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English Folk: Harmony Singing

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Herga Kitty 20 Feb 02 - 03:04 PM
GUEST,JohnB 20 Feb 02 - 12:19 PM
BretonCap 20 Feb 02 - 11:33 AM
Nemesis 18 Feb 02 - 06:53 PM
Abuwood 18 Feb 02 - 03:07 PM
nutty 18 Feb 02 - 12:36 PM
GUEST,JohnB 18 Feb 02 - 12:21 PM
GUEST,English Jon 18 Feb 02 - 10:22 AM
lady penelope 18 Feb 02 - 10:04 AM
GUEST,MC Fat 18 Feb 02 - 08:41 AM
GUEST,eliza 18 Feb 02 - 08:29 AM
Ned Ludd 17 Feb 02 - 07:16 PM
Herga Kitty 17 Feb 02 - 05:18 PM
Ned Ludd 17 Feb 02 - 05:11 PM
alanww 17 Feb 02 - 03:01 PM
Herga Kitty 17 Feb 02 - 01:48 PM
Ned Ludd 17 Feb 02 - 03:53 AM
Annie144 16 Feb 02 - 04:29 PM
Annie144 16 Feb 02 - 08:13 AM
GUEST 14 Feb 02 - 08:38 AM
GUEST,dermod in salisbury 14 Feb 02 - 08:10 AM
CRANKY YANKEE 14 Feb 02 - 04:41 AM
CRANKY YANKEE 14 Feb 02 - 04:38 AM
Les from Hull 13 Feb 02 - 08:08 PM
Desert Dancer 13 Feb 02 - 05:01 PM
Herga Kitty 13 Feb 02 - 04:27 PM
Bill D 13 Feb 02 - 03:48 PM
Dave Bryant 13 Feb 02 - 03:43 PM
Herga Kitty 13 Feb 02 - 03:22 PM
Malcolm Douglas 13 Feb 02 - 02:17 PM
GUEST,greg stephens 13 Feb 02 - 01:12 PM
Dave Bryant 13 Feb 02 - 12:29 PM
Steve Parkes 13 Feb 02 - 12:27 PM
sian, west wales 13 Feb 02 - 12:24 PM
radriano 13 Feb 02 - 12:11 PM
Grab 13 Feb 02 - 11:50 AM
GUEST 13 Feb 02 - 11:05 AM
Steve Parkes 13 Feb 02 - 10:51 AM
Steve Parkes 13 Feb 02 - 06:51 AM
Dave Bryant 13 Feb 02 - 05:53 AM
greg stephens 12 Feb 02 - 06:03 PM
Herga Kitty 12 Feb 02 - 06:02 PM
Ned Ludd 12 Feb 02 - 06:01 PM
Les from Hull 12 Feb 02 - 04:38 PM
lamarca 12 Feb 02 - 04:09 PM
GUEST,JJ 12 Feb 02 - 03:58 PM
Malcolm Douglas 12 Feb 02 - 03:54 PM
Seamus Kennedy 12 Feb 02 - 03:21 PM
GUEST 12 Feb 02 - 03:06 PM
Malcolm Douglas 12 Feb 02 - 02:58 PM
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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Herga Kitty
Date: 20 Feb 02 - 03:04 PM

Hille

I forwarded this thread to Dave and Anni, and got a reply explaining that they only run harmony workshops when they are booked by festivals to do so.

Sarah Morgan runs harmony workshops too, at Whitby Festival and others.

Kitty


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: GUEST,JohnB
Date: 20 Feb 02 - 12:19 PM

Hey Hille, my group has the same line up, tenor (me) Alto and Soprano. We go with the just rip right into it and make up your own harmony line approach. It seems to sometimes work easily and other times not. Finest Kind, are a Canadian group who do some good stuff (2 Guys 1 Girl) worth a listen anyhow. JohnB


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: BretonCap
Date: 20 Feb 02 - 11:33 AM

Whilst I can hold the main tune when I sing I have all sorts of problems trying to sing harmont lines.

