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Thread: Nature of Song

  1. #1 Nature of Song 
    Jon
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    I want to discuss the art of ‘musical song’. We need, in my opinion, a better understanding of just what qualifies for ‘musical singing’ in our world, especially when nowadays any person can scratch out a record and sell it to someone. I want us—really, as a society—to have a better way to distinguish between merely ‘talking’ + ‘music’ and ‘talking within music’, or ‘musical song’. First, we should have to decide what ‘music’ is; and then understand what is ‘song’ . Then, we will have to relate these two and arrive at an understanding of how they must interact in order to form ‘musical song’.

    On the nature of ‘music’, then, we should first start by defining it. Now, the OED says on ‘music’:

    Quote Originally Posted by OED, ‘music’
    A. n. I. Musical art, performance, or composition.

    1. a. The art or science of combining vocal or instrumental sounds to produce beauty of form, harmony, melody, rhythm, expressive content, etc.; musical composition, performance, analysis, etc., as a subject of study; the occupation or profession of musicians.
    The word has often been used specifically to denote the art of musical performance, sometimes with particular reference to instrumental performance, although contextually it can denote other branches, as composition, musicology, etc.
    It is on that last note, I think, that we should focus our definition of ‘music’, especially since to include ‘vocalisation’ in the definition of ‘music’ at this point would destroy the differentiation between the two, which this post is trying to convey and relate them. Instead, for these purposes we should say that ‘music’ is:

    The art or science of combining … instrumental sounds to produce beauty of form, harmony, melody, rhythm, expressive content, etc.
    With this, then, we could conclude Mozart to be ‘music’ but Shakespeare as not being ‘music’, because although Shakespeare's work has form, harmony, melody, rhythm, and expressive content, it lacks instruments. This should seem reasonable, I'd hope, to most people, who would regard Shakespeare's work as ‘poetry’ and not give it the further distinction of also being ‘music’. With this, then, I believe the definition of ‘music’ is settled, and we can agree that instrumentation, not just vocalisation, is the key component of music, and we could make an argument that for vocalisation to be included, that vocalisation would have to be more similar to what we may normally regard as instrumentation and possess the characteristics of instrumentation. We should not need to go into the nature of instrumentation, since its distinction from vocalisation should be rather transparent and mostly universally agreed upon.

    Then, let us continue to what is ‘song’. Again, the OED should help us, and it gives us a definition which allows us to distinguish ‘song’ from ‘talking’ and from ‘music’:

    Quote Originally Posted by OED, ‘song’
    2. a. A metrical composition adapted for singing, esp. one in rime and having a regular verse-form; occas., a poem.
    This definition should be agreed on, I'd think, and I find it sufficient for the purposes here. ‘Song’ has rhythm as part of its definition, and this is why it was important not to include vocalisation earlier in our definition of ‘music’.

    Now, then, we have a definition for ‘music’ and for ‘song’ which separates them and distinguishes them so that we can be able to understand how they would combine to form ‘musical song’ and what differences that has to ‘talking’ + ‘music’. In this, our definition and understanding of ‘musical song’ isn't going to be much different than the original definition given for ‘music’, except it will look like this:

    1. a. The art or science of combining vocal [AND] instrumental sounds to produce beauty of form, harmony, melody, rhythm, expressive content, etc.
    Better, yet, however, would be to place our two definitions of ‘song’ and ‘music’ with each other.

    The art or science of combining … instrumental sounds [with] a metrical composition adapted for singing, esp. one in rime and having a regular verse-form [to produce] beauty of form, harmony, melody, rhythm, expressive content, etc.
    In this, we see the importance that to have ‘musical song’ we must have the vocalisations and the instrumentals. The vocalisations must have ‘metrical composition ... and … a regular verse-form’ as well as ‘beauty of form, harmony, melody, rhythm, expressive content, etc.’ and the instrumentals must have ‘beauty of form, harmony, melody, rhythm, expressive content, etc.’. Furthermore, as these are now related to one another, we should have to agree that for there to be ‘musical song’, the ‘harmony, melody, rhythm, ... etc.’ of the ‘music’ and of the ‘song’ should be relatively similar. This can be seen as especially true in that ‘talk’ of everyday has its own rhythm, but that we would not consider a pairing of ‘talk’ with ‘music’ as being ‘musical song’, but instead as being ‘talk’ + ‘music’, where the separate parts will have to stay individual because they lack the similarity of rhythm to tie them in as one unit. Thus, preventing them from reaching that higher meaning that the composition should have attained from its parts which is, as the proverb goes, greater than simply their sum.

