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A song in six days?

Young Buchan 27 Dec 12 - 08:57 AM
GUEST,Fred McCormick 27 Dec 12 - 09:18 AM
GUEST,Stim 27 Dec 12 - 11:30 AM
Jack Campin 27 Dec 12 - 11:48 AM
Marje 27 Dec 12 - 01:09 PM
GUEST,Stim 27 Dec 12 - 01:25 PM
GUEST,CS 27 Dec 12 - 01:34 PM
matt milton 27 Dec 12 - 01:35 PM
Jack Campin 27 Dec 12 - 03:04 PM
PoppaGator 27 Dec 12 - 03:17 PM
Mysha 27 Dec 12 - 04:39 PM
PoppaGator 27 Dec 12 - 05:43 PM
GUEST,Tony 27 Dec 12 - 06:30 PM
Artful Codger 28 Dec 12 - 05:45 AM
Brian Peters 28 Dec 12 - 06:29 AM
Amos 28 Dec 12 - 12:35 PM
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Subject: A song in six days?
From: Young Buchan
Date: 27 Dec 12 - 08:57 AM

I have just contributed to a thread in which a person (wholly anonymous, so I don't have to worry about offending anyone) asked for suggestions of songs to sing at a session on New Year's Day.

Now if that means 'suggestions of songs they already know which they hadn't realized were appropriate for NYD' then I don't have any problem. But I have an uneasy feeling that they probably mean 'suggestions of songs they don't know'. And therein lies the nub.

The request was sent out on Boxing Day, leaving, even with immediate feedback, a maximum of five and a half days to learn it (possibly THEM) - realistically far less. Is that enough time to learn a song?

I accept it is enough time to learn the words. I accept it is enough time to learn the tune. But what I don't accept is that knowing the words and the tune is the same as knowing the song. Six days does not give you the time to become comfortable with a song, to knock off its rough edges, to know its ins and out, to understand what it really means, to enable it, when you sing it, to flow out without thinking at all - certainly not with the sole thought being 'Shit! What's the next line?'

I think a really good question for Mudcat on Boxing Day might be 'Can anyone suggest songs to sing at Whitsun?'

[To save anyone else pointing out the Bleeding Obvious I will say myself:
1) Yes, if you want to write a song about a contemporary event you'll have to do your best immediately; there's no point in producing a parody of the Laughing Policeman about Plebs Mitchell and then incubating it till Easter. You'll have to do your best. But I'm really talking about serious folk songs that deserve a decent, appropriate, unstuttering, intelligent performance.
2) Yes, I know that Sarah Ogan Gunning as a child had the ability to reproduce a song perfectly after one hearing, in the same way that as a student Sigmund Freud had the ability to memorise whole pages of medical textbooks at a single glance. They both lost the ability pretty soon: so don't rely on it!]


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Subject: RE: A song in six days?
From: GUEST,Fred McCormick
Date: 27 Dec 12 - 09:18 AM

Absolute agreement. Nothing gets on my wick more than people attempting to sing a song which they haven't internalised and, to judge from the piece of paper they're holding, haven't even learnt the words.

IMO, learning a song is not just a case of learning the words and the tune. Far more than either, it's a case of learning what the song is about, and that can involve a close inspection of the textual nuances and hidden meanings. It can also involve understanding the song from a historical perspective. IE., what did it mean to the people who sang it below decks or whatever two centuries ago, and what does it then mean to me as a product of the 20th/21st century.

And yes, as someone who sings a lot of political songs and whose memory isn't what it was, I do frequently find I need a crib sheet simply because I'm dealing with a hot topic which won't wait. Under such circumstances, though, I can usually rely on sheer anger or euphoria or whatever to get me through.


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Subject: RE: A song in six days?
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 27 Dec 12 - 11:30 AM

I think you are making the process of preparing a song for performance a lot more convoluted than it really is. Part of being a singer,intrumentalist, or performer of any calibre, is knowing how to prepare performance material quickly. I have some connection to musical theatre, and have seen replacements learn songs, lines, choreography for an entire show in less than six days.