The best I can manage (and I quote Johnny Collins) is to find the note and then wobble off it until it sounds pretty.

Sorry I couldn't resist the urge to put in my two pennyworth

Dave


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Nemesis
Date: 18 Feb 02 - 06:53 PM

It's a bit further up the threads now but can anyone advise further about Dave Webber and Anni Fentiman and workshops they might be running? I sing in a 3-part trio 1 tune singer (tenor), 1 alto, 1 soprano (both doing harmonies usually 3rds and 5ths (I think :) around the tune - yes, 'fraid we do do harmonies during the chorus :)

We have taken inspiration from Swan Arcade, the Watersons, Young Tradition, etc (still struggling with Coope, Boyes and Simpson - who are playing at the Royal, Lewes, Sussex on March 7th) but oddly enough although we are using a reasonably strict almost choral/classical approach to our arrangements were uninspired by Artisan - who (apparently) use the same technical approach( Good songs and Hilary Spencer is a personal singing hero of mine though - only one lung! What a singer!) which come across to me as very mannered. Ditto - Cockersdale whom I saw recently (altho' pleading exhaustion on this particular night - which doesn't always make for unambivalent listening) I thought that aside from a couple of songs they were just plain boring - although it is very interesting listening to varieties of harmony singing: I have reappraised my intial shock-horror listening to the Watersons and realised they do some great stuff albeit in a 'raw' fashion. Personal taste presumably? (Although I don't have sufficient technical knowledge to analyse what it is that might be appealing/unappealing about different groups - as a beginner at this game I find appeal (personally) is a lot to do with drive and timing (oh, and song message)


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Abuwood
Date: 18 Feb 02 - 03:07 PM

Interesting thread! I like singing harmony, I think I hit 3rds and 5ths, but Hilary Spencer said free harmony was filling in the spaces so sometimes I aim for the notes above or below to weave around the tune - don't know what it sounds like to you lot but we like it! Al & Steve& John & Chris


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: nutty
Date: 18 Feb 02 - 12:36 PM

Harmony singing is very different in families ... eg The Coppers , the Watersons , the Wilsons where there is already a natural blend of voices to that which is contrived (even though well rehearsed).
This natural blend is most evident in African music where the harmonies (of tribal music/chants) are very subtle and often quite irregular.


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: GUEST,JohnB
Date: 18 Feb 02 - 12:21 PM

The Oldest written down English secular song is "Summer is a Cummin in" from the 13th Century it is actually a round. So the harmony is generated by the staggered repetion of the same line, plus in this case a bass part. Most of the early "Secular" music was not written down but I doubt that this was the only song of the time with "English Harmony" in it. Just a thought, JohnB.


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: GUEST,English Jon
Date: 18 Feb 02 - 10:22 AM

Going back to Noreen's comment about Irish songs performed in unison, It is interesting to note than when there was a decline in fiddle playing in Sligo, people started "lilting" the old tunes - daidle-eedle-iddle-i-eedle etc.. Hence "diddly diddly" as a term for Irish session tunes. Now, the men and women both sung the tune but in Unison, the men singing one octave lower, obviously. As the fiddle started to re-emerge, the new generation of sligo players started playing in octaves. So, lets assume that Octave unison is the most basic form of harmony, the next most basic is singing in natural fifths - see young tradition's version of Lyke wake dirge, or Cutty Wren. Slightly more advanced is unison at the third - Waterson's soul-cake song uses paralell thirds and fifths - very ancient it sounds too.

Another early harmonic practice is to sing tunes against a burden, or drone, obviously, this creates a harmonic anchor point, so if you have a melody harmonised at the fifth, you can effectively be in two modes at once, the drone is used to give preference to one or the other.

This takes us, in classical harmony terms, up to about 1100 A.D. So I think it's pretty fair to say that folk harmony is not a new idea.

