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Why do we sing unaccompanied?

seamasmac 11 Sep 09 - 12:51 PM
Bill D 11 Sep 09 - 01:00 PM
GUEST,Noreen 11 Sep 09 - 01:01 PM
Rapparee 11 Sep 09 - 01:01 PM
The Villan 11 Sep 09 - 01:03 PM
MGM·Lion 11 Sep 09 - 01:09 PM
Tug the Cox 11 Sep 09 - 01:29 PM
McGrath of Harlow 11 Sep 09 - 01:42 PM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 11 Sep 09 - 02:27 PM
Marje 11 Sep 09 - 02:35 PM
Jim Carroll 11 Sep 09 - 02:38 PM
Santa 11 Sep 09 - 03:02 PM
The Villan 11 Sep 09 - 03:21 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 11 Sep 09 - 03:22 PM
Arkie 11 Sep 09 - 03:28 PM
Peace 11 Sep 09 - 03:28 PM
Goose Gander 11 Sep 09 - 03:29 PM
The Villan 11 Sep 09 - 03:32 PM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 11 Sep 09 - 03:35 PM
Amos 11 Sep 09 - 03:52 PM
Art Thieme 11 Sep 09 - 04:43 PM
GUEST,Bob Coltman 11 Sep 09 - 05:03 PM
Amos 11 Sep 09 - 05:13 PM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 11 Sep 09 - 05:20 PM
Goose Gander 11 Sep 09 - 05:22 PM
Jack Blandiver 11 Sep 09 - 05:31 PM
Art Thieme 11 Sep 09 - 05:45 PM
Crow Sister (off with the fairies) 11 Sep 09 - 05:49 PM
Genie 11 Sep 09 - 05:49 PM
George Papavgeris 11 Sep 09 - 06:35 PM
Steve Gardham 11 Sep 09 - 06:46 PM
Phil Edwards 11 Sep 09 - 06:48 PM
GUEST,Gerry 11 Sep 09 - 06:48 PM
Jack Campin 11 Sep 09 - 07:14 PM
Jack Campin 11 Sep 09 - 07:31 PM
BobKnight 11 Sep 09 - 08:14 PM
Ron Davies 11 Sep 09 - 09:08 PM
Joe Offer 11 Sep 09 - 09:13 PM
Art Thieme 11 Sep 09 - 09:34 PM
Art Thieme 11 Sep 09 - 09:46 PM
Fergie 11 Sep 09 - 09:46 PM
dick greenhaus 11 Sep 09 - 10:49 PM
Janie 11 Sep 09 - 11:32 PM
maire-aine 11 Sep 09 - 11:40 PM
Gibb Sahib 11 Sep 09 - 11:50 PM
MGM·Lion 12 Sep 09 - 12:26 AM
Genie 12 Sep 09 - 12:57 AM
Genie 12 Sep 09 - 01:10 AM
MGM·Lion 12 Sep 09 - 02:16 AM
The Villan 12 Sep 09 - 02:59 AM
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Subject: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: seamasmac
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 12:51 PM

I'm doing some research on the 'sacredness' of unaccompanied singing. I'm looking at a number of religious traditions such as Qur'anic singing/call to prayer and Christian chant. My main focus is on the singing traditions of Britain and Ireland though and I was wondering if anybody had any thoughts or pointers to research and writing done on WHY the singing tradition has such a special place for unaccompanied performance or indeed how this evolved. Any similar examples from other cultures would be of interest too. Thanks.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Bill D
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 01:00 PM

" WHY the singing tradition has such a special place for unaccompanied performance or indeed how this evolved. "

Ummm...gee....singing started way before most people had any idea of using instruments to accompany themselves.

Look at The Copper Family...they sang at work and at pubs....probably few folks they knew could even afford any instrument.

And, for many the song is what is important.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: GUEST,Noreen
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 01:01 PM

Do a search here on Mudcat and you will find several discussion threads on the subject.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Rapparee
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 01:01 PM

Well, I can't sing and play the trumpet at the same time.

But I suspect that it started because people wanted to sing (for any reason) and just decided to do so. My family has always sang or whistled as they worked, and I'm sure that others did the same. We did it in the Army and it helped shorten the miles we walked. Shanties were sung for a variety of reasons, and lightening the task was one of them. Ditto for working the farm fields.

