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Remembering Long Songs for Performance

voyager 15 Dec 10 - 11:00 PM
GUEST,DonMeixner 15 Dec 10 - 11:23 PM
Sooz 16 Dec 10 - 03:27 AM
Haruo 16 Dec 10 - 03:36 AM
Suegorgeous 16 Dec 10 - 04:42 AM
David C. Carter 16 Dec 10 - 04:49 AM
Dave MacKenzie 16 Dec 10 - 04:50 AM
BobKnight 16 Dec 10 - 04:58 AM
Linda Goodman Zebooker 16 Dec 10 - 12:27 PM
JHW 16 Dec 10 - 12:35 PM
MoorleyMan 16 Dec 10 - 03:39 PM
PoppaGator 16 Dec 10 - 04:03 PM
Edthefolkie 16 Dec 10 - 07:51 PM
Tootler 16 Dec 10 - 07:56 PM
Tootler 16 Dec 10 - 08:01 PM
Tim Chesterton 17 Dec 10 - 01:48 PM
Bobert 17 Dec 10 - 02:54 PM
Jim Carroll 17 Dec 10 - 03:54 PM
Dave MacKenzie 17 Dec 10 - 05:26 PM
open mike 18 Dec 10 - 02:35 AM
GUEST,Desi C 18 Dec 10 - 11:16 AM
Alaska Mike 18 Dec 10 - 11:30 AM
Marje 18 Dec 10 - 11:35 AM
Cool Beans 18 Dec 10 - 11:56 AM
Jim Carroll 18 Dec 10 - 12:16 PM
Marje 18 Dec 10 - 12:31 PM
Jim Carroll 19 Dec 10 - 05:39 AM
Dave MacKenzie 19 Dec 10 - 11:45 AM
Cool Beans 19 Dec 10 - 01:16 PM
GUEST,Guest from Sanity 19 Dec 10 - 01:18 PM
MoorleyMan 19 Dec 10 - 06:20 PM
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Subject: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: voyager
Date: 15 Dec 10 - 11:00 PM

Mudcat Performers (and Dylan-ologists or Balladeers) -

I'm listening to Highway 61 in drive time today and was surprised at how many verses I could sing along with. See how your memory works with these 1st verse lines (Desolation Row)-

1. They’re selling postcards of the hanging
2. Cinderella, she seems so easy
3. Now the moon is almost hidden
4. Now Ophelia, she’s ’neath the window
5. Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood
6. Dr. Filth, he keeps his world
7. Across the street they’ve nailed the curtains
8. Now at midnight all the agents
9. Praise be to Nero’s Neptune
10.Yes, I received your letter yesterday

I've always been impressed at the performance of Long Ballads (Celtic Ballads for example). I'm interested in knowing how long songs are learned (or committed to memory). Listening to Dylan songs, the 1st line of a verse has a lot to do with my own recall.

A companion thread might be - The Longest Ballad written and performed.

Have fun with this.
voyager


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: GUEST,DonMeixner
Date: 15 Dec 10 - 11:23 PM

I think no single method works for everybody. My method for learning lyrics was pretty ponderous but successful for me. My method was to write out the entire song in long hand first. If I knew the chords I'd put in slashes for the beats and learn the chords and rhythm first. Next I'd learn a line and then the next. Sing and repeat line 1 and 2 and then add line three until I had them learned and so on. Once I had the verse down I sing the first verse and then the first line of the next verse or chorus but I always sang the entire collection of lines preceding the next line in the song I wanted. This reinforced the memory.

I'm sure everybody else has a different method.

Don


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: Sooz
Date: 16 Dec 10 - 03:27 AM

I find that songs which tell a story are much easier to learn than those which there is no progression. Even so I wouldn't risk more than eight verses! Repetition and more repitition until it sticks is my method.


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: Haruo
Date: 16 Dec 10 - 03:36 AM

I think the only one where I know more than eight verses by heart is "Thaïs" ("One time in Alexandria, in wicked Alexandria...") I know the whole thing, I think, but can't recall (without singing it and getting somebody else to count as I do so) whether it's 13 or 14 stanzas.

Haruo


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: Suegorgeous
Date: 16 Dec 10 - 04:42 AM

Repetition repetition repetition...


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: David C. Carter
Date: 16 Dec 10 - 04:49 AM

I can only repete what Suegorgeous just said.

David


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: Dave MacKenzie
Date: 16 Dec 10 - 04:50 AM

I used to do "Desolation Row" a long time ago. I can't remember how I set about learning it. Nowadays, the song with the greatest number of verses is "Mattie Groves" (31) which has a strong story line (and only takes about 3 minutes). Usually I already know quite a bit of a song before I start learning it. The one I have most difficulty with is "Shelter fron the Storm", and I notice Dylan doesn't always sing the verses in the same order.


