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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
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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
Jim Carroll 12 Sep 09 - 03:33 AM
Jack Campin 12 Sep 09 - 03:50 AM
MGM·Lion 12 Sep 09 - 06:23 AM
Severn 12 Sep 09 - 08:54 AM
dick greenhaus 12 Sep 09 - 09:19 AM
Lighter 12 Sep 09 - 09:30 AM
Darowyn 12 Sep 09 - 03:29 PM
Genie 15 Sep 09 - 03:20 AM
Crowdercref 15 Sep 09 - 06:27 AM
GUEST,Mr Red 15 Sep 09 - 07:38 AM
The Villan 15 Sep 09 - 08:05 AM
TenorTwo 15 Sep 09 - 08:36 AM
GUEST,Mike 15 Sep 09 - 08:49 AM
muppett 15 Sep 09 - 09:41 AM
The Sandman 15 Sep 09 - 01:54 PM
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Liberty Boy 06 Oct 09 - 02:30 AM
Roger the Skiffler 06 Oct 09 - 05:39 AM
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skipy 06 Oct 09 - 05:43 PM
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the lemonade lady 09 Oct 09 - 07:22 PM
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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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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 12 Sep 09 - 03:33 AM

"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"
Margaret Barry's, as well as several other Travellers' styles of performance, was directly related to the fact that she was a street singer. The instrument was there to grab the attention of the punter in a public, and quite often noisy place. It was not, as far as we could make out, common practice for them to sing accompanied.
One Traveller we recorded who also sang in the street, to sell ballad sheets, (not with an instrument) described how he adapted his style to the length of the street in order to fit the song into the duration of his walk. He made a distinction between this type of performance and what he called 'fireside singing', that done at home among a handful of friends and family.
I am convinced that what is often referred to as the 'tinkers' style', particularly among women, is a result of the commercial side of singing.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 12 Sep 09 - 03:50 AM

The sort of points Gibb Sahib was making about "non-music" are expanded at book length in Hiromi Lorraine Sakata, Music in the Mind: the Concepts of Music and Musician in Afghanistan, Smithsonian Institution Press, 2002. It can get very complicated.

The American national anthem is often sung unaccompanied. The British one never is, though sports anthems with similar emotional significance to the US anthem (in their usual performance context) may be - "Flower of Scotland" or "You'll Never Walk Alone".


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 12 Sep 09 - 06:23 AM

Except that, increasingly, esp at internationals, the British Anthem, as well as its initial playing as part of the opening ceremony, gets belted out as part of the crowd's general singalong. Not long ago such a manifestation would have been headshaken & tut-tutted out of existence; but nobody seems particularly bothered nowadays. Is this part of an overall national degeneracy & decay, or a sign of a freer, less hidebound society, I wonder?


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Severn
Date: 12 Sep 09 - 08:54 AM

Why without instruments, you ask? Why should we stoop solo?

As I've said before, in the end, a person is judged by the unaccompany they keep......


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 12 Sep 09 - 09:19 AM

To add, an awful lot of singers who accompany themselves shouldn't. An accompaniment is supposed to add to the musical experience---which a helluva lot of guitar slamming generally dowsn't.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Lighter
Date: 12 Sep 09 - 09:30 AM

Even more basic than some of the other excellent answers:

A suitable instrument (i.e., not a pennywhistle) was not always handy when people wanted to sing. Assuming, before the ethnically/regionally limited introduction of the home-made banjo, they could afford one.

Revivalists sing unaccompanied partly because they want to identify themselves with archaic traditions.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Darowyn
Date: 12 Sep 09 - 03:29 PM

In my own case, because I'm riding my motorbike at the time, and no instrument that I can play is compatible with a device that uses both hands and both feet.
Cheeers
Dave


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Genie
Date: 15 Sep 09 - 03:20 AM

Ouch, Severn!
Just OUCH! ; D

But serially, fo'ks,
Villan may prefer Kate Wolf's accompanied songs (usually accompanied by the fantastic Nina Gerber, no less) to her a cappella "Lilac Bush and Apple Tree," but does that mean that particular song would sound better with, say, guitar backup?