Music, like laughter, kills lonesome.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: The Villan
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 01:03 PM

My first thoughts are that a lot of the people that sing unaccompanied are unable to play an instrument or not able to play and sing at the same time.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 01:09 PM

But the Coppers never made a fetish of it and certainly got more relaxed about it — Bob learned the English concertina and accompanied himself on it on solo tracks on his later records.

I once asked Ewan MacColl in the bar at the Princess Louise why he sometimes sang Eppie Morrie unaccompanied, as he had the previous week, and sometimes with Peggy Seeger's banjo for accompaniment, as he had just done before the interval - was it just a mater of the mood he was in? He replied that, yes, that was all there was to it.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Tug the Cox
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 01:29 PM

They were never 'unaccompanied'. The earliest rhythms were work rhythms (3/4 being the rhythm of scything...see RVW for more info)and the work rhythm was vital to the singing, whether on the farm or on the ship, and singers would move in accordance with the rhythms to which the songs were attached. If you mean 'without instrumental backing' , then that's because its difficult to play and work at the same time. When the song's moved indoors, the musicians, who normally already played for dancing, would sometimes accompany, but it wasn't necessary. Revival singers, such as martin carthy, took old songs and put wonderful guitar accompaniments on them...because he could!
   The Copper repertoire includes songs that may have had an organ accompaniment if the songs were learned in church, but at home,or the pub, unaccompanied was the only option, not a shibbloeth.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 01:42 PM

Life isn't all work, and not all songs are work songs.

Often enough in a song session I'll sing without an instrumental accompaniment, even if I've got an instrument handy. Sometimes it's to save the bother of taking it out and making sure it's in tune, but often enough it's because I think it works better without an accompaniment. Or sometimes, if most other people are singing unaccomnpanied, it can seem more in keeping, and better manners.

The only reason to play an accompaniment is if it means you sound better, and do the song more justice.

All too often an accompaniment can take the edge off the singing and smooth out the variation in the notes.   You need to know a song very well and have sung it a good few times before it's likely that you will sing it as well with an accompaniment, even though you might find it easier keeping in tune with the accompaniment, if that's a problem.

Singing is a natural thing to do, there's no need to make a performance out it, as the saying goes.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 02:27 PM

For me it was a combo of wanting to sing, not being able to play an instrument, and discovering err 'traditional' unaccompanied singing.. Doubt I'd get up and just sing solo in front of people, unless there was already an existing recognised convention for doing so.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Marje
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 02:35 PM

There are all sorts of reasons why singing has been unaccompanied in the past - unavailability of instruments or people to play them, communal singing or activities (work, marching) making accompaniment unnecessary, singing seen as an extension of story-telling, the need to focus on the words of a song (which can be undermined by an accompaniment), the fact that the voice is portable and always available wherever you go, to list just a few.

Today, people are much more likely to have the option of accompaniment - if you can't afford or can't play an instrument, you can probably find someone to accompany you if that's what you want. But many people still choose not to have an accompaniment, for some of the other reasons given above. If the song has an important story to tell and you really want people to listen to the words, unaccompanied singing can have a much greater impact. Also, some songs are best sung in a loose, flowing rhythm that defies accompaniment.

I think you'll find that in relgious observance, the voice, using singing to carry the words, is sometimes seen as a pure expression of the soul, whereas instrumental music and accompaniment can be seen as a dangerous distraction from worship. In the UK, the "higher" the church is (taking RC as the high point), the more likely it is to use lavish musical arrangments, sung masses etc, whereas the "lower" churches (e.g. Methodism, Baptists) will tend to use just a simple organ accompanimentexcept for special occasions, and try not to distract from the words being sung. Unaccompanied singing is just a step further in this direction.

That's a bit of a generalisaion, and just an idea to start you off, not a fully-fledged theory.

Marje


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 02:38 PM

The British tradition, with a tiny handful of exceptions, is an unnaccomanied one, because, I believe, it is a strictly narrative one.
There is no reason whatever why accompaniment shouldn't be used for folk songs - as long as that is what it does - accompany.
Too often the instrument is either too loud, so the words are lost to the listener, or too intrusive and distracts the attention.
There is an argument (Netl, I think) that a combination of song and crude instrumentation (even the sound of the work itself) accompanied some work songs; believable if you listen to Lomax's recording of convicts chopping wood.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Santa
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 03:02 PM

One point my wife has made is that verses in songs are often not simple repeats of the music, and this can cause problems with an inexpert accompanist. This is presumably linked to Jim's comment above about narrative, if not quite as far as Marje's free-flowing rythm that actually defies accompanyment.

