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Building a good repertoire

GUEST,newbie 28 Dec 09 - 01:45 PM
Don Firth 28 Dec 09 - 02:54 PM
GUEST,Suegorgeous, on laptop 28 Dec 09 - 03:03 PM
MGM·Lion 28 Dec 09 - 03:05 PM
Jim Carroll 28 Dec 09 - 03:29 PM
Richard Mellish 28 Dec 09 - 04:10 PM
Don Firth 28 Dec 09 - 04:11 PM
Deckman 28 Dec 09 - 05:16 PM
GUEST,newbie 28 Dec 09 - 05:47 PM
Leadfingers 28 Dec 09 - 06:08 PM
Don Firth 28 Dec 09 - 06:21 PM
Deckman 28 Dec 09 - 06:46 PM
Bobert 28 Dec 09 - 07:36 PM
JeremyC 28 Dec 09 - 08:36 PM
Don Firth 28 Dec 09 - 11:36 PM
Jim Carroll 29 Dec 09 - 07:24 AM
GUEST,matt milton 29 Dec 09 - 07:57 AM
GUEST,Auldtimer 29 Dec 09 - 08:03 AM
JeremyC 29 Dec 09 - 10:35 AM
Suegorgeous 29 Dec 09 - 11:00 AM
JeremyC 29 Dec 09 - 11:05 AM
MMario 29 Dec 09 - 11:07 AM
Don Firth 29 Dec 09 - 04:13 PM
WalkaboutsVerse 29 Dec 09 - 04:25 PM
Leadfingers 29 Dec 09 - 07:26 PM
Piers Plowman 30 Dec 09 - 07:28 AM
Piers Plowman 30 Dec 09 - 07:29 AM
Dave the Gnome 30 Dec 09 - 08:23 AM
Jim Carroll 30 Dec 09 - 09:48 AM
M.Ted 30 Dec 09 - 10:34 AM
Dave the Gnome 30 Dec 09 - 11:20 AM
M.Ted 30 Dec 09 - 11:52 AM
Don Firth 30 Dec 09 - 04:53 PM
JeremyC 02 Jan 10 - 11:37 AM
GUEST,EKanne 02 Jan 10 - 03:10 PM
GUEST 02 Jan 10 - 03:51 PM
JeremyC 02 Jan 10 - 04:53 PM
Yvonne Hart 02 Jan 10 - 06:38 PM
GUEST 04 Jan 10 - 05:19 PM
The Sandman 04 Jan 10 - 05:27 PM
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Subject: Building a good repertoire
From: GUEST,newbie
Date: 28 Dec 09 - 01:45 PM

I'm comparatively new to folk music - performing at least, if not listening and enjoying... and I'd be really grateful if people could give me a few tips on building an interesting repertoire of songs (traditional or more recently composed)
I've been listening to a lot of my Dad's old LPs but have noticed that a lot of the songs that i'm immediately drawn to are considered by many to be old and hackneyed, having been recorded by hundreds of others already. Obviously there's nothing wrong with reinterpreting old favourites but i'm also interested in developing a repertoire of less common songs.. Any books, resources or singers i should start looking for?
Thanks,
Milly


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: Don Firth
Date: 28 Dec 09 - 02:54 PM

Milly, I would say don't let some jaded old "folkies" intimidate you if they stare at the ceiling and roll their eyes when you start a song that they think is "old and hackneyed." If you are drawn to the song, learn it and sing it. If they don't like it, or consider themselves "too sophisticated," they don't have to listen.

I think much of this depends on what you want to do. If you want to sing at folk clubs and such, then to be well received, you pretty well have to take their likes and dislikes into consideration, which might tend to limit what you want to sing. But folk clubs are not the only audience.

I got actively interested in folk music (traditional songs in particular as contrasted with what is now referred to as "contemporary 'folk'") in the early 1950s, before the "Great Folk Scare" of the 1960s, and by the time it was well under way, I was singing around a lot, including coffeehouse gigs, television, and concerts. I found that what might be called the "hard core" folk audiences soon tired of hearing certain songs that were considered by most singers of folk songs as "standards," i.e., songs that every singer of folk songs is expected to know. But—general audiences made up of people who had heard some folk music and liked it, but didn't regularly hang out in folk music venues, frequently requested the very songs that the hard core folkies would sigh and roll their eyes at!