Recording artists often see their material for the first time just before recording it, most famous, but hardly unique, were Ella Fitzgerald's Songbook recordings of Gershwin and Cole Porter, where many of the songs were recorded cold.

Anyway, folk songs are sung by folks, and survive because they'll withstand been sung any and every way that anyone takes it into their mind to sing them.


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Subject: RE: A song in six days?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 27 Dec 12 - 11:48 AM

Some of Mozart's singers premiered arias he'd written in the small hours the night before.

There was one major 19th century composition - by Berlioz? - where the parts for the end of the piece hadn't all been copied when the premiere started. The publisher sent messengers on stage distributing sheets to the orchestra.


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Subject: RE: A song in six days?
From: Marje
Date: 27 Dec 12 - 01:09 PM

I see the point you're making, and I agree that any new song needs to be learned properly. No one wants to see a singer stand up with a piece of paper, saying, "Here's a New Year song I've just come across. Sorry about the word sheet but I don't really know all the words yet. I think I've got the tune, but I'm not sure what key works best. The chorus is a bit weird, I don't really know what it means..."

But it's quite possible to learn a song thoroughly in a few days or less. If its meaning or background requires some study (and not all songs are that complex) there's time for a bit of research if you're so inclined.If you have time to practise it - around the house, in the car, in the bath, whatever - the actual learning needn't take very long. It may improve with practice, but there's got to be a first time singing it "out", and it's only then that you can move on and make improvements.

A song that you've worked on intensively just before performing it can come over very strongly and convincingly, simply because you've had it on your mind for days. And in my experience, the new song I've just learned it the one I'll be able sing without hesitation. The one where I forget the words is the song I've sung a dozen times with no problems, and then suddenly I find that half a verse has evaporated because I'm no longer concentrating properly on what it's all about.

Marje


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Subject: RE: A song in six days?
From: GUEST,Stim
Date: 27 Dec 12 - 01:25 PM

And, Jack, I seem to remember that for the initial performance of "Rhapsody in Blue" Paul Whiteman's score had blank pages, because Gershwin was still writing the piano part as he was performing it.

So, Young Buchan, the answer here is that it all depends on who you are...


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Subject: RE: A song in six days?
From: GUEST,CS
Date: 27 Dec 12 - 01:34 PM

It's not ideal, but half a dozen days is plenty time enough to get the words to scan decently, figure out whether you need to start high or low, get the tune and the rhythm down, and so-on. Done it before will no doubt do it again.

Probably not long enough to get a whole battery of songs set to heart mind you! But I'd be OK about taking on a couple of songs a few days ahead of a sing, just so long as I do actually do *some practise* *each day*.


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Subject: RE: A song in six days?
From: matt milton
Date: 27 Dec 12 - 01:35 PM

Well, it's only a session you're talking about - not a recital at the Albert Hall or whatever.

I know where you're coming from, in that there's songs I sing where I'm still encountering new interesting things about them, and songs I've been singing for years that I still don't feel I do justice to.

But, well, it's a session. Where you might join in on a tune you'd never ever heard before. Sessions don't tend to be 'pin-drop' atmospheres at which everyone hangs off your every vocal inflection.


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Subject: RE: A song in six days?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 27 Dec 12 - 03:04 PM

A lot of the time I prefer to hear somebody singing a song where they're still feeling their way into it rather than a polished performance which I know the singer would always do the same way.

Which is why I prefer singarounds to singing concerts, unless the material in the concert is something I'm very unfamiliar with.


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Subject: RE: A song in six days?
From: PoppaGator
Date: 27 Dec 12 - 03:17 PM

Six days is more than enough time for me, as long as we're talking about one or two songs with relatively simple harmonic structures (i.e., easy/obvious chord changes). Of course, that assumes putting some serious time in EVERY one of the days leading up to the gig, and on each of the songs.

