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John Barleycorn deconstructed - Finest Kind

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michaelr 20 Jun 11 - 03:48 PM
michaelr 20 Jun 11 - 09:01 PM
Leadfingers 20 Jun 11 - 09:54 PM
RTim 20 Jun 11 - 11:08 PM
GUEST,Gerry 21 Jun 11 - 12:09 AM
Artful Codger 21 Jun 11 - 03:04 AM
GUEST,Ian Robb 21 Jun 11 - 11:06 AM
Lonesome EJ 21 Jun 11 - 01:02 PM
Herga Kitty 21 Jun 11 - 01:21 PM
GUEST,leeneia 21 Jun 11 - 02:15 PM
michaelr 21 Jun 11 - 07:43 PM
Artful Codger 21 Jun 11 - 08:01 PM
Leadfingers 21 Jun 11 - 08:57 PM
Desert Dancer 21 Jun 11 - 11:19 PM
GUEST,Gerry (with apologies to Bertrand Russell) 22 Jun 11 - 01:13 AM
GUEST,Gerry (with apologies to Bertrand Russell) 22 Jun 11 - 01:14 AM
GUEST,leeneia 22 Jun 11 - 01:33 PM
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Subject: John Barleycorn deconstructed
From: michaelr
Date: 20 Jun 11 - 03:48 PM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bJqYMvayMc


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Subject: RE: John Barleycorn deconstructed
From: michaelr
Date: 20 Jun 11 - 09:01 PM

No comments?

I'm interested in what I (for lack of understanding) call "English" harmony, as evident in the video. I hear similar harmonies in the singing of, for example, Silly Sisters - not the thirds and fifths we're used to hearing from pop and contemporary folk songs, but what? Are they singing fourths? sixths?

There is less prettiness and more tension, seeming to me to hark back to madrigals maybe. I'd appreciate if someone could shed some light on the theory behind that sound.

Cheers,
Michael


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Subject: RE: John Barleycorn deconstructed
From: Leadfingers
Date: 20 Jun 11 - 09:54 PM

I dont know enough about harmony to comment , but I enjoyed it !
My fave John Barleycorn is 'English Country Blues Band' doing Strong Man , which is J B to the tune of Stackerlee "!!!


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Subject: RE: John Barleycorn deconstructed
From: RTim
Date: 20 Jun 11 - 11:08 PM

So no one has mentioned the group is Finest Kind, based in Ottawa.
Most English Trad. harmony singing was generally only in two parts - as were The Copper family.
Finest Kind go that extra step.
And - Yes, there are good friends of mine, but they are still very good.

Tim Radford


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Subject: RE: John Barleycorn deconstructed
From: GUEST,Gerry
Date: 21 Jun 11 - 12:09 AM

michaelr, sorry, nothing to contribute on harmonic theory, but thanks for the link. Their CD, Lost in a Song, is one of my favorites.


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Subject: RE: John Barleycorn deconstructed
From: Artful Codger
Date: 21 Jun 11 - 03:04 AM

On the theory side, some of the more "exotic" elements are achieved by:

* changing a major (or minor) third, sixth or seventh interval to its minor (or major) counterpart, thereby suggesting a temporary shift in mode or tonality.

* singing in parallel fourths (above, or fifths below) instead of the more usual thirds or fifths. The result suggests polytonality, though the parallel part tends to conform to the base tonality rather than preserving perfect fourth intervals.

* substituting fourths or seconds for thirds in triads. Seconds usually function as 9ths of the chord. Fourths frequently arise from suspending a note from the previous chord rather than immediately resolving it in leading-tone fashion to the third of the next chord--a resolution which may never occur.

* substituting relative minor triads for primary major chords. E.g. in C, one can sometimes substitute Am for the tonic chord when the return to the tonic is brief and the sense of harmonic "closure" is weak. Similarly, Em can sometimes be used to effect in place of the dominant G chord, and Dm for the subdominant F chord.