I kept adding new songs to my repertoire all the time, but I maintained a solid core of "old standards" that I could draw on whenever I felt they were appropriate, such as when I was singing for a general audience. I do a three-verse version of Greensleeves, for example, with a lute-like guitar arrangement, that I wouldn't do at a folk club, because after the first three or four notes, most of the audience would run screaming out the door. But general audiences often request it.

Books? I have a pretty large library of song collections and books on folk music, but the core of the collection are Folk Song U.S.A by John and Alan Lomax, Folk Songs of North America by Alan Lomax, The American Songbag by Carl Sandburg, a couple of collections by Cecil Sharp of English folk songs and songs from the Southern Appalachians, several books on traditional (Child) ballads, and a batch of song books, such as The New Song Fest, A Treasury of Folk Songs, The Richard Dyer-Bennet Song Book, and numerous others. Many of these, unfortunately, are no longer readily available, but there are others out there.

These, plus a pretty extensive record library. These are all singers I enjoy listening to as they sing songs that I like, many of which I have learned.

I'm an American, and although I definitely don't limit myself to American songs, it does tend to influence my choice. I don't know were you are, so that will quite probably influence your choice of songs as well.

I hope some of this helps. But I would say again, if a song appeals to you, go ahead, learn it, and sing it. If some don't like it, there are others who will. But mainly, it will be a song that you like and and that you enjoy singing.

"To thine own self be true."

Don Firth

P. S. By the way, here's a quote from Richard Dyer-Bennet that I've always used as guide to my singing:

"The value lies inherent in the song, not in the regional mannerisms or colloquialisms. No song is ever harmed by being articulated clearly, on pitch, with sufficient control of phrase and dynamics to make the most of the poetry and melody, and with an instrumental accompaniment designed to enrich the whole effect."


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: GUEST,Suegorgeous, on laptop
Date: 28 Dec 09 - 03:03 PM

That's my interest too, and most of the trad songs I sing are less common ones. I do the odd better known one, usually because I found it too lush not to do. (And then I've started writing a few of my own, but that's another story.)

I don't have a huge repertoire, because I'm extremely picky about what I sing, and only sing ones that touch me in some way. And I spose not that many do! And I'd strongly recommend that your main criterium should be that you like/love a song, rather than how common/uncommon it is, even though this might be a big factor too - because then you'll sing from the heart.

The uncommon ones I've learnt came from a complete variety of sources - live music/singing (folk clubs, open mics, performances), cds, workshops/courses (participants and tutors), even the occasional trawl through songbooks. I'm sure others who respond here will have plenty of suggestions as to who to listen to, and I'll try to add some later.

Good luck with building your repertoire.

Sue


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 28 Dec 09 - 03:05 PM

Let me add emphasis to this quote by Richard Dyer-Bennett in Don's P.S. — articulation, good diction, matters a great deal. Make sure every word you sing, whatever the song, is clear to the audience. As a record reviewer, I have always been very down on the self-indulgent 'singing into one's own navel' kind of performance that some think it clever to indulge in. It isn't. I am sure all the professional singers on this forum will support me in this.

Otherwise, I agree with every word Don wrote. He is American, I am English, but the same principles obtain. You need 2 repertoires, really — one for specialist audiences who would like to hear something new, and one for the general public who like to hear the familiar, and feel secure with it. This is no sort of value judgment, just a statement of the situation. Both sorts of audience are important.

Best of fortune in your endeavours. Folksinging to an audience can be most rewarding at all sorts of different levels.


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 28 Dec 09 - 03:29 PM

Articulation and good diction do not necessarily run counter to "regional mannerisms or colloquialisms". Not a bad rule of thumb is sing the way you speak, but sing clearly - there's nothing more offputting than somebody trying to sound like somebody else.
As far as building a repertoire, sing what takes your fancy - if a song is 'old and hackneyed' it's probably because it's a good song, so why ignore it?
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: Richard Mellish
Date: 28 Dec 09 - 04:10 PM

I agree with most of the above.

Personally I avoid not only 'old and hackneyed' but also any song that I am aware is sung by another of the regulars in the same place. If it's somewhere I have seldom or never been before, I can't know who sings what and just have to take a chance, so I will usually pick a song that I have seldom heard anyone anywhere sing.

I avoid other people's songs not so much because it would be "poaching" as because I regard the song as more important than the singer. If someone sings it, it is being sung, so I would rather use my singing time to offer a different song -- either different altogether or at least a substantially different version.

