09 September 2012


Recently during a dream, I began to recall a song from my early childhood.  In the song, (1) one voice sings a melody, then (2) is answered by a vocal ensemble singing a different melody with different rhythms.  Finally (1) and (2) sing simultaneously, their varying melody lines flitting and dancing around and through each other harmoniously.  Somehow, it is possible to track both lines of lyrics.  I'm certain that there's a name for this kind of composition, but the closest thing I've found to approximate it is counterpoint ~ "the relationship between voices that are harmonically interdependent (polyphony), but independent in rhythm and contour."

You can hear a simplified version of this effect in a musical round ~ "a musical composition in which two or more voices sing exactly the same melody (and may continue repeating it indefinitely), but with each voice beginning at different times so that different parts of the melody coincide in the different voices, but nevertheless fit harmoniously together."

But the contrapuntal arrangement is more complex, more nuanced.  The song itself is one I haven't thought of in decades, yet during the dream I was able to vividly reconstruct the interweaving melodies and lyrics.  Upon waking, I felt pleased and excited at this, but did not write down the name of the song, so after an hour or two I'd forgotten it.  In trying to remember, finally the final phrase came to mind and I typed it in on YouTube, and discovered my song!  (I'm such a genius, I scare myself sometimes.)

Now that you are doubtlessly dying of curiosity, here is the 1950 version of "You're Just In Love", sung by Perry Como and the Fontaine Sisters.  If you scroll down within the link, you'll see the names of other performers who have recorded the song.

Singing in groups is great fun.  Even greater fun is helping a bunch of non-singers to learn the words and melodies of a contrapuntal piece, and then perform it together.  Initially people are either self-conscious or skeptical, but when it all comes together, everyone is grinning and laughing.  I did this twice, with extremely different audiences.  One was a group of high schoolers, when I was teaching in suburban Philadelphia.  The other was a group of men at a co-counseling workshop.  The song in question has not two, but three melodies and sets of lyrics to learn.  Here it is, a commercial for Rice Krispies cereal, dating from the late 1950s.

And finally, here is a hilarious example of interspecies harmonizing, Pink Floyd's Seamus.  I hope you'll have fun and sing (or howl) along !

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