Of course, I'm retired...;^)


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Subject: RE: A song in six days?
From: Mysha
Date: 27 Dec 12 - 04:39 PM

Hi,

Well, in the past, getting a grasp on a song quickly would depend on either getting the score or have someone play it with/for you a few times. Nowadays, we have quite a few recordings and lyric sets on-line, so anything within that song-base one could probably familiarise oneself with fairly quickly. Of course, that would probably yield a specific artist's version of a song, rather than a personal interpretation, but I'd say that in a session that's not unheard of.

BTW, is it unusual to be able to pick up a song in one go as a child? I always figured every child could do that.

Bye,
                                                                  Mysha


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Subject: RE: A song in six days?
From: PoppaGator
Date: 27 Dec 12 - 05:43 PM

Kids ~ some kids, anyway ~ can sometimes perform feats of memorization far beyond the capability of the average adult, because the little boogers just don't have much of anything else on their minds. Of course, this can only happen when whatever the young person needs to learn is something they really love and which has wholly captured their interest.

When my daughter was in 4th or 5th grade and taking some kind of theater class in school, her teacher got her a small part in a local community-theater production (i.e., with adults) of an original play by a local writer. The entire enterprise was pretty chaotic, because the author continued to change the script even after rehearsals had begun.

The adult actors were beside themselves trying to keep up with all the rewrites, but the one little kid almost always new the latest version of everyone else's lines! Why? Well for one thing, her own part was small and was not undergoing changes; but the main consideration, I think, was that the play was just about her whole life for those few weeks, whereas the rest of the cast had jobs, families to feed, mortgages, cars, etc.


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Subject: RE: A song in six days?
From: GUEST,Tony
Date: 27 Dec 12 - 06:30 PM

I doubt that anyone on Mudcat has less musical training or skill than I. Some songs take me weeks just to figure out the chords, and then months of practice before I would sing them with anyone else in the room. But there are other songs that I've learned in a day. The easy learners are usually popular songs (which may be what the NYD thread was looking for). Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is the most recent example. I had heard it for years but never even sang along with it. Then one day I found some new lyrics that I liked. I learned it in less than an hour, sang it all day, and performed it for friends the next day.


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Subject: RE: A song in six days?
From: Artful Codger
Date: 28 Dec 12 - 05:45 AM

And particularly with "once a year" songs, it hardly pays to learn them by heart. I can sing slews of Christmas carols (several times more than I have years to my credit)--and none of them completely from memory; even with "The Twelve Days of Christmas" I'd be guessing at the sequence of gifts without a crib sheet. Six days to get the tune and scansion down? No sweat! I'd even tackle "Mrs. Fogarty's Christmas Cake" in six days. (Incidentally, given the longevity of the cake, I'm sure it'd serve for a New Year's celebration, too--or Easter.)


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Subject: RE: A song in six days?
From: Brian Peters
Date: 28 Dec 12 - 06:29 AM

"...become comfortable with a song, to knock off its rough edges, to know its ins and out, to understand what it really means, to enable it, when you sing it, to flow out without thinking at all - certainly not with the sole thought being 'Shit! What's the next line?"

In principle I'd agree with all of that, particularly when it comes to singing traditional ballads. But I'd also say that performing the song in public is the best and possibly the only way to fully prepare it for public performance: if you've not sung it out, you haven't learned it, no matter how thorough the rehearsal. That feeling of "Shit, what's the next line" provokes far less panic in your own kitchen than in a roomful of people. So there has to be that awkward 'first time'.

If what the original requester for a New Year's Day song was after was something with an easy chorus that all his mates could join with, I'm sure he or she could learn sufficient linking verses in five days. I'd hope I could manage that with your average Wassail song, for instance.


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Subject: RE: A song in six days?
From: Amos
Date: 28 Dec 12 - 12:35 PM

I can write a song, when the inspiration hits me, in six minutes. To learn a song well enough to perform it without stumbling takes a good deal longer--a day, or three, and sometimes a week. Some songs are harder to lay down in memory than others--the ones with more subtle melodies and less clichéd lyrics require more focus.


A


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