The two YouTubes you linked to, Villan, I think well exemplify how some performances really need nothing more than really good human voices.

And I'd submit yet another:
Old Dollar Mammy: Barry Finn

Anyone really think Barry needs a instrumennal backup fer this 'un?

I don't.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Crowdercref
Date: 15 Sep 09 - 06:27 AM

Your question is a good one. A simple answer will be inadequate. Here goes!
In Cornwall in about 1800 the travelling folksinger and storyteller Anthony James sang and accompanied himself on the fiddle. But he was the exception. Whilst there were many village musicians who played fiddles, fifes etc, at that level in society there were not then very many 'accompanying' type instruments. At a vernacular level such instruments seem to be a 19th century phenomenon.
The practice of accompaniment in art music certainly existed in Elizabethan times and earlier. But this was principally high status music and was probably less true of vernacular music, just for economic reasons.
There is evidence to suggest instrumental 'doubling' of melodies in 12th and 13th century church music, some of which also had secular lyrics.
In Brythonic areas, principally Wales, the skill of accompanying was highly valued. From the 15th century (and probably a lot earlier) harpers and crouthers accompanied poetry and song.
Subjectively I feel that now we are subject to quite a lot of 'folk fashionable' perceptions based on the experience of the folk revival and, quite rightly, on personal preference.
Hmm. Don't know if that helps or not!
All the best
Crowdercref


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: GUEST,Mr Red
Date: 15 Sep 09 - 07:38 AM

Because we can.

or in my case it all started when the wife left home, and I daren't stop in case the magic wears off.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: The Villan
Date: 15 Sep 09 - 08:05 AM

Have you heard the banjo player !!!! :-)


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: TenorTwo
Date: 15 Sep 09 - 08:36 AM

Reason is pretty simple, really - and I quote from my band's website (don't ask me to do a blue clicky, I always foul them up):

we eventually came to the conclusion that WITH the instruments, we sounded like everybody else — WITHOUT them, we sounded like us and, on the whole, we preferred it that way

and, somewhat to our surprise and considerable delight, so do other people!

T2


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: GUEST,Mike
Date: 15 Sep 09 - 08:49 AM

I first started singing unaccompanied when I was four years old.

We had an outside toilet and we were not allowed to lock the toilet door on the inside whilst we did what we had to do. In case we could not unlock it again and became stuck

It was a case of holding onto the door and singing so if anyone else wanted to use the toliet they knew someone was inside.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: muppett
Date: 15 Sep 09 - 09:41 AM

The Reason I sing unaccompanied include the following;

I don't have to cart around heavy and cumbersome instruments in cases around festivals, which mean I can squeeze in and grab a seat in the sing around sessions.

I don't have to waste too much time doing sound checks, when I get gigs.

I don't have to tune up, though many folk do say I do sing in obscure keys.

I don't have to pay a fortune on forking out on instruments and their upkeep.

And finally it's like Martini, I can do it any time, any place, any where.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: The Sandman
Date: 15 Sep 09 - 01:54 PM

most singers[in my experience] sing at their best when singing unaccompanied.
one reason is that they only have one skill to concentrate upon,
The solo voice CAN have complete freedom rhythmically.
wehy do i do it,because I enjoy it.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: seligmanson
Date: 15 Sep 09 - 05:00 PM

Simple: We sing unaccompanied when it suits us to do so. Since in traditional culture singing was a common accomplishment, it could happen anywhere. Singing happened at work or during periods of leisure, in or out of the company of other people. It developed quite naturally as a perfectly self-sufficient activity, as therefore did the composition of songs, which was and is a very private matter. Accordingly the great majority of songs are also self-sufficient, fitted to be sung unaccompanied. This has never excluded the possibility of being accompanied. In the British tradition there is a wide range of instruments used as solo, as ensemble, and as voice-accompanying instruments, and accompanied singing as as likely to take place on social and on private occasions as unaccompanied. The point is that, because of the way songs are formulated, in complete contrast to modern pop-songs, accompaniment is a choice, not a necessity; and many singers, such as myself, choose not to accompany many of the songs we sing, because, according to our taste, these particular songs require the kind of concentration and intensity that providing an accompaniment would make impossible. It's an aesthetic judgment. Also, we should not forget that there have been periods in our history when many individuals would through poverty or persecution be deprived of the opportunity to own any instrument except one: the voice.(By the way, Hello Jim C.: from Dick - Richard these days - Snell)