EJ


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: lady penelope
Date: 18 Feb 02 - 10:04 AM

I've done a couple of Bulgarian folk singing workshops and the woman who runs them explained that singing folk songs and especially in harmony (or the harmonies that the average punter used ) supressed when the orthodox christian church became promonent. This would suggest that in eastern europe, at least, harmony singing was commonplace quite a long time ago. They tend to sing in thirds, with the emphasis on the two thirds under the melody, quite often with the odd drone thrown in. Bulgaria being where it is, their tradition also has quite a middle eastern sound at times with some solo songs that wouldn't sound out of place in the arab states.

My point being, I find it hard to beleive that "traditional songs" were never sung in harmony. It seems to be an awfully widespread practise if such was the case.Look at 'rounds', although the effect is produced by staggering the melody the effect is a harmony! I do believe that there are distinct styles of songs, some which obviously lend themselves to large amounts of harmonies and others that sound best unacompanied.

Also, historically, instruments were prohibitively expensive for many people. So a voice would be the obvious instrument for most people to play.

People who enjoy singing, to a certain extent, can't help but improvise around a melody, if only to see what it sounds like!

TTFN M'Lady P.


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: GUEST,MC Fat
Date: 18 Feb 02 - 08:41 AM

Just to mention that when I was in Co.Mayo a couple of years ago i didn't half get some funny looks when I did as I usually do which is launch straight into a harmony when the chorus came. It just isn't done over there !!!


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: GUEST,eliza
Date: 18 Feb 02 - 08:29 AM

Mike Waterson always says,"You sing the tune until you can't anymore.Then you sing a harmony". In the Watersons' case it was certainly that the girls set the pitch of the melody,so the boys had to stretch a bit to get round it. That's where that wonderful falsetto came from!!


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Ned Ludd
Date: 17 Feb 02 - 07:16 PM

Sorry Kitty- what I was trying to say is that a group like, say the Wilsons is a lot different from one like Artisan.


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Herga Kitty
Date: 17 Feb 02 - 05:18 PM

Ned - I thought that was what I said??????

Kitty


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Ned Ludd
Date: 17 Feb 02 - 05:11 PM

I wan't saying that rehearsed harmony was bad,just answering Annie's question.All bands getting paid should rehearse, but they don't all arrange the harmonies.


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: alanww
Date: 17 Feb 02 - 03:01 PM

Very true, Kitty. If you don't know it well already, sometimes its almost impossible to spot the tune!

Singing in sweet harmony
Alan


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Herga Kitty
Date: 17 Feb 02 - 01:48 PM

Harmony groups that are recording and going out and doing bookings generally rehearse their harmonies if only to avoid having 2 members of the group sing the same note at the same time. Members of harmony groups who just happen to be joining in choruses of songs sung by other people in informal sessions will often be improvising. I have heard one group singing where the tune got shared out between members - in fact trying to spot the tune in some groups' songs, like Coope, Boyes and Simpson, can sometimes be a challenge.

Kitty


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Ned Ludd
Date: 17 Feb 02 - 03:53 AM

Cockersdale are well rehearsed to seem casual and traditional. Carrying on from the standards set by their founder (no longer with us) Keith Marsden, many of whose songs are often mistaken for traditional songs.Great songs and harmonies but certainly Choreographed.


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Annie144
Date: 16 Feb 02 - 04:29 PM

What I wanted to ask was have people heard Cockersdale? Which category does their harmony singing fall into? Calculated or improvised? I saw them last year [they're on Fellside records]. They're very good.

A.


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Annie144
Date: 16 Feb 02 - 08:13 AM

Can I refresh this one? It was an interesting read and then it disappeared. It's taken me ages to find it again.

A.


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: GUEST
Date: 14 Feb 02 - 08:38 AM

Mairead Ni Mhaoinaigh of Altan, on the paucity of women's songs making it into the (male determined) folk music canon in Ireland:

"Apparently the women weren't given pens."