I initially typed "deified", certainly not what was intended!


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: The Villan
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 03:21 PM

>>unaccompanied singing can have a much greater impact<<

Unfortunately it hasn't for me. Much prefer singers being accompanied. In all forms of music, i have always listened and bought music with instruments in.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 03:22 PM

Depends on the song for some of us. Mostly, I accompany myself on an instrument because I like the second "voice" in harmony or counterpoint. On some songs I want the words to stand alone, and on others, I like the freedom to phrase a song as I am feeling it without the meter of accompaniment. In gospel, I've become comfortable changing the meter to support my phrasing, rather than having my phrasing fit the meter.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Arkie
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 03:28 PM

In earlier times people were not bombarded with entertainment and they also seemed to enjoy a use of words and stories and to put to stories to tunes was a way of providing diversity. Songs were also used in work environments where instruments were not available.   A long day in the field could be made more pleasant with a song and if all workers joined in all the better.   Same in logging camps, at sea, in mines,etc. The rhythm of singing could be used to advantage when pulling oars, raising sails, moving heavy objects some distance,etc. Unaccompanied ballads and songs were also used when rocking a wee one to sleep or around the fire in an evening.

Some churches such as the Church of Christ do not permit musical instruments in worship due to their interpretation of scripture. Those churches often develop acapella music into a real art. I once conducted a funeral in a Christian Church and was told prior to the service that they did not allow music in their church. They did however sing several selections. I did not say anything but left in agreement that they did not allow music in their church. This was an exception. As a rule, I have enjoyed the singing in those churches.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Peace
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 03:28 PM

"Why do we sing unaccompanied?"

Bad body odor? Too much garlic?


I'm leaving now.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Goose Gander
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 03:29 PM

"I think you'll find that in religious observance, the voice, using singing to carry the words, is sometimes seen as a pure expression of the soul, whereas instrumental music and accompaniment can be seen as a dangerous distraction from worship."

I'm not sure it's always a high-'low' sort of thing. Compare the singing of Primitive Baptists to the music performed in Holiness and Pentecostal churches. The former eschew musical instruments, while the later use guitars and extensive rhythmic accompaniment including hand-clapping, etc. Neither would be considered 'high' church. Both are sincere expressions of faith and are valid in context.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: The Villan
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 03:32 PM

Mind you I do like doo whop and harmony groups, but not one person singing on their own unacompanied.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 03:35 PM

Listening to traditional song, as common story rendered in profoundly personal intimacy, I have grown to really appreciate the naked voice - or indeed the voice with the bare bones of drone. Possibly the only music to provoke tears for me - which I guess says something as to its potential potency, for myself at least. And I do think there is something of the sacred in it - though that itself is equally to do with nakedness and intimacy likewise.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Amos
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 03:52 PM

All bangos and catarrhs aside, the naked voice, as Crow Sister so beautifully calls it, is the very pennant of the living soul, the heart's own standard waving in the wind of a moment; and to hear it sing is an offering of such faith as to honor even the most occasional bystander.

This is so easy to overlook when you don't like the particular tunefulness or timbre of the voice; but these are shallow impediments to seeing something much more beautiful in the soul that has the courage to sing on its very own. Relish it. That's my point of view, anyway.


A


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 04:43 PM

REASONS:

1) To get to the other side! (of a ballad)

2) Because it was stapled to the chicken.

3) To avoid having to work with other people I hate.

4) In hopes the Taliban will see the error of their ways and join me in awesome 8-million voice harmony.

5) To keep others from leaving my folk group like Elvis did. (He died.)
Like Patti Page did. (She died too.)
Like the late Rosemary Clooney did as well.

Yes, as you might remember, we were called Presley, Page, Rosemary and Thieme when we played Newport in 1950.

Wonderful memories!! But that's why I sing unaccompanied.

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: GUEST,Bob Coltman
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 05:03 PM

This is hard to express, but let me try.

My prime reason for sometimes singing unaccompanied is to get free of the "cage" an instrument can put you in.

Maybe this is hard to imagine for generations that have grown to accept instrumental accompaniment as "necessary" and "better" ... generations that have learned to fill the spaces in a song the way you would fill a hole in the wall with plastic wood.

I say this as a lifetime picker who loves hot licks and pulsing rhythms of all sorts: there are songs that do better without instruments. There are also times when a song you usually accompany does better without an instrument.