There is no shortage of songs to be learnt, from books and from recordings. So I think it makes sense to learn and sing songs that you like but that no-one else sings (at least as far as you know, in the places that you frequent).

Richard


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: Don Firth
Date: 28 Dec 09 - 04:11 PM

True, "Articulation and good diction do not necessarily run counter to 'regional mannerisms or colloquialisms,'" but I think what Dyer-Bennet was referring to here was the self-styled "folk singer" (urban born and raised) who characteristically tries to sing as if he or she had just ridden into town with a load of turnips. That is, someone who, to one degree or another, tries to pass himself off as if he were a "source" singer. I'm sure we all know a few of these (and a couple of them have managed to acquire a measure of fame).

I knew one singer personally (born in one big city and raised in another) who generally dressed quite nattily, but whenever he had a singing engagement, he would change into a non-descript pair of jeans with a rip in the knee and a sloppy shirt that should have long since been consigned to the rag-bag. Tried to look as if he'd just been thrown out of a boxcar into a muddy ditch! That always struck me as more than just a little phony.

Dyer-Bennet, who considered himself a modern minstrel rather than a folk singer, had nothing against affecting a regional accent and using colloquialisms if they were an integral part of a particular song, but he never tried to pass himself off as anything he wasn't.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: Deckman
Date: 28 Dec 09 - 05:16 PM

I thought I'd jump in here and add another thought, regarding the old and hackned songs. I've found, many times, that the songs I learned and sang in my younger years have a whole new brightness and perspective to them now that I'm 172 olde. Sometimes it takes years and years to discover the deeper inferences in olden songs. So ... good luck ... and don't ignore the traditional stuff. With wisdom, you can make any songs "yours." bob(deckman)Nelson


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: GUEST,newbie
Date: 28 Dec 09 - 05:47 PM

Thanks for the responses so far - they've definitely given me some food for thought..

I don't think i'd sing songs i particularly dislike purely because they're rarely heard, but i'm also aware that some of the "hackneyed" songs might appeal to me intitially because they are familiar, while there are almost certainly some real gems out there that i have never heard before, or are recorded in an arrangement that doesn't appeal to me which might lead me to overlook them. Also, i suppose if i were thinking like a professional folk singer, it wouldn't do to release an album of already well-known songs - i'm sure we're all looking for something new in our listening... Having said that, i agree with Bob that it's about making a song, any song, yours. That would be my ultimate goal (though i'm also a bit puristy in that i just like to sing and am not particularly good at or interested in fancy arrangements)

Thanks again..
Mx


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: Leadfingers
Date: 28 Dec 09 - 06:08 PM

There is a pretty fair assortment in the Digital Tradition !


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: Don Firth
Date: 28 Dec 09 - 06:21 PM

As far as "fancy arrangements" are concerned:   It's nice to be able to do them—and then chose not to.

A little while ago I was listening to several YouTube renditions of the ballad "Geordie." Every dad-burned one of them was overwhelmed by the accompanying guitar. Fancy finger-picking or excessive guitar intervals between verses. It's a story, fer cryin' out loud, and the story can get lost if one is repeatedly distracted by the accompaniment.

A good accompaniment is like a good picture frame. It should merely set the painting off in space. If it distracts from the painting and people go away saying, "Gee, isn't that a great frame?" then, no, it's not a great frame. It has failed its purpose. Same with song accompaniments.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: Deckman
Date: 28 Dec 09 - 06:46 PM

(hmmm ... I had to post this twice ...?)

Don, there you go again, speaking wisdom. The proof of what you said, about keeping the guitar in it's place, is easily heard if you listen to Burl Ives "Coronation Concert." Recorded in London, 1952 I think. The guitar was there in every song, but it didn't distract from the song. bob(deckman)nelson


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: Bobert
Date: 28 Dec 09 - 07:36 PM

Well, I'd kinda suggest that you think real hard about what turns you on in a song... For some folks it's the words... Others, the melody... Others, meter... Others, finger style v. struming...

Once you know what you like and what best suits your skill set then you are better than half way there...

Now the trick is to listen to the people that play the stle that best fits and pay particular attention to the songs on their LPs/CDs that are not the songs being covered by everyone else... That will be a sorce of some material but

...then you can go to like Amazon.com and check out the "Folks who bought this also like..." and there will be other muscians who are similar to the musican that you like... You can listen to their samples and you may find some material there, as well...

Repertoire doesn't come overnight... You start with a base andf work out from there... It's okay to do standards... Nothin' wrong with that, at all... Actaully that's a good thing as along as your sets aren't all standards...