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: GUEST,dermod in salisbury
Date: 14 Feb 02 - 08:10 AM

Interesting thread. There is a natural close relationship between certain pitches, notably thirds, sixths, and octaves. This is unlikely to have escaped the notice of our forefathers who, in their spare time, built pyramids etc. So I imagine harmony singing is very old. Those who explored the possibilities produced something which is generally pigeonholed today as art music. Not quite of the soil. Those who preferred solo are more likely to be associated with folk or popular traditions. There are 'between' areas, probably resulting from people with different voice ranges singing together. The important things are does it work, and is it expressive. All other divisions in music are bogus. I wouldn't fret too much about the origins. Best wishes.


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: CRANKY YANKEE
Date: 14 Feb 02 - 04:41 AM

Isn't that something on the same order as, "What kind of Meter is it, exactly, that Geordies love so much? (Geordie: English spelling of Jody, but no relation)


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: CRANKY YANKEE
Date: 14 Feb 02 - 04:38 AM

HA HAAAAAAAAAAA HO HEE HEEE, OH GOLLY, ENGLISH HARMONY. WOW, LAUGH, i THOUGHT i'D DIE.
that is before George Martin taught Wally Whyton , the Vipers skiffle group and the Beatles exactly what harmony is.

(big smile) (and bigger laugh).

actually I'm just being my usual cantankerous self. There were wonderfull harmnonies in Elizabethan music. And then, of course, there were people like Handel and, come to think of it I like Handel a lot.
I shouldn't carry on like this, but, it's so hard to resist.

My Dad always asked, "why are there so meny more horses asses than there are horses?
Answer: because there are people like me who occasionally do act like horses asses because it's so much fun.


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Les from Hull
Date: 13 Feb 02 - 08:08 PM

Great article, Becky. Some of these songs are still in the repetoire of the 'singing in the pub' traditions that lingers in Yorkshire - especially at Christmas. There's been some discussion of that here recently and somebody here with more time might point them out. 'The Mistletoe Bough' is a great favourite.


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 13 Feb 02 - 05:01 PM

If you want to know a bit more about English "glee" singing, check out the Musical Traditions article on the the Millen family, a family from Kent that was only recently "discovered." (There's a new cd available). (I've only recently read it; sorry, I don't feel qualified to digest the content for you, yet...)

Regarding the Coppers' style, Peter Kennedy said, "Although much of the harmony might at first sound similar to church choir or glee club, there is much in the style which could be an example of primitive folk polyphony survival. Their practice is to give a 'hovering effect' in passage from one main note to another, the main notes themselves very often being in unison. Their style is not confined to their own family as I have heard other family pairs, not only in the region of the South Downs, but also in the Thames Valley area." (In the notes for the Folk-Legacy album, "English Shepherd and Farming Songs" sung by Bob and Ron Copper, recently re-issued/reformatted? and released by Topic.)

And to amend Peg's note above from 2/12, Tony Barrand's partner is John Roberts.

~ Becky in Tucson


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Herga Kitty
Date: 13 Feb 02 - 04:27 PM

Dave Bryant - oops, sorry but I'm knackered after a long hard day at work.

Listening to Martin Simpson's tribute to Tony Engel and Topic records on the Radio 2 Folk Awards just now has reminded me of Oak (Tony, Peta Webb and Rod and Danny Stradling)and the Songwainers, and the Valley Folk .... and Threadbare Consort / Dead Sea Surfers .....

I absolutely agree with Radriano that harmony singing often originates in the singer pitching a song in a key outside the range of the audience, or which splits the tune between the low and high ranges.


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Bill D
Date: 13 Feb 02 - 03:48 PM

This is not being posted by Bill D, actually this is Ferrara, Bill's wife....

I'm very pleased to see evidence that harmony singing in British music has ancient roots. Good harmonies are so satisfying to sing and hear.

Here's another point of view though. Norman Kennedy gave a ballad workshop here recently and I asked him whether it was appropriate to sing harmonies on choruses, refrains, etc. He said in his opinion, absolutely not. In fact he said it will throw him off. When he learned old songs in Scotland, the group singing was all done in harmony. He said the current style of harmony singing developed in the context of "set pieces," ie performances I guess.

