For anyone just tuning in, I've been writing a series of experimental diaries, trying to mix music videos with words. I'm not sure how well it's working--do ETers not have as much access to video-friendly connections as I thought; or is music not really an ET concern? I've got a poll at the end so you can let me know what you think.
(a quick warning: firefox has a known problem with videos: sometimes the videos freeze after exactly 00:02. If this happens, you can try reloading the page, which doesn't work very often; or you can try viewing the diary at another time (the bug is very temperamental); or you can view the diary in another browser.)
Right, this week:
melody & harmony.
First, I'm going to keep going with the idea that music comes out of the natural sounds around us. This can be seen clearly with melody:
Blackbird singing (1:34)
Melody is the sequential production of tones. With the human voice it can sound like this:
Yoko Kanno - Voices (2:18)
(This reminds me of lullabies, a solo voice singing a melody--the ear picks up the movement, hears various repeating patterns, listens to the timbre of the voice.)
If one were to count out how many different tones appeared in that piece one might find there were only five--this would be a pentatonic scale. If there were seven it would be diatonic--scales describe the various different notes involved in the movement from one octave to the next.
Western ears are tuned to certain scales. Here's a clip of Marvin Gaye singing--the music has been switched off so it's just Marvin's voice, which kicks in after 20 seconds (before that, it's just Marvin waiting to start.)
Marvin Gaye - I Heard It Through The Grapevine (3:12)
Moving away from the human voice, I've heard it said that the first music was repetition of bird song with flutes (and recorders--the name recorder--I hear--comes from its original use, which was to 'record' birdsong.)
I put this piece up last week, but it demonstrates so much I wanted to put it up again. In particular, it is in contrast to Marvin Gaye's style--Debussy was a pioneer with tonal structure. This is one of his (many) masterpieces, this time played by Michael Hedges.
Michael Hedges - Syrinx (2:46)
What about if you add another melody to the first one? Now you have two sets of notes travelling through time, maybe the two melodies hit the exact same note at the same time--and then they move in different directions. Maybe one voice sounds one note and then, half way through, the other voice sounds another note. This used to be called harmony but (two voices) is now called 'counterpoint'; harmony now means three or more sounds playing together, but I'm going to call two notes harmony as it has the essential harmonic quality: more than one musical sound happening at the same time.
To demonstrate how two melodies can be played at the same time, I'll turn to Bach. First, a single melody line (one note at a time):
Bach - Cello Suite No.4 i-Prelude (5:39)
And now, two melodies, played one on each hand. A way of hearing the two harmonies is as follows:
First, listen to (and watch) only the left hand. Ignore the right hand, just follow the left. You'll see it has a melody it is playing.
Then, do the same thing but with the right hand only.
And finally, watch both of them together--you should be able to hear the two melodies and the new sounds that appear (the new melodies.)
(btw, Bach sometimes places up to five (I think it was five!) melodies into one piece--not many people can hear all five, it takes concentration!)
Bach Prelude in c minor Walden Hughes (1:03)
Harmony is vertical: it describes tones played at the same time. Melody is horizontal: it describes tones played one after the other. Written down in the western style, the two together look like this:
Rachmaninov plays Rachmaninov (3:46)
Put melody and harmony together--you get the music most of us hear around us most of the time.
I've chosen a couple of examples. First, Summertime, by George Gershwin.
First version: you hear the harmony in the accompaniment; you hear the melody first (in truncated form) on a french horn (I think it's a french horn_; then on the trumpet, then the voice.
Summertime - Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong (4:59)
Second version: the same melody played to a whole other harmonic structure (and beat.) The melody kicks in after 30 seconds:
Keith Jarrett - Summertime (4:42)
This is one of the reasons for the successes of covers, where a band takes an old song and plays it a new way--usually (but not always) by keeping the key notes (the melody) and then changing everything around them (harmony, rhythm, and texture.)
Second example: Favourite Things, by Rodgers and Hammerstein.
First the Julie Andrews version:
My Favourite Things - The Sound Of Music (1:08)
That has the voice to the fore (it starts spoken, then moves into singing.) The next version also has a voice to the fore--the sax of John Coltrane. If you listen carefully to the Julie Andrews version, you'll hear that it does harmonic things at certain points; for my ears, John Coltrane makes the same changes but uses longer time frames.
John Coltrane - My Favorite Things - 1961 (10:35)
Some people prefer the dense riches of harmony; others prefer the sing-along-able quality of a melody (and yet others like melodies that are impossible to sing, like Syrinx) (and yet others prefer all of the above and more!)
Time to finish. Melody; harmony. What have great composers done with these? Here's a single example, nine minutes long; the initial melody is simple enough, just three tones: first there's a tone, then there's a second tone one step down, then back to the first tone, then up a half step (semitone), then back to the starting note--it's a four beat--and then--Stravinsky does Stravinskian things to it.
Stravinsky Conducts Firebird (9:08)
As always, I'd like these diaries to be collective adventures. Please post your favourite melodies, harmonies, interesting juxtapositions, one or two videos per comment with a few words of explanation if they might help the listener appreciate better what he or she is about to hear.