Songs are like macrame ... the spaces are as meaningful as the notes.

The song has its own rhythm the bare voice can find. Listen to a really good rhythmic a capella singer like Horton Barker or Jimmy Macbeath—try to imagine ruining what they do with accompaniment.

A song's pacing may vary during a song. The bare voice can do this without sounding artificial, while doing it with an instrument can sound affected.

The sounds of the strings (or keys, or whatever) change a song. The rhythm ... or even if you use arhythm, still ... an instrument competes for space in the song. The song's own sound may benefit from accompaniment—but it may, on the other hand, become confused or obscured by an instrument.

Certain songs can be opened up in magical ways by liberating them from the guitar, banjo, what have you, and letting what someone above very appropriately called the "naked voice" prevail.

The opening up can happen in many ways. In particular, notes can be bent, stretched, held, allowed to fall to silence, all in ways an instrument impedes.

Ask the song what it thinks. Ask it how it would like to be sung. Some songs don't want accompaniment.

Bob


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Amos
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 05:13 PM

THe pun is unforgiveable, but the image of Presley, Page, Rosemary and Thieme singing at Newport I will cherish!!! "We Shall Overcome", "Going DOwn the Road" and other hits of 1950 : Muddy Waters' "Rollin' Stone",Lefty Frizzell's "If You've Got the Money (I've Got the Time)", Hank Snow's "I'm Movin' On", The Weavers' "Goodnight Irene", Nat King Cole's "Mona Lisa", Percy Mayfield's "Please Send Me Someone to Love", and Patti's own "Tennessee Waltz". Wotta set!! Wotta group!!!!



A


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 05:20 PM

A lady in a session at a *very* noisy pub - that I spoke to a wee while back - said she would sometimes utterly silence the pub, when delivering an unaccompanied song. The general session however, doesn't achieve this. There is something about a bare voice which commands (in the most unassertive way) attention. I wonder why?


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Goose Gander
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 05:22 PM

An unaccompanied voice is like a black-line drawing; it can be starkly effective in a way that a busier composition might not be.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Jack Blandiver
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 05:31 PM

Songs are like macrame

A telling simile for the folk demographic!


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 05:45 PM

...and songs & macrame -- is often like straw.

The last one is usually the best.

Art
(...the last straw...alas.)


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Crow Sister (off with the fairies)
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 05:49 PM

Macrame? I don't think I've met a soul who macrame's.
Though very faint memories of 'pot plant holders' imply someone must have been doing it..


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Genie
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 05:49 PM

Art Thieme, I think ya got it nailed! LOL

Here's why I sometimes prefer to sing a cappella:
- Instrument or instruments likely to drown me out
- (Singalong) - The group knows the words & melody but probably will be all over the place trying to play along on instruments
- I haven't mastered the kind of instrumental background that would enhance the song (e.g., I can't play an F#-diminished 7th-with a flatted 9th (or whatever fancy chord(s) I'd need)
- It's really a banjo song and I don't have one of those (and couldn't play it if I did)
- The instrumental accompaniment should be a flute and I didn't bring my floutist with me
- My fingers are bloody sore from playing for a couple hours already
- (Group singing) My harmonizing isn't limited by the chords the guitar or piano decides to play*

Here's when I HATE it when people sing with no accompaniment:
These all pertain to sing-alongs or other group singing
- The group has no idea what key we're singing in (and the first verse is loused up before we decide on one)
- The song leader has no sense of rhythm
OR
- The group can't or won't follow the timing of the song without some sort of instrument leading
-
- Some of the people singing don't really know the tune, so can't stay on it without hearing the chords



*This is especially important when just a few of us are doing harmony.   Way too often, when the guitars stick to a basic 1-4-5 chord pattern (for one example), it sounds fine for the melody but precludes a lot of really nice harmonies.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: George Papavgeris
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 06:35 PM

Some songs are meant to be sung unaccompanied, and would suffer if one tries to accompany them in any way.Greek and Turkish and Arabic and Indian tradition has several of those, and the British one has quite a few too. They often have either a very "lax" time signature and/or rhythm, or it varies so widely as to make accompaniment nonsensical. Try accompanying the Cornish Oxplough Song ("Come all you sweet charmers and give me choice, there's nothing to compare to the ploughboy's voice...").