    An example can be seen in the various translations of the Iliad, where some use prose and others maintain a poetic form. We can agree that those which are in poetic form are capable of being paired with matching musical rhythm, and so could form ‘musical song’, but a plain line of prose text would not be able to be paired with musical rhythm. Consider the following, and ask yourself which is capable of being paired with musical rhythm, and which lacks that ability and so cannot be considered ‘song’ or with music ‘musical song’

    Quote Originally Posted by Iliad, XVI¹
    And Zeus the son of Cronus with Cronus' twisting ways,
    filling with pity now to see the two great fighters,
    said to Hera, his sister and his wife, "My cruel fate...
    my Sarpedon, the man I love the most, my own son—
    doomed to die at the hands of Menoetius' son Patroclus.
    Quote Originally Posted by Iliad, XVI²
    The son of scheming Cronus looked down upon them in pity and said to Hera who was his wife and sister: "Alas, that it should be the lot of Sarpedon whom I love so dearly to perish by the hand of Patroclus!
    I think that, even despite the lack of rhyme in the former example, this should serve to illustrate the crucial difference between mere ‘talk’ and ‘song’ and why one cannot come together to form ‘musical song’, even if they are performed simultaneously.

    With this understanding in place, we can run our definition against certain compositions which have ‘music’ and ‘words’ and determine whether they are ‘musical song’ or ‘music’ + ‘talking’—i.e., whether the ‘words’ qualify as ‘song’. Let's start with Rodney Atkins Watching You:

    Driving through town just my boy and me
    With a happy meal in his booster seat
    Knowing that he couldn't have the toy
    Till his nuggets were gone
    Green traffic light turned straight to red
    I hit my breaks and mumbled under my breath
    His fries went a flying and his orange drink covered his lap
    Well then my four year old said a four letter word
    That started with "s" and I was concerned
    So I said son now now where did you learn to talk like that
    Now, we know he's come up with the ‘music’ part of it, but can this qualify as ‘song’? The answer is: no. People who haven't heard this will definitely understand the point when they try to work out the natural metre in the words; namely, they will see that there isn't one. For the first six lines, a metre might be argued for, but after that it's all up in the air, especially the drastic change in line eight, which leaves you wondering who decided to chop up prose into such short lines. The metre changes, instantly, and it's very patent that we do not have ‘a regular verse-form’. If we look at the first example from the Iliad, we see that we have regular metre and rhythm that duplicates for each line. Even if it's not particularly pleasing to the ear, it's there—this is mostly because Greek's use more of a quantitative metre rather than the accentual-syllabic metre that sounds better in English. Either way, the example from the Iliad shows metre, and the example from Rodney Atkins does not. Therefore, we can conclude that Rodney Atkins, in this composition, is not ‘singing’ and so this is not a ‘song’, and so not ‘musical song’, but merely ‘talk’ + ‘music’.

    Let us, now, contrast that with another example from more modern times, Nirvana's The Man who Sold the World

    We passed upon the stairs,
    We spoke of was and when
    Although I wasnt there
    He said I was his friend
    Which came as a surprise
    I spoke into his eyes
    I thought you died alone
    A long long time ago

    I think the different here is plain, and the presence of a metre and rhythm are all very obvious.

    My fingers are getting sore from all this typing, so I only hope this will elicit some good discussion.




    Jon
    __________
    ¹ The Iliad by Homer, translated by Robert Fagles, as quoted from Julia Annas Voices of Ancient Philosophy, Oxford Press
    ² The Iliad by Homer, translated by Samuel Bulter, Barnes and Noble New York


    :-)
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  3. #2 Re: Nature of Song 
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
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    Welcome to the forum.
    Quote Originally Posted by Jon
    My fingers are getting sore from all this typing, so I only hope this will elicit some good discussion.
    It is rather weighty for a first post. I suspect that few will actually read the whole thing to the end. Its often useful with a post of such length to open with a paragraph that is an abstract, or excutive summary. Just a thought.
    Quote Originally Posted by Jon
    We need, in my opinion, a better understanding of just what qualifies for ‘musical singing’ in our world, especially when nowadays any person can scratch out a record and sell it to someone.
    There is a hint (more than a hint , really) of elitism in this remark. Nothing wrong with elitism - I'm all for it, as long as I'm a member 8) - but you will have lost mmany of your potential audience right there.
    Quote Originally Posted by Jon
    I want us—really, as a society—to have a better way to distinguish between merely ‘talking’ + ‘music’ and ‘talking within music’, or ‘musical song’.
    Why? If I can't see any reason why we would want this, then I will lose interest right here. There goes another chunk of your audience..
    Quote Originally Posted by Jon
    The art or science of combining … instrumental sounds to produce beauty of form, harmony, melody, rhythm, expressive content, etc.
    With this, then, we could conclude Mozart to be ‘music’ but Shakespeare as not being ‘music’, because although Shakespeare's work has form, harmony, melody, rhythm, and expressive content, it lacks instruments.
    Whoah!! First, the definition is inadequate, since music requires certain kinds of form and harmony (Schopenhaur not withstanding), etc, that are not stated within the definition.
    More importantly Shakespeare does not contain melody. The words may spoken with any pitch the actor, or director wishes. It is this singular characteristic that establishes Shakespeare as non-music..
    Quote Originally Posted by Jon
    With this, then, I believe the definition of ‘music’ is settled, and we can agree that instrumentation, not just vocalisation, is the key component of music,
    No. I disagree completely. As a former chorister I rather object to being told that what I and my colleagues were producing, sans instruments, was not music. Since your thesis seems to depend upon this remarkable assertion you have just lost this part of your audience.


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