Possibly there are regional differences?

Rita F


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Dave Bryant
Date: 13 Feb 02 - 03:43 PM

Thanks Kitty, but I was talking about BRIAN & Ruth BRITAIN of ENGLISH TAPESTRY - they came from Cambridge. You're talking about Dave ("The Singing Penguin" we used to call him) and Ruth COOPER who now live in Nottingham. Back in the late 60's and early 70's, they used to live down here and run Catford Folk Club. I don't think they'd mind me saying that Brian & Ruth were in a complete different league to them.


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Herga Kitty
Date: 13 Feb 02 - 03:22 PM

Dave Bryant - I've seen Dave and Ruth at the National Folk Music Festival at Sutton Bonington, still into harmony and often to be found running West Gallery workshops.


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 13 Feb 02 - 02:17 PM

It may be helpful slightly to amplify the passage Greg quoted in part earlier on.   The following translation of the relevant (Latin) passage from the Descriptio Cambriae of Giraldus Cambrensis was posted in the rec.music.early newsgroup back in 1998 by Margo Schulter.  In the first paragraph, Giraldus is writing of the inhabitants of the country we now call Wales.

"In their singing of music they do not sing uniformly [in unison?] as elsewhere, but in multiple manner, with many different voices and melodies. Thus in a crowd of singers, which is quite the custom for this nation, you will hear as many melodies as you see people,. and a distinct variety of parts, finally coming together under the soft sweetness of B-flat in one consonance and "organized melody" [likely organum,polyphony, apt harmony]

Also in the northern parts of Britain, that is, beyond the Humber and around York, the people who inhabit these parts use a similar kind of singing in "symphonic" harmony [i.e. based on the "symphoniae" or concords]: but with a variety of only two distinct melodies and parts, one murmuring below, the other equally soothing and charming the ear above. Yet in both nations this special style has been acquired not by studied art but by long usage, so that it has now become as it were a habit of second nature. And this has now become so strong in either nation, and taken such firm roots, that one never hears simple [unison?] singing, but either with many voices as in the former [Wales], or nevertheless at least two as in the latter [northern England]. And what is yet more marvellous: even children, and indeed infants, almost from when they first turn from tears to songs, follow the same fashion of singing.

Since the English do not generally use this manner of singing, but only the northerners, I believe that it is from the Danes and Norwegians, who often used to occupy these parts of the island and were wont to hold them for long periods of time, that the inhabitants have acquired likewise their affinities of speech and their special manner of singing ."

With reference to the sweetness of B-flat, Ms. Sculter added the following comment:

"One question raised by these passages relating to ensemble singing and harp music alike: just what does Giraldus mean by his references to the sweetness of B-flat? Young suggests that this could refer to the use of B-flat in an octave-species based on F or G, avoiding the tritone; at any rate, in the hexachord theory introduced by Guido d'Arezzo around 1130, the "soft" hexachord (as f-d') is distinguished by its use of Bb rather than B-natural (both notes being integral to Guido's system). Composed polyphonic pieces such as conductus from this same period around 1200 centering on F or G often feature the consistent use of Bb. Nevertheless, Hughes, ibid. pp. 316-317, wisely cautions that the meaning remains uncertain."

References:
Percy M. Young, A History of British Music (Ernest Benn, Ltd, 1967)
Dom Anselm Hughes, "Music in Fixed Rhythms," in Dom Anselm Hughes, ed., New Oxford History of Music, v. 2: Early Medieval Music Up to 1300 (Oxford University Press, 1954)


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: GUEST,greg stephens
Date: 13 Feb 02 - 01:12 PM

re: sian west wales and giraldus cambrensis. i think given the context and the date( 1180 ish) he was referring to probably england and wales as britain, by whhich adte the area north of thehumber he is talking about was probably pretty much anglo/scandinavian rather than welsh. mind you, there is evidence that welsh was still spoken in parts of cumbria still by that date. its a murky area. but i agree you canmake a case for some welsh/celtic traditions generating the harmony singing he was talking about. we havent got a lot of background info. anything else to go on,anyone? british/celtic, anglo or scandinavian in the harmony invention stakes? but i stick by my original point, which ws thatharmony has been around in england for a long time! greg


