHS@PacificNWsacredharpsingers.org