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Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!

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GUEST,GerMan 12 Mar 03 - 05:40 AM
Nigel Parsons 12 Mar 03 - 05:45 AM
My guru always said 12 Mar 03 - 05:51 AM
GUEST 12 Mar 03 - 05:53 AM
Bagpuss 12 Mar 03 - 05:56 AM
GUEST,GerMan 12 Mar 03 - 06:04 AM
Nigel Parsons 12 Mar 03 - 06:17 AM
Jerry Rasmussen 12 Mar 03 - 06:26 AM
GUEST,GerMan 12 Mar 03 - 06:29 AM
McGrath of Harlow 12 Mar 03 - 06:41 AM
Compton 12 Mar 03 - 06:58 AM
InOBU 12 Mar 03 - 07:30 AM
InOBU 12 Mar 03 - 07:31 AM
GUEST 12 Mar 03 - 07:53 AM
GUEST,vince 12 Mar 03 - 08:06 AM
Maryrrf 12 Mar 03 - 08:30 AM
Dave Bryant 12 Mar 03 - 08:38 AM
Folkie 12 Mar 03 - 08:45 AM
GUEST 12 Mar 03 - 08:56 AM
JohnnyBeezer 12 Mar 03 - 09:21 AM
Alice 12 Mar 03 - 09:38 AM
McGrath of Harlow 12 Mar 03 - 10:32 AM
Alice 12 Mar 03 - 11:06 AM
Grab 12 Mar 03 - 11:43 AM
IanC 12 Mar 03 - 11:56 AM
Steve Parkes 12 Mar 03 - 12:04 PM
Dave Bryant 12 Mar 03 - 12:07 PM
An Croenen 12 Mar 03 - 12:07 PM
IanC 12 Mar 03 - 12:29 PM
David Ingerson 12 Mar 03 - 12:49 PM
Alice 12 Mar 03 - 01:24 PM
JohnnyBeezer 12 Mar 03 - 01:34 PM
Don Firth 12 Mar 03 - 01:51 PM
John Routledge 12 Mar 03 - 01:51 PM
ard mhacha 12 Mar 03 - 02:24 PM
CapriUni 12 Mar 03 - 03:37 PM
MMario 12 Mar 03 - 03:42 PM
GUEST,Marion 12 Mar 03 - 03:45 PM
Herga Kitty 12 Mar 03 - 04:34 PM
Zany Mouse 12 Mar 03 - 04:46 PM
CapriUni 12 Mar 03 - 06:33 PM
Roughyed 12 Mar 03 - 07:08 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 12 Mar 03 - 07:11 PM
Alice 12 Mar 03 - 08:09 PM
mg 12 Mar 03 - 08:46 PM
GUEST,Timcat 12 Mar 03 - 09:34 PM
Art Thieme 12 Mar 03 - 09:47 PM
GUEST,Keith A working 13 Mar 03 - 04:22 AM
JudeL 13 Mar 03 - 05:16 AM
Stewart 13 Mar 03 - 12:24 PM
IanC 13 Mar 03 - 12:38 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 13 Mar 03 - 12:42 PM
JudeL 13 Mar 03 - 12:42 PM
IanC 13 Mar 03 - 12:45 PM
Genie 13 Mar 03 - 01:00 PM
MMario 13 Mar 03 - 01:02 PM
McGrath of Harlow 13 Mar 03 - 01:48 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 13 Mar 03 - 02:14 PM
Naemanson 13 Mar 03 - 02:32 PM
Naemanson 13 Mar 03 - 02:39 PM
JohnnyBeezer 13 Mar 03 - 03:02 PM
Schantieman 13 Mar 03 - 03:31 PM
GUEST,Diva 13 Mar 03 - 04:04 PM
Stewart 13 Mar 03 - 05:00 PM
Art Thieme 13 Mar 03 - 05:19 PM
McGrath of Harlow 13 Mar 03 - 05:22 PM
Don Firth 13 Mar 03 - 06:34 PM
BUTTERFLY 13 Mar 03 - 07:02 PM
toadfrog 13 Mar 03 - 07:15 PM
McGrath of Harlow 13 Mar 03 - 07:29 PM
Alice 13 Mar 03 - 07:43 PM
kytrad (Jean Ritchie) 13 Mar 03 - 08:05 PM
Marion 13 Mar 03 - 11:34 PM
Bee-dubya-ell 14 Mar 03 - 01:04 AM
GUEST,Philippa 14 Mar 03 - 05:21 AM
Steve Parkes 14 Mar 03 - 05:28 AM
Dave Bryant 14 Mar 03 - 05:44 AM
George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca 14 Mar 03 - 11:03 AM
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Genie 14 Mar 03 - 12:27 PM
GUEST,JohnB 14 Mar 03 - 12:43 PM
George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca 15 Mar 03 - 07:42 AM
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Liz the Squeak 15 Mar 03 - 10:36 AM
boglion 15 Mar 03 - 04:55 PM
GUEST,Santa 25 Mar 03 - 08:33 AM
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Subject: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: GUEST,GerMan
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 05:40 AM