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Tootler
Date: 15 Sep 09 - 05:03 PM

"The solo voice CAN have complete freedom rhythmically"

A very important point. Variation in tempo is an important tool in interpreting a song and can be used very effectively to give emphasis where it is needed.

Even if you are singing strictly to written words and tune, you can make it your own by the use of tools like vocal decoration and varying the tempo to convey the meaning of the words as you understand them.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: semi-submersible
Date: 16 Sep 09 - 03:06 AM

Gibb Sahib asked:
"How come lectures don't have guitars strumming along?"

In recent years around the world you may see a small but increasing number of doctoral theses being defended by dissertations presented in song or dance! (I think this is a good sign - but of what, exactly, I'm not sure.)


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Penny S.
Date: 16 Sep 09 - 07:45 AM

I sing unaccompanied because my guitar playing isn't what it was, and what it was wasn't up to what others are playing. Some of what I sing is better a capella, I think. Some could do with something, but I have no idea what keys I am singing in, and so people cannot join in. I think that it leads to lack of variation, even if I do vary tempos and moods. A problem.

Penny


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: TopcatBanjo
Date: 16 Sep 09 - 08:19 AM

I am involved in Sacred Harp singing which is a tradition from the Southern USA (and New England) but which has now become popular in several other countries including the UK - where we have a small but very enthusiastic group of singers! Sacred Harp (referring to the human voice but also the hymn book of the same name from 1844)is four-part unaccompanied harmony and personally I find it a very powerful and spine-tingling musical form. It is very much a participation rather than a performance thing and it is all about belting it out in full-throated voice rather than the more controlled style of a choir. To my shame I don't know that much about the reasons for singing unaccompanied but I believe that Sacred Harp traces its origins to Britain and possibly especially to the Western Isles tradition that has been mentioned above.

If the OP wants more info on Sacred Harp, check out this site:

http://fasola.org/


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Morris-ey
Date: 16 Sep 09 - 08:42 AM

People originally sang unaccompanied because there were no "musical" instruments (drums don't count); when there were musical instruments many could not afford them or had not the skill to play; nowadays it seems more a matter of choice or you have no mates who can play.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: silverfish
Date: 16 Sep 09 - 01:27 PM

I prefer to sing with me mates than to play with me mates...
I can perform whilst holding a pint...
I can take more liberties with timing and rhythmn if I feel like it...
I don't sing unaccompanied when I can't remember the words or don't know the tune or want to extend my time as the centre of attention!


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: GUEST,callingbird
Date: 16 Sep 09 - 02:26 PM

I sing unaccompanied because I like too. I can give my whole attention to the lyrics and the atmosphere of the song.

I never perform whilst 'holding a pint' but do whilst holding a glass of red wine and taking liberties with timing and rhythmn is exciting. Especially if some plonker desides they wants to join in with guitar, whistle etc.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: GUEST,Teribus
Date: 17 Sep 09 - 10:26 AM

"Why do we sing unaccompanied?" - Because we, or at least some can.

Early working songs meant that they had to be sung unaccompanied because those working were using both hands as they worked.