Believe me... There are thousands of good songs out there... Maybe if after you have found the folks whoes style you most like you can come back here and ask for help finding songs in that style... I think you would be amazed at the number of songs this community collectively knows... Simply amazed...

Good luck and...

...have fun with it...

Bobert


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: JeremyC
Date: 28 Dec 09 - 08:36 PM

Don, surely Martin Carthy's version of "Geordie" from "Crown of Horn" is not overdone. While I don't like everything I see on youtube, I think you've either exaggerated or seen only the poor performances. There's one fellow on there who did a very nice DADGAD arrangement of "Geordie" where both parts complemented each other well. Unfortunately I can't remember his username.


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: Don Firth
Date: 28 Dec 09 - 11:36 PM

Far be it from me to criticize Martin Carthy, Jeremy, but—

Long guitar intro, he played the entire verse melody three times between sung verses, then played it again at the end.

Far too much guitar for my taste. Well played, but too much guitar.

Let me forstall any possible suggestion that I might be "sour graping" Carthy's guitar playing. Not hardly. I've been playing guitar since 1952, I'm thoroughly grounded in various folk techniques, and I've also studied both classic and flamenco guitar for several years and can play some fairly heavy-duty concert pieces.

No, this is a matter of taste rather than ability.

Sorry!

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 29 Dec 09 - 07:24 AM

The problem with accompaniment is that quite often it is the song that accompanies the instrument rather than the other way round.
I'm afraid (no I'm not) - I agree with Don 100% about Martin Carthy - his heart is in the right place, but quite often his fingers aren't.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 29 Dec 09 - 07:57 AM

This is a generalisation, but in terms of repertoire I find I get more out of songbooks than I do recordings or live performances.

But, to again massively generalise, that's partly because I'm more interested in the words than the tune. And often a recording you'll be hearing a performance you might not like, whereas looking at words on a page, or even a tune on a page, you get more of a blank slate to work with.

I realise that's rather against the 'oral tradition' spirit of folksong. But that's just how it is for me. (Plus I often find that if I've just heard a fantastic performance of a fantastic song, well, the last thing I want to do is learn it myself. I want to proselytise about how wonderful the singer is, and how everyone ought to buy their album, or go see them live.)

Anyway, this year I've been immersing myself in these books, among other things:

The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs - Ralph Vaughn Williams & Bert Lloyd

Folksongs & Ballads of Scotland - Ewan MacColl

English Country Songbook - Roy Palmer

you can get all the above via amazon

but you could do worse than just check out your local library, and get out, or order, some songbooks. I'm in Brixton, and Lambeth libraries have a surprisingly large stock of songbooks in their collection (Cecil Sharp, Francis Child, Lloyd and others)

PS
Just cos loads of people have famously sung a song, doesn't necessarily mean anyone's ever sung it well


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: GUEST,Auldtimer
Date: 29 Dec 09 - 08:03 AM

Sing what you want and what you like and what you enjoy. You will have to hear it a lot of times learning it and singing it, mabe eaven for years, if it is the right song. BUT remember the three tenants are, tone, timing and material.

Tone - Not every one can sound like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nic Jones, Kate Rusby, Dick Gaughan or Iris DeMent. So dont't try. Be yourself.

Timing - Not every one can have the timing of...the above list. But they are worth a good hearing. They all have special, timing. Try working on your timing.

Material - Not everyone can have ..... well actualy you can have great material, pinch, steal, borrow, approprate, take it over, make it up, get it anywhere you can. But make it yours. Be yourself. And have fun. Geting lost in a big ballad or a silly song is great. Comunicating that song to an audence of ten( or 100 and 10 or 2 )is fabulous and adictuive.


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: JeremyC
Date: 29 Dec 09 - 10:35 AM

Don and Jim: I think your aesthetic is interesting. I've always considered the instruments to be on more or less equal footing and status - after all, the voice is just one instrument. A capella can be nice, but it's tiring to listen to after a while, and the same goes for pure instrumentals. One of the things I like about Carthy is how he and others like him will let one instrument, then another sing the song for a while. Like Rev. Gary Davis would say, "sing it for me, Miss Gibson!"

So I think it's possible to have too much voice as well as too much guitar, but obviously our thresholds are different.