As a regular attendee of sessions in the North of England I have a few questions about the phenomenon of unaccompanied singing:

When did it start? Obviously people have always sung to themselves but what is the history behind someone singing to an "audience" unaccompanied? Historical visual references almost always show some form of musical accompaniement (even if it's just someone beating a drum).

Does anyone actually like it? I get the feeling it's something people feel they ought to like rather than actually liking!

Why do people at sessions shut up & listen to a singer but when someone with, for example, a guitar does something everybody starts/carries on talking?

Have there ever been any (genuinely) commercially successful purely unaccompanied singers?


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Nigel Parsons
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 05:45 AM

"Have there ever been any (genuinely) commercially successful purely unaccompanied singers? "
"The Flying Pickets"

If I'm at a 'Filk' convention I generally sing unaccompanied. Mainly because I lack the playing ability. But as German says it does mean that people often listen more closely as the message is carried purely by the words, and no accentuated (or hidden) by fancy guitar work

Nigel


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: My guru always said
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 05:51 AM

I'm not a musician so I can't accompany myself. Sometimes others will kindly accompany me, though I find that difficult having always sung alone. Being able to adjust the timing, tone, sound & notes as and when I want to makes me prefer to present an unaccompanied song. I've been told that people listen (I have my eyes closed usually so I don't check) and they're real quiet & apparently they clap afterwards, but I get so caught up in the feel of the song that I realise I'm only singing for me. Selfish ain't it :-)


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: GUEST
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 05:53 AM

GerMan - yes a lot of people do genuinely like unaccompanied song. And some people just can't abide it. Its personal choice. Probably coloured by the quality of the performances they've heard.
Unaccompanied singing is very naked - and there is nothing to pull the singer back into key if they should wander off. A bad unaccompanied singer is more unpleasant/difficult to listen to than a bad accompanied singer, because there is nothing to distract you from their faults. A good unaccompanied singer can be stunning - because, as Nigel says, the singing is not obscured by accompaniment.
For some reason it seems more impolite to ignore an unaccompanied singer than an accompanied one - a guitar & voice can more readily be consigned to the background.
As to ignoring a guitar - dispair not! They may be half-listening and loving it.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Bagpuss
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 05:56 AM

I sing unaccompanied a fair amount of the time. Some of the songs I sing sound better accompanied and others unaccompanied. And I certainly like listening to unaccompanied song - there's something about focussing your attention just on the voice and song that can be a very powerful experience (if the singer is good of course...). I am also in a choir that performs unaccompanied - the harmonies are so rich that other instruments are certainly not needed.

I don't know much about the history, but surely work songs were usually unaccompanied?

And, yes its probably a small niche in the folk world which likes this style, so I would be surprised if there was much commercial success involved...


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: GUEST,GerMan
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 06:04 AM

Following on from Bagpuss's messages group unaccompanied singing seems to be entirely different and seems to be treated in much the same way as accompanied singing. I would imagine work songs were sung by more than one person at a time.

Personally I'm in two minds about unaccompanied singing hence my questions. I recently bought Blue Murder's CD & I love it but more often than not when someone starts up at a session I use it as an excuse to put my guitar down & go for a leak!

On the other hand I've found some singers (Johnny Collins springs to mind) to be nothing short of pure entertainment. I guess it lies with the individual.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Nigel Parsons
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 06:17 AM

"Personally I'm in two minds about unaccompanied singing hence my questions. I recently bought Blue Murder's CD & I love it but more often than not when someone starts up at a session I use it as an excuse to put my guitar down & go for a leak!"
If there are few unaccompanied singers at your sessions, and you use their appearance as a chance for a toilet break it seems you may be founding your assumptions on a very small number you have actually heard. Try staying in place, take your breaks when one of your favourite accompanied singers starts. They will know it's not an affront, and you will probably get the chance to hear them again anyway.
If after listening to all the unaccompanied singers in a session you decide they are definitely not as good, or not worth the time, Then you can reschedule your toilet breaks again, but as an informed choice.
Thanks for starting an interesting discussion!