It is downright bloody annoying to start into a song and have somebody attempt to accompany you who does not know how you sing the song and them attempts imposes their "version" of the song on the singer.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Tim Leaning
Date: 17 Sep 09 - 11:47 AM

If you sing unaccompanied You are on yer own mate.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: FairEllender
Date: 20 Sep 09 - 10:28 AM

Bob Colman pretty much sums it up for me, and I liked Bob Knight's example of Gaelic psalm singing - some of the most incredible sounds I have ever heard come from the human voice alone. To quote Busoni on the potential the human voice has: 'We have divided the octave into twelve equidistant degrees, because we had to manage somehow, and have constructed our instruments in such a way that we can never get in above or below or between them...Yet Nature created an infinite gradation - infinite! Who still knows it nowadays?'
The voice is capable of doing absolutely anything with timbre, scales and rhythm, to which an accompanying instrument cannot always be sympathetic. (One of my absolute bugbears is instrumentalists trying desperately to accompany a song which is simply not meant for accompaniment - e.g. a sean-nos song or ballad that follows no set rhythm - as if acappella singing has somehow deemed to be lacking in some way!)

For me, unaccompanied singing, listening to it or doing it, has a power that nothing else can equal. This point has been made earlier, but I have often noticed in slightly noisy pub sessions that an acappella singer can totally silence a room while those singing with instruments often get talked over. Now of course this is very unfair on the instrumentalist, but I think it highlights the innate power that the naked voice can have. It is certainly one of the main draws for me that Whittlebury has over many other festivals.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: seligmanson
Date: 04 Oct 09 - 05:47 PM

Tim Leaning 17 Sep 09. Any chance of you explaining your comment? Was it a joke? Or was it a snide comment? I'm presuming that as it is such a poor joke, you couldn't have meant it as one, so it must be the snide comment. If so, do you think you could explain precisely what you have against one of the human species' most ancient and popular means of musical expression? Are you suggesting that because YOU can't see the point of it then it doesn't have a point? That's a fairly arrogant view, isn't it? Or do you have the musical knowledge to back it up? What do you say, Tim?


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Herga Kitty
Date: 04 Oct 09 - 05:52 PM

It was a tautology, wasn't it - if you're unaccompanied you're on your own?

If anyone would like to acquire a copy of our a capella CD, called "The Sound of Singing", with sleeve notes explaining why we sing unaccompanied by instruments, please PM me...


Kitty


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Herga Kitty
Date: 04 Oct 09 - 05:54 PM

Forgot to say, the CD includes a song written by Crowdercref too!

Kitty


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: GUEST
Date: 05 Oct 09 - 12:12 AM

Years ago my professor in music appreciation 101 said the all great musicians were frustrated singers. wonder if it's true?


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Georgiansilver
Date: 05 Oct 09 - 02:21 AM

Seligmanson... I guess you wee a bit of colour or a bit 'touchy' when you had a go at Tim Leaning... it was so obviously a joke and I thought not a bad one at that....... certainly not something I would have questioned.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Mr Happy
Date: 05 Oct 09 - 08:13 AM

From a personal perspective, I feel some kinds of songs lend themselves more to unaccompanied performance & if accompanied detracts/ interferes with the sentiment/ message/ phrasing of the piece.

I like to perform stuff of all shades either accompanied or otherwise from trad folk, old pop, rock, diddly-diddly tunes seshes or w.h.y. - but I can get a little miffed if when doing something like 'Pleasant & Delightful' - some 'ignoramus' may start plonking away on guitar or even worse random rattling eggs, spoons, bashing bodrhans to the extent I'll just stop & sulk & glare at them politely request they desist & qualify why.

Guess I'm not alone in this position? Anyone?


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: seligmanson
Date: 05 Oct 09 - 12:00 PM