Les, dust off my last album and listen to "One by One" and I think you'll see an example of a song that accompaniment can only spoil.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 06:46 PM

I like Bob's answer...ask the song. I think variety also has a hand in it. I just couldn't imagine accompaniment to Cyril Tawney's 'Sally Free and Easy' and yet I will accompany the odd shanty. Good harmony songs (Fathon the Bowl) generally don't need and can even be spoilt by accompaniment. Wouldn't dream of accompanying 'Barley Mow' but recently when I taught it to a bunch of 15-year-olds we were quite happy with a strummed guitar, and even when their teacher joined in with a vamp on a reed organ it went well.

Good question though...certainly gets you thinking.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 06:48 PM

Ask the song what it thinks. Ask it how it would like to be sung. Some songs don't want accompaniment.

Damn right. When I heard Anne Briggs's version of Blackwaterside, it took me about a day to learn the words and the tune; it then took me about two years to work out how to sing it (with a little help from Tony Rose's version). (For anyone who doesn't know it, Anne Briggs's version has guitar accompaniment in what I can only call a very square 4:4.) Unhooking a song from the framework of a metrically regular accompaniment, making it live as an unaccompanied song & then putting the rhythm back in - that to me is the real trick. (I'm working on Sheath and Knife at the moment, although it's a long job; at the moment it seems to want to be sung as a Scottish dance tune, rather like the Bacca Pipes Jig.)


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: GUEST,Gerry
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 06:48 PM

The original post raised the question of religious traditions. In traditional Jewish practice, it is forbidden to play instruments at Sabbath services, so all singing is unaccompanied (and by men only, but that's another story).


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 07:14 PM

In some traditions like those of Aboriginal Australia, instruments have specific sacred associations, like being the "voice" of theriomorphic totemic deities. You don't sing along with God and expect Him to like it. It's not just the human voice that might be placed in a sphere of sacred isolation.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 07:31 PM

...and it occurs to me that we have a similar example in Anglo-American culture, due to the sacralization of military ceremony: nobody accompanies songs with the bugle. The reason being that the solo bugle has the status of a holy instrument in military-religious ceremonies like those that commemorate dead soldiers, so people don't join in and sing along with the Last Post.

It's not that their voices are considered sacred, it's that compared to what is effectively the incarnate voice of the God of War speaking from his throne in the cenotaphs, they aren't.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: BobKnight
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 08:14 PM

You need to have a look/listen to the singing of a congregation of the Scottish Free Church. (Mainly in the Western Isles) They sing unaccompanied, with a "precentor" leading the lines, and the congregation joining in. Sounds quite hair-raising!!


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Ron Davies
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 09:08 PM

I think Bob Coltman has it. Singing unaccompanied frees you as nothing else in music can.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 09:13 PM

I used to sing Gregorian Chant in school, usually with an organ accompaniment. Sometimes, the accompaniment worked well, but often it was too loud.
Now I'm in a Gregoian choir that takes a much more artistic approach to the music, and we sing a cappella. It's sheer pleasure.

There are times when it's my turn to do a song in song circles and I feel I'm being led by some alpha male with a guitar, and I don't like it. Accompaniment works best when it accompanies music - not why it drags it along by the ears. I hate being tied to the rigid rhythms of a beginner guitarist. Now, if I had DADGBE or Rick Fielding as an accompanist, I'd want a guitar playing with me all the time.

-Joe, who can't play guitar-
(I tried, for years)


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 09:34 PM

Ewan Mac Rame was a famous al capone, er, al capella unaccompanied guy singer from Scotland, we thought, until folks realized he was really a British Miller. Sticking his fingers in his ears so he could hear himself better became a fetish trademark of sorts until he ruptured/destroyed both eardrums.

Oh, the humanity.


(It's not the heat; it's the humanity!)
Art!


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 09:46 PM

But seriously folks:

If you want to hear a fabulous unaccompanied singer who has a fine voice, can do marvelous and enthralling big ballads, as well as lighter entertaining fare that can entertain kids/drunks admirably, please, listen to JUDY COOK whenever she comes to your area. She has all the right instincts!!!

And Judy goes that extra mile to find graphically mesmerizing ballads with truly vivid and quite different topics and story lines; especially the ones she was nice enough, and bright enough, to take from my singing now that I'm not hoarding them away.

I really mean this!!

