Monday, March 18, 2013

Breaking (musical) rules

So you should go sing along with “’Tis Sweet to Sing the Matchless Love”. (It’s okay, i’ll wait.)

Now go and do it again, and pay close attention to the way you sing the bit that goes (in the first verse) For Jesus died on Calvary. Now do it again, but pay attention to the soprano notes.

Generally, we sing the melody of our congregational songs such that they match the soprano line (transposed an octave or so down for the males and contraltos among us). Oddly, though, i have never heard a Mormon congregation sing the melody of this line of this song such that it matches the soprano notes—they sing along with the alto line, but a few notes higher (i.e., in the normal soprano range for the song).

I find this really interesting, ’cause i don’t think that it’s something that ever gets overtly taught—people just learn to sing the melody this way by hearing other people sing the melody this way. I wonder where it started, you know?


Aaron Nuzman said...

I'd like to point out that the melody follows the tenor line, not "the alto line, but a few notes higher," as you put it.

Michelle said...

I noticed this same phenomenon today as we sang "The Lord is My Shepherd". Everyone started singing the moving alto line rather than the stationary soprano line. The most interesting part was that at the end of the song people were jumping back and forth between the soprano and alto parts, singing with whichever melody line moved. It's like people can't stand to sing the same note more than 2 times in a row.

Heather the Mama Duk said...

I love singing that soprano part because it's like a lesson in rhythm. I've never noticed if most people are not doing the same note over and over. I like belting it out.

David B said...

@Aaron Nuzman: Good catch! I didn’t think to look in the lower register for what might be going on.

Relatedly, i have to say that it’s really cool that Mormons tend to spontaneously break into harmony (even for some songs that are labeled for unison singing). It makes for a much more pleasant sonic environment.

Heather the Mama Duk said...

Speaking of singing, I'm a big fan of the a capella singing the Tralee Branch in Ireland does some of the time (the rest of the time they sing along with the Hymns CDs... and don't keep the same tempo even remotely). I think we should ditch the organist and sing a capella in our ward from now on.