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: BobKnight
Date: 16 Dec 10 - 04:58 AM

Don Meixner and Sue gorgeous have it. Learn it like Don says, then add repitition, repetition, etc.


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: Linda Goodman Zebooker
Date: 16 Dec 10 - 12:27 PM

I don't attempt to sing long songs. Sheila Kay Adams (Appalachian singer) describes learning 99-verse songs "knee to knee with Granny" on her CD "Whatever Happened to John Parrish's Boy?". Granny would do one verse, Sheila would repeat it back, then they'd accumulate the verses--the process you've already described.

A couple of things I've recently learned about learning lyrics:

For one song where there isn't a story line, The Fisherman's Wife, I used American Sign Language-like hand motions to myself for one key word in each verse. I can remember the five hand motions and their relationships easily. The hand motions are for nouns: Hand, Father, Light, Crook, Fingers.

For another song, There Ain't No Ash Will Burn, I found if I emphasized by a slight elongation one key word in each line I could remember the words. I then realized to my surprise that this emphasis made my singing of the song much better. In this case the key words turned out to be verbs: seen, know, You say, cry.

A friend of mine who knows thousands of songs and can sing them without hesitation after not having done them for YEARS swears by the write-or-type it out method.

I like also learning songs on the Metro (DC subway). I bring a song sheet on with me and in a couple of rides I have it. The motion of the subway seems to help. I also find that writing songs on the Metro or airplanes or when walking is easier than when I'm at rest.


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: JHW
Date: 16 Dec 10 - 12:35 PM

Agree with Sooz.
I can probably remember Tamlane form one Halloween to the next because of the vivid action and helpfully many long songs are ballads. I used to struggle with 'Snows they melt the soonest' until I swapped the middle two verses thus giving the song progress and no more problem.
Picturing the story happening helps too and also helps the audience. If you can't picture the action neither will they (and if they can't there was no point singing the song}. Try also to picture a song that hasn't a progression eg 'the haunted, frightened trees' I know a row of just such weeping ash.


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: MoorleyMan
Date: 16 Dec 10 - 03:39 PM

I just posted to this thread but it never appeared...
Trying again.

Interested in your post John. I had exactly the same experience with The Snows, not a long song by any means but I did the very same thing a few months back and it worked a treat too.

Re long songs, well the problem lies (probably) less in the mechanics of learning and more in that nowadays there seem so very few opportunities to get to perform long songs (at least, in public!). Exceptions being - (a) if you're lucky enough to be booked for a half-hour or longer set and can slot one in; (b) in a dedicated ballad session (of course!); (c) in a singaround that's sparsely supported - in which case you can sing a long song to yourself and the host! and maybe (d) in one of those "one song per night if you're lucky" singarounds that seem so prevalent these days, and even then one's not exactly popular hogging the limelight at the potential expense of someone else's turn!
All of which makes me wonder whether it's even worth the time and effort of trying to learn long songs at all, great though many of them are and however desirous or committed to the art I might feel.


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: PoppaGator
Date: 16 Dec 10 - 04:03 PM

Way back in the early 70s, I was singing on the street full-time ~ really full-time, 40 hours a week or more actually performing out in public, plus more time playing for myself (practicing) and/or jamming with others at parties or whatever.

I had a number of pretty long songs (mostly, if not exclusively, Dylan songs) in my regular repertoire, largely to help myself fill the long hours. The hardest part has always been remembering the order of the verses ~ my experience was much like that of the original poster; once I have the first line of a verse, I can usually remember the rest.

If I sang verses out of order back then, out on the street, it hardly mattered since my "audience" consisted mostly of individuals who were only present to hear a single verse (at most) while moving past. With time, I'd eventually get the verses in the correct order more and more often, until I had entire songs down pat.

I've started back performing a little bit (one one-hour appearance a month), and nowadays really can't remember lyrics without cheat-sheets, even for not-so-long songs. In my defense, let me note that I rarely need to resort to the lyric sheets except to get the first line of a verse.

So I guess the upshot of my experience is that repetition is indeed the key.


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: Edthefolkie
Date: 16 Dec 10 - 07:51 PM

I was just praising Andy Irvine on another thread and then looked at this one. I'm still marvelling at how he flew from Japan to Dublin, was plonked in front of a camera in a pub and did an absolutely storming version of "Tom Joad" - quite a long song. I suppose in his case it was repetition AND past obsession with Woody.