georgiansilver: Well, the truth is I am a bit touchy about jokes such as Time Leaning's, rightly or wrongly. I have had too much experience of people laughing at singers such as myself who prefer to sing unaccompanied. You must have heard them; even after so many years they still go on: the ones where we are described as jumper- and sandal-wearing communist beardies who stick our fingers in our ears and wail incomprehensibly (yes, I have actually had to face some-one imitating in what they thought was a satirical manner their own idea of what my singing sounds like, before they'd even heard me - if they were members of the BNP taking the mick out Muslims at prayer they couldn't have been more insulting, and I kind of let them know it). The fact is that the majority of people in this country have been educated by the mass-media, and by the education system - I was a teacher for twenty-five years,so I know - to ignore, even despise, its native musical traditions. Thankfully, at least in my experience,the great majority of people who discover them for the first time are immediately appreciative, even enthusiastic; but of course,some aren't. One reason for that is they simply don't like what they're hearing, which is fair enough, can't complain about that. But the other reason (and I base this on my long experience of folk-clubs, sessions, morris-dancing and so on) is that many who'd liketo get involved soon learn through hard experience that a significant number of the people who inhabit the world of 'folk' music are profoundly insular, turning their backs (all too often quite literally at many of the pub-sessions I have been to) on any-one who isn't part of that world, and all too ready to openly slag off other performers who don't match up to their idea of what's hot and what's not. So yes, I'm sensitive to jokes such as Tim Leaning's, and whether my comment was appropriate or not is moot: but I hope you can appreciate where that sensitivity comes from. Ta.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Tootler
Date: 05 Oct 09 - 05:21 PM

I think you are being oversensitive, seligmanson. Your description does not match my experience of the folk world which is much closer to that of this thread

Furthermore, the two times I have sung an unaccompanied song outside of a regular folk venue, I have been well received. People have even expressed admiration at my willingness to expose myself in that way. Not I felt I was doing anything special, just doing what most people do at the folk clubs I go to every week.

The people who make the type of negative comments you describe are generally those whose opinions I do not value anyway.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Georgiansilver
Date: 06 Oct 09 - 12:09 AM

seligmanson... Beware of loss of sense of humour ..... as taking everything personally makes for becoming a grumpy old person!!!!!! Life is such fun.. and variety, especially on the Folk Circuit..... you only live once and critics are always around... live with it and them... they will respect the person.. and maybe not the singing or performing.. (or they might respect those as well if you are fortunate)
Enjoy your life!!!
Best wishes, Mike.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: GUEST,Peace
Date: 06 Oct 09 - 02:18 AM

Tim hasn't got a mean streak in him. He was joking. I agree with GS: not bad, either.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Liberty Boy
Date: 06 Oct 09 - 02:30 AM

Why do we sing unaccompanied? Because we always have, and enjoy it! It's simple really.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Roger the Skiffler
Date: 06 Oct 09 - 05:39 AM

In my case it is partly that no-one can work out what the hell key I sing in;partly beacause I don't play a tuneable instrument and partly because no-one stays around long once I start.

RtS


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Rowan
Date: 06 Oct 09 - 04:59 PM

Bob Coltman's post put my position rather well. There are some songs I sing (and have heard sung by others), that become diminished if sung by more than one person at a time. "My old black billy" is one such (although I have enjoyed Mike and Tony harmonising the chorus) and it's very difficult to prevent such songs as "The streets of Forbes" becoming truly awful when accompanied by instruments. But there are also songs that, to me, beg for harmonising by voices only and suffer when instruments are employed; those who've heard Coope, Boyes and Simpson, or the Spooky Men's Chorale will have heard examples. I appreciate the arguments for not singing to the "Last Post" (which I've always understood to be a bugle call rather than a song) or "Taps" (the US equivalent, for which there are words) and echo Joe's comments about not using instrumental accompaniment to Gregorian chant. I've yet to discern any "sacredisation" (or equivalent) of voice-only singing, though.

I'd extend the notion that some vocalisations are best left without unnecessary ornamentation, so to speak. Oz has a tradition of bush poetry and prose recitation, probably inherited from the British Isles; I'm not sure how much of that tradition is shared by US contexts. Many poems that originated as recitations have been ornamented by having tunes applied or written for them, as that seems to satisfy some modern tastes, as well as satisfying the needs of those who wish to perform them but aren't satisfied with the power of the naked words, or perhaps they're not satisfied with their ability to convey that power without a tune.

Lots of songwriters have regarded Henry Lawson's poems as fair game but, to me, most have lost much of their power by being sung rather than recited. Often the tune forces its rhythm, overriding the freer phrasing that recitation allows. In the hands of a sensitive performer this can be overcome (Cathy O'Sullivan's "Deeper Down", Lawson's poem of sinking artesian bores is an excellent example of how a poem can work well with a tune) but all too often the music (for me) distracts from the poem rather than augments its power.