Nigel


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 06:26 AM

As to "why" people sing unaccompanied, it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with their ability to play an instrument. I've sung and played guitar or banjo for most of my life, but there are certain songs that I've always felt were best sung unaccompanied. It's not that I couldn't play them with accompaniment. Singing unaccompanied gives you a freedom that for certain songs allows you to savor the lines, subtly play with rhythms and emphasis that you couldn't do, locked in to an accompaniment. I've always done Little Brown Bulls, We Are Anchored By The Roadside, Jim, The Spring of '65 and Jam on Gerry's Rock unaccompanied. That may be due in part to the fact that I learned them from recordings that were unaccompanied. But, I've also written quite a few songs that always sounded best to me, unaccompanied. I'd be hard-pressed to generalize about why certain songs sound better to me, unaccompanied. Some are ballads that tell a story, where the accompniment feels like a distraction to me. There are other songs where I like to be able to play with the rhythm
to emphasize certain lines or words, or just because it's fun.

Singing with a group is a whole different story. I love to hear a capella harmonies, and my gospel quartet does several songs a capella, just because we think it sounds better that way. A guitar accompaniment subtracts more than it adds. And there is a whole tradition of a capella singing in black gospel that it's nice to carry on. I've always preferred songs like Amazing Grace, unaccompanied, where the singer can put all ltheir feeling into the song, holding notes and lines as they feel.

One of the things that I've come to realize, is that acoustic instruments don't have the "sustain" that I want for some songs. I find an electric guitar is better suited to black gospel (and some blues) because you can hold notes longer, which frees the singer to put more feeling into a line.

Even on songs with my quartet where a guitar background adds a lot, we often will take the last chorus unaccompanied, just to hear that blend of voices. It brings the full attention to the voices, the harmony and the message.

Now, as for doing a full evening of unaccompanied singing, that is a rare gift. I ran a concert series for 27 years and I rarely booked that were a capella. To my ears, Roy Harris was the best I ever heard. He did a wonderful concert, and I think very few people found it a limitation, listening to an evening of a capella singing. It was like watching a foreign film with subtitles. After the first few minutes, you adjust to it, and forget that you are reading the subtitles. When someone is doing a whole evening of a capella singing, their personality, humor and delivery become far more important. Particularly if they do a lot of long ballads. An evening of unaccompanied murder ballads should be made illegal. Or songs with a complicated historical background, with political intrigues. Roy is a charmer, and I think I cold listen to him sing the phone directory. But, that is a rare gfit... one I do not have.

These days, the Fairfield Four have gained a lot of attention, singing black gospel. They sang a song in Oh Brother, Where Art Thou (three of them,) and after 70 years as a group, they've suddenly been discovered. Even Elvis Costello recorded with them! I heard them at their peak, and I wouldn't have enjoyed them as much if they had accompaniment.

Done right, singing without instrumental accompaniment isn't a subtraction. It's an addition.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: GUEST,GerMan
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 06:29 AM

I hoped people would find it interesting!

Another point. I was once listening to someone singing when I absentmindedly starting tapping the body of my guitar in time to the beat (I didn't even realise I was doing it). I was told, in no uncertain terms & rather rudely, by the wife of the chap singing to stop. I'm always delighted if someone accompanies me in any way.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 06:41 AM

"I'm always delighted if someone accompanies me in any way. "

That's rather an extreme generalisation, GerMan. I could point the way to a few people I can't believe you'd want to be accompanied by, especially in some ways...

Singing to an audience is the odd thing really. I think it's fairly clear that the normal way people have always sung is to and with friends, and without musical accompaniment.

Generally speaking I tend to prefer the situation where that is the case, with the songs mainly unaccompanied, and the instruments coming into their own for the tunes. Though I break that one all the time myself. Asalt Whitman said "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, (I am large. I contain multitudes.)"