As to verse order, I remember Simon Nicol regularly cocking up the verses of "John Barleycorn", to the point where he was applauded by the cognoscenti.


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: Tootler
Date: 16 Dec 10 - 07:56 PM


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: Tootler
Date: 16 Dec 10 - 08:01 PM

Sorry! clicked on "Submit Message" instead of "Forum Home".

Obviously time I was in my bed.


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: Tim Chesterton
Date: 17 Dec 10 - 01:48 PM

I find that listening to them in the car over and over again when I'm driving alone - and then turning the CD off and trying to sing what I can remember - and then listening again etc. etc. - helps. If I'm making my own arrangement and cherry-picking verses from here, there and everywhere (as I often am with old ballads) I try to make a rough recording of myself and then take it to the car to listen to and sing along with. Usually an unaccompanied recording, as I like to learn the song first and then let it tell me how it wants to be accompanied.

I do several long (approximately fifteen-verse) ballads and find that if you pick them well and give a bit of introduction, a lot of people are surprisingly receptive to them.


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: Bobert
Date: 17 Dec 10 - 02:54 PM

There is a reason I don't do long songs... It's called short memory...

Back in the mid 90's I wrote a longish song about a train tunnel that collapsed on a train in Richmond, Va. which was never dug out... The more I learned about the story the longer the the song got... The first write had it at 40 verses which was way too long so I worked on it until I got it down to 32 verses...

Problem is that I never could remember them all in spite of having written them... But I wanted to record the song and eventually did but had to use major cheat-sheets to record it... It came out fine but that was the last time I did the song, too...

B~


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 17 Dec 10 - 03:54 PM

First - assimilate the story - easy with the ballads.
Then learn the words.
Then what Suegorgeous said.
As MacColl grew old his memory started to fail - slightly - not good for somebody who sang as many ballads as he did.
I occasionally saw him forget the words (as learned) but I never saw him muck up on a ballad.
He was so absorbed into the story that he always managed to make up something that fitted the story; unless you were familiar with the song you wouldn't have noticed.
A theory about ballads is that at one time they had no fixed text, but a plot and commonplaces, and the singer re-created the ballad each time he/she sang it.
Not sure about this, but an intrigueing idea, and we've certainly met traditional singers who never sang the same song the same way twice.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: Dave MacKenzie
Date: 17 Dec 10 - 05:26 PM

I must say that the hardest songs to remember are usually the ones that I've written myself, which is why I hardly ever do any.


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: open mike
Date: 18 Dec 10 - 02:35 AM

i found a way to remember the Carter Family song "Give Me The Roses"
the 3 verses start with "wonderful" "folks" and "praises" and it came to me that I can recall W F and P by remembering the word Whiffenpoof,
so that is what i do...don't even remember where that word comes from...is it a Disney movie? Or a character in Lewis Carroll's Jaberwocky? i see it is a Yale singing group


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: GUEST,Desi C
Date: 18 Dec 10 - 11:16 AM

As a Folk Club host , you've know idea how our hearts sink when someone gets up and announces they'rer going to sing it! Can I appeal to performers, please save it for the quieter nights ;)


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: Alaska Mike
Date: 18 Dec 10 - 11:30 AM

Long songs with a story are much easier for me to remember than songs with non-sequential verses. Many of my own songs are long, multi-verse story songs which just take practice and repetition to perform. I've got one original with 14 verses that I sing in 3 minutes flat. Needless to say, it goes quite poorly when I forget a line. Eventually, it boils down to learning the lyrics exactly and practicing them regularly.

Mike


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: Marje
Date: 18 Dec 10 - 11:35 AM

I think it's quite likely that, as Jim suggests, ballad singers have always varied the lyrics a bit. There are a lot of set phrases that will carry certain parts of a story along:
"He took her by the lily-white hand" or "middle so small"
"Arise and tell to me..."
"And up then spoke.."
"Arise and let me in"
"and woe betide..."
"This pretty girl grew thick around the waist"
"Go saddle to me the milk-white steed"
"I wish my baby it were born"

and so on.

These would be of little use to a lazy singer who had never learned the songs in the first place, but an experienced singer would be able to draw on them to hold the story together when there was a memory lapse.

I'm not sure I'd dare attempt that. I might accidentally launch into a completely different song and find myself unable to get the story back on track. But I admit I have occasionally made up a line or a half-line as I went along, rather than stop and think about it.