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Dave Bryant
Date: 13 Feb 02 - 12:29 PM

A "Glee" is rather like a secular anthem, it's a part song with harmony and often fugue style entries.
A good example is Reginald Spofforth's "Hail, Hail Smiling Morn" - you can find a MIDI file HERE.
I do have a full score for it in PDF format if anyone wants to PM me.


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 13 Feb 02 - 12:27 PM

I well remember some of the notes that occurred "naturally" when I was younger! Believe me, they don't all qualify as harmonious ...

Graham, glees and catches, like rounds, have three or four parts for small groups to sing a part each. Rounds, of course, are where each singer sings the line at a different time, so that, when it's all up and running, all the lines are being sung together. Glees and catches work on similar lines, but I can never remember what exactly they are ... over to you, HK?

Steve


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: sian, west wales
Date: 13 Feb 02 - 12:24 PM

Greg, I think that Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerallt Cymro in Wales) did not mean "the British" by "Britons", but rather the Welsh. And if you remember that those Britons (Welsh) once populated a fair bit of Britain, up to the Edinburgh area, and were singing harmony long before many other parts of the known world, then it makes sense that the tradition might live on in some form in Northumbria, Cumbria, Yorkshire, etc. I was at a meeting recently where someone suggested that part-singing in pubs was uniquely Welsh, and two Yorkshiremen present went ballistic!

sian


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: radriano
Date: 13 Feb 02 - 12:11 PM

It seems to me that harmony singing might naturally occur when the lead singer has pitched the melody where others can't reach certain notes.

My former band (Out of the Rain) was known for harmony singing. We had a distictive sound and we did not resort to the typical you're a tenor, you're a bass, you're a soprano rules. We approached each song individually and harmonies were worked out according to how the notes sounded by ear rather than by such rules as singing a third above the melody line.

The history of harmony singing as discussed in this thread is interesting. It's refreshing to have a truly musical thread going. This is what the Forum should be for.


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Grab
Date: 13 Feb 02 - 11:50 AM

Herga Kitty, what's a "glee"? Is this the American name for something we'd call something else in Britain?

Graham.


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: GUEST
Date: 13 Feb 02 - 11:05 AM

The only reason folk singing (other than in fests & clubs) is not a strong tradition is because the majority of people don't sing other than singing along to pop songs.
Once you get into the habit of singing in the family and with friends it becomes a living thing again. And once you get over the initial self-conciousness, singing becomes a natural thing & the songs get propagated.
Its often fear of appearing odd or inappropriate that stops people singing. I've found family & friends more encouraging and appreciative than I ever expected.
What I'm trying to get around to saying is that just because we have, as a nation, lost the links - doesn't mean we can't rebuild the chain. If music is important o us then we need to have the courage of our convictions.
Harmony singing is wonderful when you get a hall full of varied voices of strangers singing harmonies on the fly to the familiar chorus melodies. Best not over-used though - some songs are best naked and unadorned.


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 13 Feb 02 - 10:51 AM

I wonder how much actual tradition is left in England? All the trad. song and music I hear nowadays is performed by people like me, who do it because they love it, rather than because that's what they've always done for generations. I'm no purist! I'm very eclectic in my tastes. But it seems to me that it's folk clubs and festivals that keep folk alive nowadays, rather than communities; and that Irish, Scottish and American (in all its different forms) material is just as 'valid' (however you want to define that) as one's own immediate heritage.

That's of academic interest, I suppose; if its' fun and it doesn't frighten the horses, I'm happy for us all just to go and do it, and never mind what pedants say.

Steve


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 13 Feb 02 - 06:51 AM

Bit of technical stuff ...

