Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Community without conspicuity

Being part of a group of people, a community, without being a conspicuous member of said community.

Last Sunday, it was my privilege to sing in a choir led by my brother-in-law, Ron Harper. Both my wife, Sara, and his wife (our wives are sisters) were also in the choir. Our performance will be on the web for some time, thanks to YouTube and it's community-enabling platform. It was entitled "Symbols of the Nativity - A Musical Celebration" and was a wonderful experience.

It came to my attention that I lacked conspicuity in this community when my daughter, Elizabeth, texted

That was lovely!! Thank you so much again for inviting us! 🥰 Bridget and I found Sara, but we couldn't find you for the life of us! We kept trying to look but they never zoomed into the middle of the men's section, only the two ends. Where were you sitting?

Curiosity engaging, I studied the recording, and then wrote this email message:

It was a joy to share this with you! Since you "couldn't find [me] for the life of [you]" it seems only fair that I watch the video to see why that was so hard. Haha, it was because the chairs in the front row of baritones were so hard that it is so hard to see me! I asked a young man to switch with me, and so I ended up in a soft chair directly behind him for the camera angle. Once in a while he leaned a bit to his right and revealed as much as half of my face, but only for a split second.

We were five baritones, three of us seated in the back row on regular choir seats (L-R Nels, Joshua son of Nels, me) and two in the front row on folding cold hard metal chairs (L-R Nate, brother of Josh and son of Nels). Baritones circled in this snapshot taken at 1:00:06 of the video:

Yeah, it would have been next to impossible to spot me. Thanks for trying so hard! The bottom of my face is hidden behind the black music folder, but you can see my baldness, my nose, my left ear, and my left eye behind the unnamed brother and son.

Watching some more led to this addendum:

And more, at 1:17:48, where you can again see part of my face over the left shoulder of the nice young man who gave me a comfortable chair:

Some notable personages, left to right, from the organist, Sister Ellington, Ron Harper director, Nels, Nate, Josh, President Shumway, unnamed baritone, me, Sister Shumway, bearded man, Brother Ellington director of community singing earlier.

The last screenshot, showing notable personages, leads me to try ordering them by conspicuity. In time sequence, we first saw Brother Ellington who led community singing for 15 minutes while his wife accompanied, then President Shumway who conducted the event, then Ron Harper who conducted the choir. The five baritones (a smaller community embedded in the larger) were part of that choir. The bearded man is of interest because Elizabeth also texted:

Oh! Do you have a beard and mustache now?
If so, we may have seen you!

Haha. No, nor do I wear glasses.

Ordered by conspicuity in terms of salience, probably the most conspicuous member of this ephemeral community is Ron Harper, its founder. He has organized a group like this each Christmas for decades, first in Washington state, and for the last few years in Pleasant Grove. He has one recruiting event in July, and then we rehearse weekly starting in mid-October. Ron was trained by Mack Wilberg*, and makes heavy use of Wilberg arrangements. Each year he writes a new script and chooses new musical selections. Sara and I have participated two or three years**.

But the beauty of a choir is that you don't have to be conspicuous to contribute. In fact, you don't want to be conspicuous in a choir! Ron jokes about unintended solos, when a choir member accidentally sings out while everyone else is silent.

I am and have been part of so many communities, and only rarely conspicuously so.


* Mack Wilberg has a page on Wikipedia (linked above). That is one measure of conspicuity in the world community of personalities.

** Last year, we participated in all the rehearsals but sadly were unable to perform because of illness.


  1. Finding people in videos is hard!! On Josie's various YA videos, she is equally inconspicuous. It is like "There she is!" and by the time you half say it, the camera has moved on! Thanks for the instructions for finding you.

  2. I love that about choirs, too! Blending in. Nothing better!

    I think I have this blog linked up properly on my blog now, so that should help me (and my mom) visit here more often! Sorry you've been talking to the walls this long while!! <3