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Compton
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 06:58 AM

Surely it was all unaccompanied singing in the good old days, apart from perhaps the piano. Certainly, pub singing was never played with guitars, Perhaps, concertina or fiddle. Songs passed down by generation was by oral tradition...Performance did not really matter, Content did!.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: InOBU
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 07:30 AM

The Sean Nos tradition in Ireland, is by definition unaccompanied. I often am asked to sing unaccompanied ballads in Quaker meeting houses I visit, (and my own meeting) and from that I have put together a show of unaccompanied civil rights ballads. I find that the words are sometimes secondary when done with the whole band. There is an active listening which goes into the ballad in that form, not unlike listening to a great story teller or a radio play... for a description of the new ballad show, look at the reclaiming American patriotism through ballads thread.
By the way, sorry I was a bit short with you on the other thread, forgot what about, but things are hectic here in New York.
Ah yes, it was about IRA terrorism... if you are interested Richard Bridge, a British solisitor and I had a conversation about the same on Mudcat many years ago refferenceing the Doherty case. We became great friends through that conversation, though we dissagree on one thing or another. So if you use Joe Doherty as a search term you can see where we went with this before.
As I told Richard at the time... the first pint is on me when we meet on your side of the puddle or mine
Cheers
Lorcan "Larry" Otway


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: InOBU
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 07:31 AM

PS You meaning GerMan... who started the thread...


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: GUEST
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 07:53 AM

OK Larry! Mine's a Bitter!

Re. Compton's point "Surely it was all unaccompanied singing in the good old days".

I'd have thought the oldest surviving music in England is Morris Music where the words are accomanied by at least dance & some form of instrument???


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: GUEST,vince
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 08:06 AM

I reckon some people tend to not realise or accept that the voice is, or can be, an instrument in itself as used brilliantly by such artists as Anne Briggs, Martin Carthy, Peter Bellamy, Ewann MaColl and loads more. When joined in harmony with others as with the Young Tradition, Wilson Family, Watersons, Firm Friends etc then the sound produced can be magical. Of course some songs sound better accompanied and some people will never take to unnacompanied singing, its a matter of taste really. I prefer a club or festival that has a fine mix of accompanied and unnacompanied songs. As for history, i'm sure unnacompanied singing is as old as the voice itself.
Who's ever heard a thrush or linnet sing accompanied then??


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Maryrrf
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 08:30 AM

I think it depends on how good the singer is, whether or not the song lends itself to being sung unaccompanied, and lots of other factors such as the surroundings, etc. It's only been in the last several years that I started to really enjoy unaccompanied singing but if it's done right it does have the ability to pull your attention in - almost cast a spell over you, as long as you're prepared to put forth the effort to listen. I would tend to agree that, for me, a mix works best. I usually accompany myself on guitar but do sing some songs unaccompanies.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Dave Bryant
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 08:38 AM

I'd have thought the oldest surviving music in England is Morris Music where the words are accomanied by at least dance & some form of instrument???

The earliest references to Morris Dancing seem to be from about Tudor times and it seems likely that these were more of a form of court dances. William Kemp's famous dance to Norwich was not neccessarily what we would recognise as Morris today - after all he was one of Shakespeare's actors, and presumably his dancing would have been somewhat theatrical. Kemp would certainly not have been welcome in The Morris Ring as he danced with several female partners on the way ! Many of the tunes used in Morris dancing have their roots elsewhere, either as songs or dance tunes from other genres. Most of the Morris traditions extant today are probably no older than 250 years.

The British "Oral Tradition" was almost exclusively unaccompanied - if you were poor you couldn't afford to buy instruments. Instruments like pipes and simple drums could be homemade, but these would most probably been used for dancing to, rather than for accompanying singing.

Perhaps part of the problem is the term "Folk Music" - none of the old traditional singers would have used it to describe their songs. In fact I heard a story of one (greenhorn) collector who is supposed to have asked a traditional singer of considerable repertoire if he knew any Folk Songs. "Oh No", came the answer, "I can't play the guitar or anything like that".

I expect that in years to come, people will be asking "Un-synthesised Singing - How and Why".