In two-part harmony, the 2nd part can be sung a third above (count two [sic] notes up from the melody and sing that), or a fourth down (count three [sic] notes down from the melody and sing that). In popoular music, thirds is much more usual; and fourths sounds a bit strange because it doesn't allow distinction between major and minor chords. (If there are three of you, of course, you can sing both parts.) If you're familiar with chords (either instinctively or from playing an instrument) you might introduce some movement and not just slavishly follow the melody; you might also clash with people in the audience who want to sing it their way! But these (fairly) simple things can make a 2nd part sound quite different.

Sorry if this doesn't make sense to everyone; I could easily sing out and demonstrate what I'm talking about, but it ain't so easy to describe.

Steve


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Dave Bryant
Date: 13 Feb 02 - 05:53 AM

I sang in choirs from an early age, but (except for descants) sang the melody line until I was about 14. At that point a wise choirmaster insisted on a change to the alto line as a precursor to the voice breaking experience. Since then I've sung both Bass (well Baritone really) and (usually first) Tenor. What I'm getting around to is that most men who sing chorally, would have probably sung at least one other part. I often notice that many (I didn't say all) ladies who have always sung the Soprano line, have problems singing "middle" parts. I find that in harmony sessions it's usually the Contraltos and Mezos among the ladies who produce the most interesting harmonies - rather than just the equivalent of descants.

Devising harmonies (intuitively) is great fun - although in some sessions it's a bit like trying to avoid someone walking along the road towards you - you know the time when you move to your right and they move to their left... - sometimes it's best to stay on your first choice and let the other person move. I can always remember Dave and Annie saying that in "Beggar's Velvet", Charlie Yarwood always grabbed all the best harmonies first.
Finally, nobody has mentioned one of my favourite harmony groups yet "English Tapestry". I did open a thread asking for news of Brian & Ruth recently, but didn't get any satisfactory replies. Their harmonies were scored, but they probably needed to be, because they changed their third member (Tenor) several times. Probably the nearest to them nowadays is "Artisan", but "English Tapestry" sang a higher percentage of tradition material. Besides their skill with harmonies, they did some wondeful things with unusual time signatures and syncopation.


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: greg stephens
Date: 12 Feb 02 - 06:03 PM

apropos the male/collector female singers discussion,lets not forget that kate lee was thefirst collector to note the copper family harmony songs, as far as i know


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Herga Kitty
Date: 12 Feb 02 - 06:02 PM

It was the harmonies of the Young Tradition and Watersons in the mid 60s - and the encouragement to join in - that got me hooked on English folk music when I was first went to the Herga Folk Club. As the thread implies (and as Dave and Anni will tell you if you go to one of their harmony workshops) there are 2 approaches to harmony singing - one's intuitive, and the other's an arrangement by someone trained in composition and harmony. The former approach involves singing a note that isn't the melody and forming a view as to whether it's a harmony or just a discord. I'd been instinctively (and very quietly) harmonising with hymns in school assemblies when I fell into folk music, and since many hymn tunes were nicked from folk songs anyway it generally worked. Part singing and glees were definitely arranged, including music and word tricks, and go back several centuries.


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Ned Ludd
Date: 12 Feb 02 - 06:01 PM

Seems to me that there is planned harmony singing and freeform.I go with the latter, it's the nearest I get to Jazz.Iwas once told by a 'planner' 'You can't sing that' I replied 'Why not? it sounds o.k.


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Les from Hull
Date: 12 Feb 02 - 04:38 PM

I think that I've inherited more of a Watersons style, then. If somebody else is singing a harmony close to the one I'm singing, I might well shift to another. Again my harmony will depend most on the pitch of the melody singer(s). There are some people I don't song a high harmony to, because I know I can't get higher. On the other hand, I pick up some harmonies from recordings - an example of this would be the Voice Squad's 'Parting Glass'.

But I also sang in a church choir from about age 8, and later in the Hull Youth Choir, doing all that formal oratorio stuff, so some of it might come from there. I'll be interested in Dave and Anni's workshop should it come near me - as well as being so knowledgable, they sing cracking harmonies themselves.