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: Suegorgeous
Date: 29 Dec 09 - 11:00 AM

Yes, I do also think that most people's tolerance of the unaccompanied solo voice is quite low, outside of folk clubs anyway. At open mics, I'm inevitably the only unaccompanied singer, and I tend to keep it to 2 songs max.


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: JeremyC
Date: 29 Dec 09 - 11:05 AM

...and there's absolutely nothing wrong with a capella! Most of Anne Briggs' recordings - that I've heard, at least - are a capella, and they're wonderful. Martin Carthy did "Little Musgrave" for 10 minutes on one of his albums, unaccompanied, and I enjoyed that. I think it's something we're not used to hearing anymore, or it makes more demands on the ear than voice+instrument does.


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: MMario
Date: 29 Dec 09 - 11:07 AM

most people's tolerance of the unaccompanied solo voice is quite low, outside of folk clubs anyway.

oh, yeah, that is the truth!


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: Don Firth
Date: 29 Dec 09 - 04:13 PM

Other's mileage may vary, but to me, putting several instrumental breaks into a narrative ballad tends to interrupt and delay the story, which, in a ballad, is the primary element.

As to low tolerance for the unaccompanied voice, the first time I heard that kind of singing live was at the 1960 Berkeley Folk Festival and the singer was Ewan MacColl. He came out on stage carrying a straight-back chair, straddled the chair backwards with his elbows leaning on the back of the chair, cupped a hand behind his ear (not finger in his ear) and proceeded to sing a whole string of ballads—solo, unaccompanied voice.

Although I had heard several of them before, I felt like this was the first time I had really heard them!

Bare, raw narrative. The story, unaccompanied, unadorned, with no distractions!

Out of a repertoire of a few hundred songs, I only sing about a half-dozen without accompaniment. But when I learn a new song, I sing it many times through without accompaniment, deciding how I want to deliver each line, then practice it for anywhere from several days to several weeks before I pick up the guitar to work out an accompaniment. Then, I make sure that my guitar accompaniment musically supports and enhances the song and does not distract from it. I frequently start the guitar accompaniment with a brief "quotation" of part of the melody (but rarely playing a whole verse), then into a straightforward pattern as I begin to sing, often using arpeggiated chords, while not just playing bass notes at random, but trying to avoid playing the same note that I'm singing, but a note that harmonize with my voice. Between verses, rarely do I play an entire verse melody. If anything, another brief quotation or variation of the melody, not always repeating the same thing. Too much repetition can become a distraction.

But everything that goes into the accompaniment is like—cooking with spices. You can ruin a fine meal if you overpower it with herbs and spices.

There are some songs where the guitar accompaniment is pretty much the whole point of the song (e.g., "Freight Train," "Railroad Bill," a number of others), giving the guitarist a chance to show off a bit of finger-blurring razzle-dazzle. But I feel that kind of approach is definitely not appropriate for all songs, and most definitely not when the song has a strong narrative line, like a ballad. All too often, "hot" guitarists try too hard to show just how hot they are, and the song vanishes in a shower of fireworks. Whenever I want to do that sort of thing, I drop in on a meeting of the Seattle Classic Guitar Society.

I recall a time in 1960 while sitting in a music store that specialized in folk music, talking with another fairly avid singer-guitarist. We blathered on for some time about this and that finger-picking technique, chord sequences, and such. The proprietor of the store, a pretty good fiddle-player, brought us up short with a very good question. One that I think every singer of folk songs who also plays an accompanying instrument ought to ask himself or herself.

"Do you guys consider yourselves to be primarily singers? Or guitarists?"

I thought about that question a lot, and decided that, although I'm a pretty good guitarist, I am primarily a singer. The important element is the song.

Who do I think does good accompaniments, particularly for ballads? Well, I haven't listened to her much lately, since her Dylan period and since she when into the singer-songwriter thing, but when she was quite young and doing lots of ballads, I thought Joan Baez's guitar accompaniments were adept and quite tasty. They accompanied the songs and supported them musically, but didn't overpower them.

Geordie.   Simple, straightforward, and tasteful. But don't be deceived by the simplicity. I've heard her really lay into her guitar on some songs and she knows her way around a fingerboard!

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: WalkaboutsVerse
Date: 29 Dec 09 - 04:25 PM

In building my English repertoire, I've listened to quite a lot of folk radio, CDs, and live music, before looking for the dots on DigiTrad or elsewhere on the web. Where I couldn't find the dots, I learnt by ear only, before working them out myself via mimicking my voice on recorder and keys.