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Folkie
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 08:45 AM

Sometimes the key which suits the voice best isn't an easy one for instruments. For some unknown reason there are some songs I can sing easily in F sharp but put them into the more playable keys of F or G and I just feel uncomfortable singing them. A semitone shouldn't really make a difference to a song being too high or too low but I find it does so I sing those songs unaccompanied.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: GUEST
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 08:56 AM

a semitone definitely can make the difference. Depends where the breaks in your voice are etc.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: JohnnyBeezer
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 09:21 AM

Dear Folkie
Perhaps someone should invent the capo.
The voice is of course the seminal and most ancient instrument, closely followed by percussion.
Speaking as a guitarist, I have experienced many a frisson listening to live 3&4 handed unaccompanied singing over the last several decades
the emotion can be phemonenal.
Also, of course, we can go right back to Plainsong chants which are incredibly moving pieces. Although I am not a Christian, I am in awe of the beautifully poetic Christian writings which, together with the unaccompanied harmonies in monasteries etc., serve to present a real "GUT" experience
Shalom
Johnny N


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Alice
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 09:38 AM

GerMan, some songs developed in a tradition of solo unaccompanied singing, particularly the sean nos tradition in Ireland. There are many songs I prefer to sing solo unaccompanied. The style is very emotional and focussed on the meaning of the lyrics. As others have said, when the singer is good, it weaves a spell over the listener, drawing them into the meaning of the words. Since many of the best songs for this style are airs, not dance music, the rhythm varies, slowing down, holding or ornamenting a note to emphasize a word or phrase... definitely not something you should be trying to accompany or tap a beat to. You can hear two songs that I sing solo and unaccomanied at this page, Paddy's Lamentation and Green Fields of Amerikay. Click here

I find that when I do accompany myself on guitar and have my band playing with me, it adds another separation between the song and the listeners... people definitely treat a song less like background music when it is unaccompanied. They quiet down and focus on the words when it is sung without accompaniment.

Alice


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 10:32 AM

If a Morris Dancer wears bells, does that count as accompanied?

If singing unaccompanied gets in the way of the song, maybe because the singer strays out of tune, than an accompaniment is better. But more generally it's the other way round, the accompaniment takes over, and corrals the singer into singing a smoothed out and over-regulated and rhythmical version, even when that really isn't what's needed. That's why sean nos singing is unaccompanied.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Alice
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 11:06 AM

Sorry, I messed up my link to the audio files. Should be:
CLICK HERE

Alice


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Grab
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 11:43 AM

Shantymen were always unaccompanied - no way to hang onto a guitar on a boat! They were commercially successful in their time, and there's plenty of ppl doing shanties still.

Graham.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: IanC
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 11:56 AM

I really don't understand this thread. The vast majority of traditional English (and Irish and Scottish) song was, until the revival of the 1950s/1960s, unaccompanied. It would be more pertinent to enquire how and why we started producing accompaniments to these songs.

From time to time he would drop into our house for a meal, bringing odd records he had discovered or some new-old song that he had picked up and would sing. He was developing his own distinctive singing style in these years, taut and unfussy. On the whole he preferred the traditional English style of unaccompanied song, but he was never pedantic about that or anything else and was prepared to accept an instrumental accompaniment if it seemed to add anything of value. Shortly before the war I took him to the Eel's Foot at Eastbridge. in Suffolk, a pub whose regulars had long maintained an. excellent song school. Out of this visit came a historic broadcast?historic because it was, 1 think, the very first in which authentic traditional singers, as distinct from collectors and arrangers, were heard on the air.

(Leslie Murton on A. L. Lloyd)

I would suggest that (particularly guitar) accompaniments mainly arose to fit in with the Skiffle and Pop culture of the 50s/60s. I've nothing against this at all, and often enjoy accompanied song but let's get it into perspective.

;-)


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 12:04 PM

Ian, it was the Second Folk Revival (the first was with Sharp et al.), which started a bit earlier than the UK skiffle craze, although they fed off each other. We should get Steve Benbow's protegé to ask Steve Benbow, who was there, after all.