Art


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Fergie
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 09:46 PM

Hi all

Just back home from the Góilín Club - the grand-daddy of all singers' clubs. There were about sixty people there, most of them were musicians or could play music: accordian, banjo, concertina, drums, eukelele, fiddle, guitar, harmonica, etc, etc, but not one of them had a musical instrument with them, they came to sing and to hear the purest musical instrument of them all: the unaccompanied human voice. It was a joy to be there, the living emotion and raw power of the singers and the songs is still twisting and turning within my heart and mind. One note from the most musical of artificial musical instruments would have lessened the experience. Long may the Góilín tradition and magic continue.

Fergus in Dublin


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 10:49 PM

Some songs work better without instruments; some don't. Not to mention that, for many people, it's easier to learn to play an intrument than to sing, and they never give up that crutch.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Janie
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 11:32 PM

The United Baptist church (just a bit more primitive than primitive baptists) my grandfather grew up in, and later centered his life around, eschewed the use of musical instruments to accompany the voice. I grew up to the sound of his wonderful mountain voice singing a capella hymns, or to his clear and accomplished whistling as he tended his bees and his garden.

I sing a capella because I don't have the confidence to ask and expect instrumentalists to play for me and adapt and arrange to my voice and key, but most of what I sing is music that is usually accompanied.

But I also love a capella voices and song, whether it be a ballad singer, a street corner group of guys or gals singing doo wop with richly layered harmonies. an individual, duo or group singing work songs and chanties, or high church latin chants.

The human voice is a lovely emotive and evocative instrument, accompanied or not by musical instruments.   We sing unaccompanied for many, many reasons. Just as we sing accompanied for many, many reasons.

It is all good. It is all the expression of who we are as individuals and of what we are as a species.

(and I just realized that my response might sound like I think you are challenging the worth of a capella music.   I don't think that at all. It is all good.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: maire-aine
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 11:40 PM

I came across this from an interview recorded by Alan Lomax some time in the 1950's with Irish street singer Margaret Barry, found on "Margaret Barry: I Sang Through the Fairs" on Rounder Records:

"It's actually what you call a 'sociable'. In houses they carry on like that. Because they love that sort of life—the dance you see. It's what they call a house-ceilidh. A house-ceilidh.
And of course, it's only natural enough, it's never without a drink.

[We'd] be playing all the time and singing, and [we'd] get a little rest around ten o'clock—just a little rest in between. And a little bit of supper. And if there was room in the place around—take away the furniture and tables and the whole lot—and just start off playing and dancing until one o'clock in the morning.

Oh, yes. Then while [we'd] be getting a little refreshment, well they'd all have a recitation. Some of them would be able to sing, and more of them couldn't sing; they'd have to say something, because that's the sort of a place it is around here. Everybody has to do a turn, while [the musicians were] getting this little bit of a feast, whatever time it would be. And then [we'd] start on playing again."

People sang to fill in the gap while the musicians were otherwise occupied.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 11 Sep 09 - 11:50 PM

Why do we sing accompanied?

How come lectures don't have guitars strumming along?

When a poem is recited, must it have instruments, too?

And when I am speaking, I am communicating with language in a certain intonational pattern. Does that require instruments?

My point is that singing (of actual language, not vocables or scat) is an extension of linguistic expression. It could even be thought of as one mode or register of speech, albeit one that is intoned more dramatically. "Song" (i.e. versus "lecture", etc) tends to be distinguished by the form of the text: verse.

Poetry is (often) verse. It is not surprising that in many poetic traditions, a "recitation" of poetry means doing what most would call singing. Take India as an example, where most poetry is customarily sung as a matter of course. I'm sure this was the case at cetain stages/places with English verse, too (others could say more).

Also note that in the Indian system (as lots of others), a "song" is first and foremost categorized as falling under "literature" -- in the broad sense that includes "verse" -- NOT "music" per se.

So I suggest we think of singing as a textual expression, heightened (for whatever motivation) by more distinct rhythm and pitch contours -- that is, RATHER THAN music minus instruments!

In many societies, there is a clear distinction between what it means to sing and what it means to play an instrument. For example, in a music culture with which I am very familiar, northwest India, women don't customarily play instruments. It is not their gender role to do so. That would be performing "music," which is an act fraught with many conditions and assumptions. However, women do sing-- many many more traditional songs than men in fact. That is "singing." You find a similar split between "amateurs" and "professionals"; instruments are tools, not to be used by amateurs, while on the other hand everybody can and does sing. There are also sacred vs. profane distinctions, mostly related to that fact that, again, instruments spell "music" (which may be considered inappropriate in many religious contexts) while singing (unaccompanied) is innocuous.