The metaphor of graphic images, alluded to above, is interesting. Some images need full colour and some songs require arrangement of much instrumentation. Some images, such as Arnhem Land rock art and bark paintings require a (comparatively) subdued palette. Traditionally, that was all that was available, although Nourlangie and the Desert Mob show what happens when choice is widened; some instrumental and a capella harmonisations are similar. Some photographic images work best in black and white the way some songs work best as solo voice pieces. And, the way some purely line images (black on white or vice versa) starkly and sublimely convey their power, so can the spoken voice; Emmet's speech before his sentencing, or Lincoln's Gettyburg address are two excellent examples.

But, to each their own.

Cheers, Rowan


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: skipy
Date: 06 Oct 09 - 05:43 PM

Well, I for one would love too! but many of my "friends" in the folk world have kicked the shit out of me for trying too! Others have suported me, but on avearage I am too scared to sing, the flashbacks are to painful. A very good friend of mine just 2 weeks ago tried to "coral" me into a sing around, he meant well without a doubt, but that has probably set me back a year or two & at my age I am running out of years! Banbury is looming on the horizon, but I will not be welcome at the mudgather & that hurts! I am not welcome because I am a smoker, but I would not smoke in the venue. I am not a singer but most of you have no idea at all how much I want to be one


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Herga Kitty
Date: 06 Oct 09 - 06:02 PM

Skipy - yes, you are a singer, and I hope to hear you singing at Banbury!

Kitty


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: seligmanson
Date: 07 Oct 09 - 11:51 AM

Thank you Skippy for making my point for me, albeit unwittingly. Those of you accusing me of lacking a sense of humour missed that point by a mile. I get plenty of respect for my music thank you very much from people outside the 'folk'-scene, one of the reasons being that I treat them with respect. Sadly, my experience is that, for every hundred individuals in the 'folk' world who love the music and are willing to share it with anybody anywhere and anytime, there are five who have no respect, who love riding around on high horses criticising everything they even slightly disapprove of, especially the following: performers who don't meet their high critical standards (regardless of whether they themselves do or not - usually not), clubs which suffer the terrible disadvantage of not being their club, and - most offensively - any-one new to the music who'd like to have a go at it. I have known too may people who have gone to clubs and sessions once who have told me that they will never go again, having been embarrassed by the off-handedness with which they have been treated by the organisers. You can decide: are you involved in this music just to please yourselves? Fine,that's a reasonable choice, have fun: the chances are you'll make welcome any-one you meet who'd like a go at it, and you'll serve a wider purpose without even trying. Or have you chosen to make a specific effort to involve people in spontaneous music-making of a kind the mass-media specifically excludes them from? That too is a reasonable choice, if you can do it without patronising those people or having expectations of them they can't or don't want to meet. Sadly in this regard, I have known too many organisers who have taken steps to encourage local people to be involved in their activities, and, when they have failed, have blamed the locals for their apathetic attitude rather than question their own approach. This is the subject of another discussion: my point is that there is a tribalism in the folk-scene which forbids many performers and organisers from respecting any-one who comes to them from outside their charmed circle. That's why there is so much backbiting and backstabbing around, and good luck to you if you haven't come across any: it's driven many good people away. It's hardly surprising then that the music receives so little support from any-one else, and we fool ourselves if we believe that what we do, simply because a lot of us do it, is truely popular. It isn't: the vast majority of the population have little or no idea of what goes on with us. You only have to look at the T.V. and radio schedules, the newspaper's arts pages, the average music shop, and the newsagent's magazine racks to know that, not to mention the school curriculum and the karaoke pubs; and it's as much our own fault as the mass-media's for letting the folkie snobs who love to exploit the music for their own ends stand between it and its natural audience, who usually appreciate it and make something of it once they know what the music's really about,namely, people like themselves. It's ignorance which breeds the kind of mockery I complained of before (not Tim Leaning's joke, the other stuff), and that ignorance generally comes from two sources: misrepresentation by the media and our own unwillingness to represent ourselves to the public in a way that means something to it. Now if that's not important to you, then all of this is meaningless; but for many of us it is important, and we ought to give it some real, constructive, thought. I'm finally done: I'm sorry if this particularly bitter flow of bile strikes you as humourless, but then on this occasion I wasn't trying to be funny. Perhaps some-one could start a strand, if it hasn't already been started: the best and worst folkie jokes. Meanwhile - Skippy:go ahead, do what you want, don't let any-one stop you; learn the most important lesson that unaccompanied singing has to teach- the art of enjoying the sound of your own voice,the only musical instrument that no-one ever has to have made for them or pay for.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: MuddleC
Date: 07 Oct 09 - 04:42 PM