There are, of course, many other means for spicing up harmonies and increasing the melodic quality of accompaniment lines; the ones listed have the advantage of sounding fresh without bending traditional harmonic expectations too far, which is why they tend to be more common than, say, diminished or augmented chords or chromatic passing runs.


For a similarly self-referential deconstruction song, listen to Uncle Bonsai's "Folk Song" on their "Myn ynd Wymyn" CD, available from Yellow Tail Records. I can't praise (or plug) this talented trio too often. I'm pleased to see that some of their songs have made it to YouTube--though they may not be so pleased at the infringement.


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Subject: RE: John Barleycorn deconstructed
From: GUEST,Ian Robb
Date: 21 Jun 11 - 11:06 AM

There's some lovely irony in these dissections, as one of the reasons my bandmate Shelley Posen wrote this song was to avoid boring people with the dry technicalities of what we do. Better just to show them, he thought! From my own relatively musically illiterate viewpoint, I hear a couple of things in most English-sounding harmony. One is a "melodic" bass line, which is attractive and flowing even when sung on its own. Another is a relative lack of parallel harmony, in which all parts go up and down more or less together, adjusting all the time to fit the chord. This is the approach taken to produce the classic, layered, wonderfully tight bluegrass harmony sound. In Finest Kind's case, the bass and lead lines on English-style songs sometimes even overlap, with the bass line going above the tenor lead. Ann Downey's third (alto) part goes wherever needed to complete the chord or produce tension or dissonance, and--sung on its own--is often seriously weird. We mostly resist any temptation to be parallel on these songs. I think it's fair to say that we take some new world and new music liberties with traditional English song, but I think we do pay appropriate homage to that vaguely defined old English "churchy" tradition of harmony.


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Subject: RE: John Barleycorn deconstructed
From: Lonesome EJ
Date: 21 Jun 11 - 01:02 PM

That is one of the cleverest explanations of harmony theory I have ever seen. I consider myself a pretty good by-ear harmony singer but am not schooled on seconds, triads, and forths. I have always thought harmony was an instinctive process where the first note sung in harmony with the melody yields a natural progression from there. I find when singing harmony on a new song, I usually improve through the song as I discover and re-use the notes which work well in counterpoint and discard those that don't. I have hit some clinkers in the exploration process for sure.


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Subject: RE: John Barleycorn deconstructed
From: Herga Kitty
Date: 21 Jun 11 - 01:21 PM

I really enjoyed the video, thanks Michaelr!

AFAIK there's nothing traditionally English about singing tense harmonies. When Bob and Ron Copper sang together, it was Bob singing the tune and Ron singing a pretty simple bass line (much of it on the same note).

A lot of the current English harmony style is down to the Watersons and Young Tradition in the 1960s. I was introduced to their singing when I was about 15, and just loved it. I'd passed grade 5 music theory, but have never thought about my vocal harmonies in sol/fa terms - I just go for them instinctively, but I suspect heavily influenced by the Watersons and YT.

And then of course there were the Wilsons and Swan Arcade and Coope, Boyes and Simpson.

Kitty


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Subject: RE: John Barleycorn deconstructed
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 21 Jun 11 - 02:15 PM

I turned on my MIDI keyboard and played along. Artful is correct in his analysis. However, I was looking at what my fingers were doing. To play the melody, you use the key of Am (all white notes, starting on A instead of C.) For harmony, simply skip the next note down, and play "the sandwich" (producing thirds). Except sometimes you skip two white notes, (producing fourths). So it sounds complicated to describe, but it's not complicated to play.

The great, big unexpected chord seems to be an A. This would be a musical surprise, because it contains a C#, which is not in the Am scale.

I wonder if the harmony parts are hard to memorize. As an alto, I've become aware that some harmony parts are easy to learn and others seem to be notes at random and have to be pounded in.

I'm not interested enough to figure out what the dissonant 'jangle' is toward the end. Too many possibilities.