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: Leadfingers
Date: 29 Dec 09 - 07:26 PM

If you are a singer , as Don said , the SONG is what matters .


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: Piers Plowman
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 07:28 AM

I think building up a repertoire is something that happens gradually. I find that when I practice a lot (which I do), it sort of crystallizes out what I like to play. Sometimes, I'm surprised at what songs I keep going back to. Sometimes I'll leave things for awhile and then go back to them later or even much later.

It's better to play and/or sing three songs well than 100 that all sound the same. Things sounding the same is probably something everybody has to struggle against (unless they don't care). A certain amount of "sameness" is unavoidable, since it's the same person, but one can try to get some variety into one's music.

I don't think there's anything wrong with "old", but "hackneyed" is a problem. If it sounds hackneyed to you, you probably shouldn't be singing it in front of an audience. However, no matter how hackneyed it might seem to one audience, it will be new to somebody. One could perform for children, for example.

On the subject of accompaniments, I agree with most of what Don Firth says. I have a somewhat different perspective, since I've had to stop singing because of physical problems with my voice. It's forced me to concentrate on playing. It's too bad about the singing, which I enjoyed, but my playing has gotten a lot better.

One thing I learned from singing lessons is that one sings better when one isn't playing an instrument at the same time. I know a lot of people do and not everybody likes to hear this, but I think it's the truth.

I also think folksongs in particular often don't gain from being accompanied by guitars, accordeons, autoharps, pianos, banjos, bouzoukis, bodhrans, mandolins, ukeleles, trombones, etc. Much as I love instruments of all shapes and sizes, I think harmonizing them and accompanying them the way they mostly are nowadays turns them into something different from what they were before being collected, arranged, put into books, "revived", etc. I know this is a contentious subject and I don't have the ultimate answer to it, either.


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: Piers Plowman
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 07:29 AM

I wrote: "I think harmonizing them"

I meant harmonizing folksongs, not instruments, of course.


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 08:23 AM

Don't learn too many at once - Get two or three that you can remember and, more importantly, understand the sentiment, and then do them at different singarounds, singers nights or 'open mic's'. The trick is then to do the same with the next two or three - without forgetting the first lot and so build up a solid repertoire that you can remember.

When you get to the stage where there are a lot (A stage I have never arrived at:-( ) a set list could become important but make sure it is flexible. Nothing worse than going to a club with your 'set' firmly imprinted only to find some else has done two of your songs, there is one you cannot do because the landlady's dog has just died and the club is running a 'songs of the potteries' evening!

Oh - and if you are learing songs from a book don't do them alphabeticaly. For my first ten years at folk clubs I only sang songs beginning with 'A'... :-)

Cheers

DeG


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 09:48 AM

Don;
"elbows leaning on the back of the chair, cupped a hand behind his ear"
One of the first things that MacColl introduced into the Critics Group meetings was the need to be in control of any body tension while singing (not to get rid of it - you'd fall down without it.
I'm sure everybody is aware of it, but the straddling he chair stance was a way of ensuring a clear passage of air through sitting upright, while not giving the impression of 'sitting to attention'. The hand over ear was a way of listening to yourself when singing unaccompanied in order to stay in tune. It is an ageless and widespread technique used all over the world - including by street singers in 19th century England for listening over street noises.
Unfortunately both have become folk clichés, especially the back-to-front chair, which I used to find useful for rehearsing songs in private, but would never dare try it in public for fear of the response. I did see Bert Lloyd use it on several occasions, but nobody else. I have an idea that it was Bert who introduced the hand over ear into the revival in Britain, maybe from his work in Eastern Europe.
Regarding building a repertoire, could I suggest that if you are learning directly from another singer, once you have the tune in yor head, learn the text from a printed text, that way you will avoid picking up someone else's style and mannerisms and will develop your own.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: M.Ted
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 10:34 AM

Many good thoughts here--My contribution is that you should put together a folder/binder/songbook with all the material you need to play each song--some folks simply have the lyrics, others lyrics and chords, and still others like to have lyrics, chords, and melody lines.

It makes it much easier to practice and rehearse if you have everything in front of you, and   when you want to go back and do something that you haven't done for a while, it eliminates the need to reinvent--


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 11:20 AM

Good point, M Ted - But I will add, don't become reliant on your folder when you are perfoming. Leave it at home or, if you feel the need of a safety net, leave it under the table while you sing.

Many reasons for suggesting this and I think they have all been discussed before. Ask Jim!