Marje


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: Cool Beans
Date: 18 Dec 10 - 11:56 AM

Please, keep your long songs to yourself, unless there's a groundswell of requests. Once at a song swap, this guy sang A La Clair Fontaine, en francais, all 487 verses (I exaggerate, but not by much) and I just wanted to strangle the sumbitch. It takes a massive sense of entitlement to hog that much time from everyone else. I've seen open mic nights where the limit was two pieces per performer and some douchebag does a 20-minute song and then complains when the MC won't let him do a second one.


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 18 Dec 10 - 12:16 PM

"Please, keep your long songs to yourself,"
Which just about wipes out the entire ballad repertoire - if audiences (though it's my experiences, it's mainly club organisers are the problem) can't take long songs, maybe they should stay at home and watch Coronation Street.
Maybe you would like to suggest the maximum length for a song performed in public - not for practical use, you understand, just for some idea of the attention span in your neck of the woods.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: Marje
Date: 18 Dec 10 - 12:31 PM

It's a pity if worthwhile long songs get squeezed out, but as Cool Beans says, the time they would take is often time that is taken from someone else. In a situation where there is limited time available and lots of people wanting to sing, a long song may not be the best choice.

It's common enough at clubs to have two-song floor-spots, so if I wanted to do a really long song, I'd suggest that I just do the one. But I'm afraid that there are people who tend to do pairs of long songs (not necessarily well, but that's another issue), so their spot takes several times as long as some of the others. That's why others get impatient, and the club MC has the unenviable task of trying to please everyone.

Personally, I enjoy a long ballad if it's well done, but not if it's badly sung. I also observe that many recent or self-penned songs tend to be too long in the worst sense - at least with a ballad there's a point to the length, because there's a story to tell, but some mediocre modern songs are 7 or 8 verses long when 4 would be plenty.
" Leave 'em wanting more" is a maxim worth bearing in mind, although obviously not if it means stopping halfway through a ballad.

If singers were sensitive enough to notice how much time is available and how many others want to sing, and would adjust their song-set times accordingly, there would be fewer grumbles.

Marje


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 19 Dec 10 - 05:39 AM

"If singers were sensitive enough to notice how much time is available"
"(...not necessarily well, but that's another issue),"
I think both off these points are relevant, particularly the second one.
A three verse song sung badly can sound interminable, yet a well sung 10 - 14 - 20 verse ballad is often over far too quickly - you don't want it to end.
Assessing a song - any song by its length is an entirely artificial concept.
Taken to its logical conclussion our bookshelves would be full of Mills and Boon and our Dickens and Hardy would serve only to light the fire with.
I notice that none of our would be folk censors have ventured a maximum length for a song.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: Dave MacKenzie
Date: 19 Dec 10 - 11:45 AM

I've had arguments in the past with club organisers about the length of floor spots. I've tried to explain that if they're short of time, they're better to say six minutes, rather than two songs. I can easily fit three short songs into six minutes, while if I did two songs, and the first one was "Desolation Row" I'd have taken nearly twice that time before I even started my second song.


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: Cool Beans
Date: 19 Dec 10 - 01:16 PM

Jim, the definition of a song that's too long is like that Supreme Court justice's definition of pornography--I know it when I see it.


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: GUEST,Guest from Sanity
Date: 19 Dec 10 - 01:18 PM

Practice, Practice, PRACTICE!!!!...
..or find a different hobby!

GfS


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Subject: RE: Remembering Long Songs for Performance
From: MoorleyMan
Date: 19 Dec 10 - 06:20 PM

Yes, the sensible singers will gauge their allotted time and fill it accordingly - and stand less chance of making enemies by stealing from others' time.
"You have 5 - or however many - minutes" can be a much more useful and practical recommendation from an MC's point of view.
However...
I recall an instance recently where three consecutive floor singers at a club were given the "we've only time for one song each tonight" instruction. Which, knowing the time frame before the guest spot, I'd estimated to be a max 5-6-minute slot per performer inclusive of any intro from the MC and the action of getting up onto the stage etc.. The first sang a song lasting 5 and a half minutes inclusive of his own introduction and guitar tuning. The second sang two intelligently-linked short songs which together lasted less than 4 and a half minutes inclusive of explanatory introduction - and no instrument tuning. The third's contribution lasted close on 7 minutes inclusive of intro and tuning.
Guess who got the brickbats?!

There are ways of fitting in a longer song (shall we say 5-6 minutes in actual performance time) which isn't a ballad - like by missing out a verse, say, or doubling-up verses between choruses, or even by singing it faster - all of which can be done credibly in the right circumstances even though it's not a practice I would condone in general. But of course, there are a number of these non-ballad longish songs which are downright classics, but which because they tell a specific story obviously just cannot be abridged in any sensible way. That word "sensible" is the key, and returns me to my starting point in this post. Neat or wot?


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