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Subject: RE: John Barleycorn deconstructed
From: michaelr
Date: 21 Jun 11 - 07:43 PM

Thank you, Ian Robb, for commenting here. And thanks to AC for your post! That's helpful.


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Subject: RE: John Barleycorn deconstructed
From: Artful Codger
Date: 21 Jun 11 - 08:01 PM

I didn't mean to suggest that singers, when improvising harmonies real-time, overtly think about theory along the lines I mentioned above, any more than people explicitly think about nouns and adjectives when they speak. It's more an innate sense of what works harmonically and what doesn't; of when to follow the predictable and when to break away; of when to space the parts closely, farther apart or at unisons or octaves; of when a line needs more melodic or rhythmic interest. These things happen either intuitively or as brief flashes of conscious deliberation--for those who have developed that sense. Ian described the actual process in better terms, and Shelley's deconstruction illustrates some of the overall thought processes for giving an arrangement dynamic shape. But Michael did ask for some theory, so I obliged.

As Shelley's lyrics indicate, when planning a set arrangement, singers do give conscious deliberation to "theoretical" matters such as harmonic structure, parallel movements (or, as Ian remarked, deliberately non-parallel movements, which shows the same awareness), voice proximity and crossing, placement of dissonances and suspensions. They just understand the theory (musical conventions and behavior) more directly and convey what they mean more directly either by concrete example or by informal rather than theoretical terms.

As very young children, we learn language my emulating the sound patterns we hear around us, making copious mistakes and finally arriving at ever more successful patterns that work. As adults, we learn languages more efficiently by combining emulation and experimentation with a more conscious analysis of the grammar rules described by others. Learning to harmonize and improvise happens in the same way; understanding the theory can reduce the bungling and allow you to talk about musical concepts with more precision. But you don't have to learn the theoretical descriptions of harmony in order to "get" how harmony works. Most of us picked up our intrinsic understanding of harmony at the same time we picked up our first language. And most of us still haven't formally studied music theory to much depth, so trying to talk to groups using theoretical terms may be like delivering a lecture in Latin--a strain for both sides, and largely counter-productive.

We also need to remember that music theory has great limitations; it can describe the most usual harmonic structures and progressions we encounter, and a bit of why we respond to them as we do, but it presents a very incomplete picture. It's a meta-description of music, and no substitute for experiencing the music itself.


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Subject: RE: John Barleycorn deconstructed
From: Leadfingers
Date: 21 Jun 11 - 08:57 PM

Harmony is just wandering off the melody until it sounds pretty and people stop looking at you


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Subject: RE: John Barleycorn deconstructed - Finest Kind
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 21 Jun 11 - 11:19 PM

From Finest Kind's new cd, For Honour & For Gain, FAM09: 2010. (Oooh! Gotta get it!)

Their harmonizing style is undoubtedly strongly influenced both by their interests in the English tradition, which is more likely to have 4ths and 5ths, than lots of 3rds the way bluegrass, for example, does, and also in shape note music, which uses an older/weirder sort of harmony (with the melodic bass, random alto, and crossing lines that Ian pointed out) that is different from the more modern (since mid-19th century) moving triads of church or glee style.

~ Becky in Tucson


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Subject: RE: John Barleycorn deconstructed - Finest Kind
From: GUEST,Gerry (with apologies to Bertrand Russell)
Date: 22 Jun 11 - 01:13 AM

I want to write a song about all these self-referential songs, but I can't decide whether my song should refer to itself.


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Subject: RE: John Barleycorn deconstructed - Finest Kind
From: GUEST,Gerry (with apologies to Bertrand Russell)
Date: 22 Jun 11 - 01:14 AM

Oops - I meant, I want to write a song about all the songs that **don't** refer to themselves, but I can't decide whether my song should refer to itself.


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Subject: RE: John Barleycorn deconstructed - Finest Kind
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 22 Jun 11 - 01:33 PM

You should seek professional counseling before making a decision that momentous.      





:)


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