DeG


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: M.Ted
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 11:52 AM

I didn't see JC's comment about getting the tune in your head before I posted-- but I agree completely--not just for singing, either--it is much simpler to work out chords or create an arrangement of any sort if you have the melody clear in your mind before hand.

As to David el Gnomo's thought--it hadn't occurred to me that anyone would think of using the folder/binder while performing, and now that he's mentioned it--if you are still working from the folder, the song isn't ready to perform, and you should keep practicing--


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: Don Firth
Date: 30 Dec 09 - 04:53 PM

Piers Plowman:
"One thing I learned from singing lessons is that one sings better when one isn't playing an instrument at the same time. I know a lot of people do and not everybody likes to hear this, but I think it's the truth."

I learned that one quite graphically while I was taking some private music theory lessons from Mildred Hunt Harris. With Mrs. Harris's help, I worked out an accompaniment for "The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies" that was a real tour de force. But it was sufficiently complicated to play that it took practically all of my concentration, so I had to go back and simplify it a lot. Actually, it sounded pretty good with the song and it didn't really distract from it at all, but it did distract me.

I figure that an 80 / 20 proportion works pretty well. 80% of my attention on the song and no more than 20% on the accompaniment. One can do some really nice guitar work and still keep it fairly simple. Practice the accompaniment until your fingers can do it almost automatically (not that difficult, really), then focus on the song. The fingers will follow.

####

Jim Carroll:
"Regarding building a repertoire, could I suggest that if you are learning directly from another singer, once you have the tune in your head, learn the text from a printed text, that way you will avoid picking up someone else's style and mannerisms and will develop your own."

That's pretty much what I do. No problem reading the dots, but I really prefer to learn a tune by hearing it. If it's a record or CD, I'll scribble down the words, and then check song books and collections and get all the texts I have together. This would probably drive purists to drum me out of the corps, but what I usually wind up singing is a bit of an amalgam from a number of versions (making sure that I know what I'm singing about, of course!). I often wind up with a clearer narrative line, but not necessarily a longer song.

I talked this over with Dr. David C. Fowler, the English professor who taught a course I took, "The Popular Ballad," and he said that if scholars and collectors diddled with the words (and some did, "prettifying" them or cleaning them up), that was bad scholarship. But if it was done be a singer, it could be considered as an integral part of the folk process. And for a performer, he said, "I would put that under the heading of 'a minstrel's prerogative.'" Just be sure you don't lose anything that is integral to and important to the song.

(I throw myself upon the mercy of the court.)

####

And I agree with M.Ted about keeping the songs you learn in a binder. I wish I'd done that from the start, because I'm still trying to play "catch-up." Makes it a whole lot easier to refresh your memory on songs you may not have done for awhile.

Also, you shouldn't have to rely on it while performing. But there is one situation:

I've seen film clips (Classic Arts Showcase on cable TV) of various singers such as Bryn Terfel (in T-shirt and baseball cap), Kiri Te Kanawa (casually dressed rather than in a formal gown), and other heavy-duty folks in recording sessions, where, in addition to a couple of expensive mics in front of them, there is a music stand, which they glance at frequently. [And, by the way, through most of the song he was recording, Bryn Terfel had his hand cupped behind his ear.]

The whole point is that studio time and having to pay a whole orchestra by the hour is bloody expensive, no matter how internationally famous the singer is. So if the singer has a memory lapse (which they may be able to fake their way through in a public performance), it will require a re-take.

Even if you cover the goof well, you don't want goofs to go onto a recording, because it will be there forever and may come back to haunt you.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: JeremyC
Date: 02 Jan 10 - 11:37 AM

I don't think it's necessarily true that you sing better without an instrument. For any given song I know, I sing it better while playing the guitar part, and I play the guitar part better while singing the voice part. I don't see them as separate parts, in fact - it's a single way of performing a song, and while it may be separable, either part alone is incomplete.

Personally, I go for an accompaniment that feels right and is interesting enough to play. Learning a new song is much like meeting a new person. You may or may not get along, and you sometimes know right away, but a lot of the time you don't know until you've been around each other for a while. If the song doesn't feel right, I shelve it until it does, if it ever does. I play it from the start the way I'm planning on playing it in front of people, so I begin with a basic vocal rendition and guitar accompaniment and then add or subtract whatever needs addition or subtraction. This can continue for years - there are a number of songs I play completely differently now compared to a couple of years ago.