I sing unaccompanied because there are instrumental numbers that don't require words, sometimes the words don't even matter, take Enya, or Scots Gaelic 'mouth-music'.

I also sing unaccompanied because it doesn't take up limited seating space with guitar cases ... if you have a decent singing voice use it, avoid pubs with carpets and heavy curtains.. there's no 'fold-back' as the mixing Engineer would say, and the song is acoustically flat....
I remember going to see Kate Rusby in the early days, her voice stood out, then later she added 'the wall of sound', I really went to her concerts for the odd 'minimalist' numbers she did, on some of the numbers she was drowned out.. but then it was a band and they all had to display their various instrumental talents and have a 'sess'..
... You can't do a wall-of-sound number with one voice, and a one voice number shouldn't have a wall-of-sound..... if you listen very hard, the song will come to you at last....


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: JHW
Date: 08 Oct 09 - 03:28 PM

Folk Singers Do It Unaccompanied


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: synbyn
Date: 09 Oct 09 - 11:26 AM

To each song, respect... even in the sessions in pubs where the folk session is once a month and therefore the audience is half locals who expect to be able to chat in their own pub, a single voice commands attention. It occurs so often, and when the instruments return, so does the conversation- we are trained these days to go shopping against music-noise. I agree with the contributions that suggest the difficulty of accompanying many songs- too often the accompaniement forces a quantisation, takes away the connection. Imagine a conversation or oration which was regular pulses for 3 minutes...


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: the lemonade lady
Date: 09 Oct 09 - 07:22 PM

Because all I can play is a shaky egg!

Sal


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: GUEST,Diva
Date: 18 Oct 11 - 07:00 AM

Because we can? There is something very special about sharing a song particularly in the company of singers without the limitation of an instrument laid upon it


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 18 Oct 11 - 07:50 AM

folksong without a guitar ...? a bit like sausage wthout the mash.

you wouldn't have an unaccompanied sausage, would you....?

Personally, I go for the mushy peas and HP sauce as well


As Jethro Tull said, Life's a Long Song. And if your lucky, it can be a long sausage (Lincolnshire naturally!).


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Nigel Parsons
Date: 18 Oct 11 - 08:03 AM

Years ago my professor in music appreciation 101 said the all great musicians were frustrated singers. wonder if it's true?

I think he may have meant "All great instrumentalists are frustrated singers" Some great musicians are still just singers.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 18 Oct 11 - 08:03 AM

As soon as I see an acoustic guitar, I know I've accidentally stumbled upon folk music...and I run the other away, look for the chips 'n' dip!

Unless of course the person starts beating on the guitar, and then I know it's flamenco. I once started unconsciously beating on a borrowed guitar when I was singing/playing Jamaican rocksteady...suddenly becoming aware of the horror on the owner's face...it was an antique "Martin" or some such thing, heh.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Nigel Parsons
Date: 18 Oct 11 - 08:03 AM

Because we can:

100
Un Cant


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: wysiwyg
Date: 18 Oct 11 - 08:06 AM

I sing unaccompanied for so may reasons that I am not sure I have time to catalog them, but one of them is when I am at a workshop and a song is needed, and I have not brought any other gear than my neck, mind, and heart. If more info is wanted, PM?