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: lamarca
Date: 12 Feb 02 - 04:09 PM

Dave Webber and Anni Fentiman gave a class in harmony singing at Pinewoods Folk Music week last summer. For the first session, they played several examples of English groups' harmony styles taken from a wonderful Fellside CD called "Voices in Harmony", and compared and contrasted the styles. The groups were The Watersons, Swan Arcade, Regal Slip and Artisan. Since Dave and Anni knew the people in all four groups, they were able to describe how each arrived at the arrangements they used.

The Watersons start with a song where everyone knows the melody, and they get into a huddle and sing together until everyone finds a place that fits well. Their harmonies come "naturally" from a family group that is used to singing together and improvising.

Regal Slip's harmonies are strongly based on West Gallery hymn singing styles, and are more four-square.

In Artisan, the lead singer devises the entire arrangement, writes out parts for each member, and each person learns just his or her part, as in a strictly classical or art song composition.

Finally, in Swan Arcade, Dave said that Jim Boyes and Heather Brady would sing their harmonies/melodies against each other and Dave Brady was a "wild man" who would add an element of chaos to the mix, resulting in really neat improvisations in the overall sound.

As far as tradition goes, the Watersons and Regal Slip's harmonies are probably more "traditional" than the highly arranged compositions of Artisan or the avant-garde meldings of Swan Arcade. Which groups you enjoy is more a matter of personal taste than one way being better than any other - I myself prefer the rowdiness of the Watersons' free-for-all and Swan Arcade's improvisations to the more stylized compositions of the other two groups.


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: GUEST,JJ
Date: 12 Feb 02 - 03:58 PM

Thank you, everyone. Very interesting stuff.

As far as the Watersons are concerned, did they just 'make up' harmonies for songs collected from a single singer?

JJ


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 12 Feb 02 - 03:54 PM

It's certainly true that male collectors were at a disadvantage where women's repertoire was concerned, but pretty much the same seems to have been true of female collectors, and I don't get the impression that there was any widespread, deliberate exclusion of such material, in this country at any rate.  In many situations, women simply did not sing in public (though this was by no means such a universal rule as used to be thought), so they were often missed.  The extent of any "secret" body in England of purely women's songs can only be a matter for conjecture, given the evidence available.


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Seamus Kennedy
Date: 12 Feb 02 - 03:21 PM

If anyone Stateside is interested in one of the finest British harmony groups, Artisan will be my guests at my annual St. Patrick's day concert (March 17th!) in the Avalon Theatre in Easton, MD. An Irish celebration with an English accent.

All the best.

Seamus


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: GUEST
Date: 12 Feb 02 - 03:06 PM

Also worth remembering Malcolm, that collectors were often men, and that the genders were pretty segregated. Men didn't collect women's songs. They were able to collect songs women sang in mixed company, but not women's songs. That is why so few women's songs have survived.


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Subject: RE: English Folk: Harmony Singing
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 12 Feb 02 - 02:58 PM

Much of the early folk song collecting took place outside the normal social context; that is to say, from individuals, often elderly, in their homes or places of work (or in the house of a local landowner or clergyman) rather than in group situations.  There were often logistic problems collecting in pubs, for example; the presence of a stranger, particularly from a different class, would tend to inhibit the locals.  Since it would be in social or family situations that harmony would be used, it's not so surprising that little seems to have been found, and the discovery of the Copper family caused considerable surprise at the time.

Worth bearing in mind also that the earlier collectors had, in the main, a quite specific idea of what they were looking for; they wanted the very old stuff, so they went to the oldest people in the remotest areas much of the time.  Singing in harmony was likely to be disregarded by many collectors as a fairly late practice, borrowed from "art", church and popular music.  It does indeed seem to be true that this is the case so far as the surviving styles are concerned, though that is not necessarily to say that harmony was not used in earlier tradition, in other forms; just that there are few records of its use.


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