My definition of excess must differ from yours, Don, probably because I grew up in the 80s. Let me give you two examples of what I see as excess/gratuitous pyrotechnics:

Michael Angelo, "Speed Kills" - Video
Yngwie Malmsteen, "Dream On (Aerosmith song)" - Video

Really, it's possible to be excessively mechanical and overwhelm the song with the arrangement, but I've never heard Martin Carthy, Richard Thompson, John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, or any of the other usual suspects do that.


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: GUEST,EKanne
Date: 02 Jan 10 - 03:10 PM

As far as I'm concerned, building a good repertoire includes the requirement to consciously add variety, so that any set will have variations of pace, sentiment and modality, with a sprinkling of chorus songs.
Singers I have known have constructed their song lists under different headings, hoping that simplifies the putting together of a programme. I use three basic categories - narrative (including ballads), lyrical and comic; but I know other singers who organise their lists according to pace, and I well remember that Ray Fisher had a category that she called 'dowie' ( a Scottish word meaning sad).
When I'm in the audience at a concert or in a club, I know how much I appreciate some variety in a set, so I would strongly urge any less experienced performers to work on a good range of material, even if it initially feels as if it's outwith their comfort zone -- it all comes good in time!


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: GUEST
Date: 02 Jan 10 - 03:51 PM

"One thing I learned from singing lessons is that one sings better when one isn't playing an instrument at the same time. I know a lot of people do and not everybody likes to hear this, but I think it's the truth.

I also think folksongs in particular often don't gain from being accompanied by guitars, accordeons, autoharps, pianos, banjos, bouzoukis, bodhrans, mandolins, ukeleles, trombones, etc. Much as I love instruments of all shapes and sizes, I think harmonizing them and accompanying them the way they mostly are nowadays turns them into something different from what they were before being collected, arranged, put into books, "revived", etc. I know this is a contentious subject and I don't have the ultimate answer to it, either."

It's funny how a question about building up a repertoire has engendered so much debate about unaccompanied versus instrumental backing.

They're just different, that's all. I totally know what you mean. At the moment I have the melody of The False Bride (as written out in Penguin book of English folksongs) going round my head. I've often thought it's about the most perfect melodies ever - while it has a very clear, indisputable root note, sticking any chords behind it doesn't do it justice. Steamrollers it. Crushes a butterfly on a wheel, as one hack once put it.

But I don't think people necessarily sing *better* when not multi-tasking. Sometimes people "over-sing", and having to play a guitar accompaniment (or whatever the instrument might be) keeps things as they should be.


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: JeremyC
Date: 02 Jan 10 - 04:53 PM

For me, doing one without the other can throw me off. Like if you tried to sing something but leave out all the consonants. And I know I can learn to do each separately, but why, if that's not how I perform?


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: Yvonne Hart
Date: 02 Jan 10 - 06:38 PM

Going back to Milly's question about building a repertoire - speaking as an amateur singer and (sorry to say) guitarist - I have always believed that you should choose songs that appeal to you and move you. You should have an interest in the meaning and/or history of the song and sing it from the heart, whether it be happy or sad. I do sing accompanied and unaccompanied and enjoy both and, luckily I am not the greatest guitarist in the world so I never play loud enough to drown out the song. Milly also asked about singers to look out for and personally I think that Mary Humphreys and Anahata have found some wonderful alternative tunes to popular songs and Pete Coe takes some beating with his song repertoire.
Yvonne


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: GUEST
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 05:19 PM

Hi Milly,
You gave the impression you have not heard enough traditional/folk to help you select a repertoire. If you can manage it at all, I strongly suggest you treat yourself to the Topic labels 20 CD compilation "Voices of the People". This will introduce you many great singers and songs, and comes complete with booklets containing all the lyrics. If you like Scottish songs, have a look at Springtyme.com.site. There are a number of CDs of Festivals in Fife which have many songs you could sample before buying and which have'nt been sung to death.
While some people have suggested Songbooks, (Marrowbones is my own favorite), you will still find yourself wanting to hear a those songs sung, so again, I suggest you get some Cds the come with a lyrics booklet.


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Subject: RE: Building a good repertoire
From: The Sandman
Date: 04 Jan 10 - 05:27 PM

think about your subjct matter.
perhaps a few sea songs some poaching songs,somelove songs, some ballads ,some drinking songs,some chorus songs.
think about songs in different tempos too,variety is import and never sing a song that you dont feel drawn to.


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