Steve


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Dave Bryant
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 12:07 PM


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: An Croenen
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 12:07 PM

Such an interesting thread! As a performer I rarely sing unaccompanied and have only a few songs that I sing unaccompanied : 'When a man's in love', and a Hungarian song come to mind. But I run singing classes that are run unaccompanied by instruments. We have so much fun because of it: the group improvises harmonies, vocal accompaniments etc. etc. At times someone accompanies certain songs, but it seems to make the whole group a lot lazier, and very comfortable just singing the melodylines. So for group singing I prefer not to work with accompaniment. (we sing many different styles, it doesn't matter) Listening to an unaccompanied singer can be nice but it not always is... As for instrumentalists (or other singers!) who join in uninvited, that really makes me nervous, even more as a listener than as a performer. Unless the whole evening is set up with the understanding that everybody can join in at any time, I feel that performers will let you know if they want you to join in. If they don't, then there might be a reason (as mentioned before there might be accelerations etc. etc. going on, or the song may simply want to be heard by itself.) As for performances with instruments, especially when there is more than one person playing, I find that the sheer volume of the speakers sets people into talking. Try turning your volume down and you will draw people in. Turn the volume up and people will shout in eachothers ear instead.
An


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: IanC
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 12:29 PM

Steve

It was, most likely, the 97th Folk Revival. There've been so many. That's why I gave the dates.

;-)


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: David Ingerson
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 12:49 PM

I've been a musician all my life: majored in clarinet my first year in college, played at performance level on three instruments, played a dozen others passably, sung in top-notch choirs and played solo roles in operas. All that fell away when I heard my first sean nós song--unaccompanied (as all sean nós songs are). It simply reached out and grabbed me 23 years ago. Everything I sing now is unaccompanied. And I love it. Yes, there is a bit of selfishness there, I suppose, but don't we all do (or strive to do)what we love?

The unaccompanied nakedness of the song demands that each verse, each line, each word be treated with individual respect, sung with a focus and presence that is impossible with an accompaniment. Well, not impossible, but rare. And I do work at expressing each line in the most . . . "appropriate" is a watery word for it... way. Perhaps the words "grace" or "strength" or "richness" catch pieces of what I mean. And after I have reworked a line dozens of times until I get it the way I like it, certainly the vast majority of listeners will not catch the subtleties, but it adds to the spell that others have alluded to.

As all music, it is, of course, a matter of personal preference. And I love singing unaccompanied and listening to (good) unaccompanied singers.

David


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Alice
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 01:24 PM

The spell is cast when listeners hear each word and phrase with the precision of communication that the singer is putting into it... seeing the picture painted in their mind, feeling the emotions being sung. The focus is so clear when solo unaccompanied.

Alice


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: JohnnyBeezer
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 01:34 PM

You know Alice you're dead on the money!!
Breaths, pauses, phrasing, it's so very intimate.
Johnny N


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Don Firth
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 01:51 PM

For years I always sang with accompaniment. It never occurred to me not to.   The first time I ever heard someone singing without accompaniment was the late Ewan MacColl at the 1960 Berkeley Folk Festival. He carried a chair on stage, set it down backwards, straddled the chair, leaned his arms on its back, put a hand behind his ear, and started singing. For about forty-five minutes he sang classic Scottish ballads?no accompaniment, just his voice spinning tales of battles, treacheries, thwarted loves, foul murders, fierce loyalties, and heroic deeds?all in stark, pure, undiluted song.

It was a revelation! Ballads. The telling of a story?unadorned. Nothing to draw your attention away from the narrative. None of the usual distractions of "Hmm. Nice picking pattern" or "Tricky bass run" or "Wow! I never would have thought of using a minor chord there!" Just the story. I think I learned something basic that evening. Singing ballads, singing any song, is telling a story. Even a comic song or lyrical lament with no perceivable narrative always implies that there is a story behind it.

But for some reason, it never occurred to me to set the guitar aside. Lately, though, I've been learning a lot of songs, especially adding Child ballads to my repertoire?the ones I had on a list and was going to get around to, but never did?and in the process, instead of my usual routine of starting to learn the song with my guitar in my lap, I leave the guitar in its case. I first consider the story in general and try to make sure I fully understand what's going on, including the parts where there is no explanation (why did Edward murder his bother-in-law? No clear reason given in the ballad, just a dark hint). Then I learn the words as if it were a poem. Then I add the melody, and sing it until I have it down pat. Then, I reach for the guitar to begin working out an accompaniment. But at that point, sometimes I find that an accompaniment doesn't really enhance the song. It can actually distract from it. I go ahead and work one out anyway, but very often now, I decide not to use it.

One evening a few months ago at a songfest, I uncorked a few unaccompanied ballads for the first time?including singing, unaccompanied, one that I had been doing with the guitar. And the response was most gratifying. A couple of people commented that they had never really paid that much attention to the stories before. A couple others said they'd been hearing me for years but hadn't realized 'til then what a "great voice" I had (always nice to hear!). One fellow who has been playing and singing for years said, "God! Ballads. I wish I had the kind of voice to sing them like that!" Actually, he does, but he's so used to hiding behind his guitar that he'd probably feel naked and embarrassed without it.