Quranic chant, the Islamic call to prayer, etc, mentioned by the OP, are famous examples of non-music -- despite that cultural outsiders may perceive them as "music". Rather, the text is being intoned or chanted. There are many reasons to do that, least of which (as with many ballads, too) the melody aids in memorization of long texts.

Accompanied singing often has a different style and form from unaccompanied -- it's not just that you subtract instruments and you get "unaccompanied singing"! For instance, most songs that are "meant to be" (*debatably) sung unaccompanied will clearly show their rhythm in the melody, while other kinds of songs have melodies that complement instrumental parts (and would thus sound silly unaccompanied). The majority of pop songs today, for example, seem to wait until after the first beat of the measure before you hear singing start; you hear the instruments hit the downbeat first. This is probably the legacy of genres like jazz, r 'n' b, rock n roll, etc., that had that sort of rhythmic sensibility, meant to be played with drums or other rhythmic instruments and perhaps danced to.

Just listen to what we often code as a (English lang.) "folk" song versus a pop song and you'll see that the "folk" song carries its own meter. IMHO, a lot of those songs don't need any instrumental accompaniment, and it is partly there because people had developed this sort of fetish of carrying an instrument...something iconic about it. I remember seeing Pete Seeger interacting on his old TV show with an African-American woman singer (I forget who)...She was singing folk songs that obviously took no accompaniment, but there was Pete, nosing around on the banjo.   Again, only my biased suspicion, but I think it became a "thing" for revival-folkies to carry instruments as a sheriff carries a gun...and it is sometimes hard for people to break away from that and consider WHY they are singing, WHAT it really means to be communicating in that mode, and whether they are a "musical entertainer" or someone who merely sings...just because it's what humans do.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 12 Sep 09 - 12:26 AM

Yes - but Margaret Barry, the Irish street singer whose interview with Alan Lomax is ref'd a couple of threads back, invariably sang to her own banjo accompaniment; I knew her at the time and never heard her sing unaccompanied.

She is also the one, btw, who introduced 'She Moved Thru The Fair' into the folkie repertoire so we were ALL singing it in the late 50s. Then, asked in another interview [Karl Dallas, I think] where she had got it - family? fellow-traveller? - she replied cheerfully "Oh no; I learned it from a gramophone record by Count John McCormack".

Maybe this last bit should have gone on the Folk Process thread... Think I'll copy it there too.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Genie
Date: 12 Sep 09 - 12:57 AM

Listen to Kate Wolf's song "The Lilac and the Apple Tree" and then tell me if you think that song needs anything but Kate's voice.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Genie
Date: 12 Sep 09 - 01:10 AM

Then again, some songs (e.g., a lot of contemporary American pop and rock "songs") consist as much of instrumental (ncluding percussive) riffs as they do lyrics and melody. If sung a cappella, sans percussion, there would be fairly glaring gaps that would probably be tedious.

But I would submit that the human voice can and often does substitute for instrumental parts, including percussion. A cappella groups can be very impressive in that regard.

I do understand, though, that some traditions call for instruments only or voice only.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 12 Sep 09 - 02:16 AM

It depends on the song & how one perceives it. Some can be optional, how you are feeling at the time [cf my comment a bit back about asking Ewan MacColl about Eppie Morrie]. The Anti-War thread has just put me back in mind of Eric Bogle's masterpiece, which, like all of us, I used to accompany when it first came out. But I have been trying it, just to myself, unaccompanied - even with the occasional spoken bit, cante-fable style: & have come to think that un- is really the way that one should be sung.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: The Villan
Date: 12 Sep 09 - 02:59 AM

>>Les, dust off my last album and listen to "One by One" and I think you'll see an example of a song that accompaniment can only spoil<<

I don't have it George. However I do not like a capella by one person.

I do like harmony.

>>Listen to Kate Wolf's song "The Lilac and the Apple Tree" and then tell me if you think that song needs anything but Kate's voice. <<

Does nothing for me Genie. I prefer her songs accompanied.

Good job we don't all have the same tastes, otherwise it would be boring.

However I do like these

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YiD0h9eEsXg&eurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Efolkradio%2Eco%2Euk%2Fforum%2Flittle%2Dpot%2Dstove%2Dmusic%2D

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4egb2gpIg4&eurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Efolkradio%2Eco%2Euk%2Fforum%2Flittle%2Dpot%2Dstove%2Dmusic%2D


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