~S~


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: GUEST,Diva
Date: 18 Oct 11 - 08:17 AM

No..I'm not speechless, just pressed the submit by mistake......interesting thread...I love to know why folk sing with or without accompaniment. I prefer unaccompanied probably because I never sing anything the same way twice. However, I have learned, and it has taken me an age, that the guy with the instument is following me and not the other way around.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Bonzo3legs
Date: 18 Oct 11 - 09:07 AM

Yes why.....please don't.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 18 Oct 11 - 12:28 PM

'the guy with the instument is following me .......'

now that would worry me.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: MMario
Date: 18 Oct 11 - 12:38 PM

The problem is - the guy with the instrument SHOULD be following me - and usually it is either both going their own way or singer following instrument.

Which is why I welcome anyone who can follow me to accompany me; but usually sing unaccompianied.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 18 Oct 11 - 01:35 PM

I learn songs unaccompanied, practise unaccompanied and sing unaccompanied, partly because I like the sound of unaccompanied singing & partly because I can't play anything that I could accompany myself with. I have recently accompanied myself on organ & whistle, but only through the magic of multi-tracking.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: GUEST,Songbob
Date: 18 Oct 11 - 02:14 PM

MMario sez: "The problem is - the guy with the instrument SHOULD be following me ..."

I think I've discovered the difference between the folk approach to accompaniment and the "standards" approach. I like to accompany singers, and several people have said I do it well. I listen.

But one time I was accompanying a choir member at church, and I realized that she was waiting for me to LEAD her, while I was waiting to follow. Once I get the idea that I was to lead her, prompt her, then we pulled it off (the second half of the song was much less halting than the first, as we tried to go our mutually-exclusive ways).

But it occurred to me, at that moment, that some kinds of music (church music, pop "standards" -- as opposed to pop/rock songs, perhaps jazz, although I'm not so sure of that one) require the accompaniment to lead, not follow. The singer waits his/her cue, takes the pitch and beat from the guitar/banjo/piano/whatever, and it's the job of the musician, not the singer, to set the frame for the song. Folk just isn't one of those musics.

Bob Clayton


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: terrier
Date: 18 Oct 11 - 02:25 PM

Nice to see this old thread rear its head again, although I guess not much has changed in the last two years. The last time I did a floor spot I intended to sing the first verse of the song a cappella and then bring the guitar in, but after the first verse I realised that I enjoyed singing the song unacompanied more than with the guitar so continued for the whole song a cappella.
Why not ask "why do we SING ?". Why not just narrate songs. I've even heard talking blues done without guitar acc. Unaccompanied singing wasn't invented in 'folk' clubs, neither is it restricted to our style of western music. There's something magical about marrying a tune to a set of words and letting the voice (the most complete musical instrument) do the work. I've got nothing against using further instrumentaion when singing as long as it something meaningful to the song.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Suegorgeous
Date: 18 Oct 11 - 02:39 PM

First, it was because I don't play and I didn't want to be dependent on finding a musician if I wanted to sing.

Nowadays, it's because I've grown to love the freedom it gives me to explore and present the song, all its nuances and corners, in my and its own time. And the edge of exposure.

And, as Crow Sister said two years ago on this thread... "I do think there is something of the sacred in it - though that itself is equally to do with nakedness and intimacy likewise"... (you still there, Crow Sister?!) :)


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: GUEST,SteveG
Date: 18 Oct 11 - 03:30 PM

I love singing unaccompanied and frequently do.
I love singing in harmony and frequently do.
I love accompanying myself on various squeeze boxes and frequently do.
I love being accompanied by others on various instruments and frequently am.

Ain't I lucky!


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: Diva
Date: 19 Oct 11 - 03:02 PM

There is nothing wrong with a good, sensitive accompniment to a song and to my mind it should not detract from the song or the story that the singer is trying to tell.


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: RTim
Date: 19 Oct 11 - 03:14 PM

Because I can!!
It is not as easy as it sounds......

Tim Radford


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Subject: RE: Why do we sing unaccompanied?
From: GUEST
Date: 19 Oct 11 - 03:15 PM

Usually because we don't know the chords.


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