An accompaniment is only that. It should be like the frame of a painting. If people look at a painting and say, "Gee, isn't that a nice frame?" then someone has screwed up somewhere. Oftentimes the accompaniment is compelling enough that it's about all people pay attention to, and a wonderful, powerful story told in a centuries-old classic song or ballad gets lost in all the fancy fingerwork.

I love playing the guitar, and I always will. But I've recently discovered that singing without it is a very freeing experience. If you haven't done it, give it a try. You might be surprised!

Don Firth

P.S: Now the trick is to get the compulsive accompanists to keep their hands off their instruments when I want to sing without accompaniment.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: John Routledge
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 01:51 PM

Exactly Alice.

Your post sets out beautifully why unaccompanied singing is difficult/impossible within the confines of a Geordie session.

Happy singing to you all.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: ard mhacha
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 02:24 PM

Ian C, I have to agree, I was brought up with unaccompanied singing,in our local Gaelic football club.                           i
In the 1940s and 50s we had our "big nights" around Christmas and on the odd occasion our team won a trophy.
Everyone had to sing on those happy occasions and it was all unaccompanied, we would help the shy person out by singing along, but always in those days, at street corners or on long country walks we let rip, great days, even minus the twanging Guitars. Ard Mhacha.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: CapriUni
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 03:37 PM

As for the antiquity of unaccompanied singing... I figure lullabies must be very ancient, and if they are actually sung as lullabies, they have to be sung unaccompanied. One can't hold a baby and an instrument at the same time...


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: MMario
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 03:42 PM

lullabies aren't always sung holding the child.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: GUEST,Marion
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 03:45 PM

Another advantage to singing a cappella, for an entertainer, is to create more variety in a set.

I perform alone, so there are only two orchestrations available to me: solo fiddle, or my voice with guitar. I do the occasional song a cappella just to have a different sound - for the same reason that I deliberately mix up slow songs with fast songs, or fingerpicked songs with strummed songs.

Marion


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Herga Kitty
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 04:34 PM

I suspect that some of this discussion depends on whether you're singing as a performer to be listened to or singing as a shared and collaborative experience for people to join in with.

Most of the singing at Herga - eg by Johnny Collins, Graeme Knights, Mike Sparks and myself - is unaccompanied, because we are these days predominantly a singing club. But we enjoy good accompaniments as wel.

I've heard instrumental accompaniments that detract from, rather than enhance, the quality of a song, because the instrument was being used as a prop not an enhancement. The big Child ballads, when well sung, are utterly compelling without instruments - but if you get a really sympathetic accompaniment like Jeff Gillet accompanying Ron Taylor on Willie's Lady, that can be magic too.

The question is always, what does the accompaniment add to the song - if a song is good it will stand without accompaniment


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Zany Mouse
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 04:46 PM

GerMan: Define "commercial"!

People like Dave Webber and Anni Fentiman manage to make their living from unaccompanied singing (although Dave occasionally plays the concertina). In my mind if you can make a living from it that is commercial enough.

ZM


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: CapriUni
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 06:33 PM

From MMario: lullabies aren't always sung holding the child.

Not always, no. But if the baby is fussy, you may have to be prepared to pick the young'un up and do some rockin'.

BTW, many, many years ago, I saw an interview with a pediatrician talking about caring for fussy babies, and he said that many collicky babies are soothed by the sound of the father singing, especially if the baby is held up to the chest, and the father rests his chin on top of the baby's head... seems they find the feel of the vibrations of a deep voice soothing ...

Deep body massage, anyone? ;-)


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Roughyed
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 07:08 PM

When my daughter was a baby the only way to get her to sleep was to put one foot on her bouncing cradle and play my guitar and sing while rocking her with my foot. I think it depends on the song. Some songs have an emotional impact which is massively increased by singing it unaccompanied, some songs can have a whole new side brought out by a good accompaniment.

When it comes down to it I believe that as a singer of traditional songs it is good to make them accessible to general audiences which can involve musical arrangements, whereas with a different audience which is knowledgeable and interested an unaccompanied version can press very different buttons. All music to me is about communication and as long as you stay true to the intention of the song you can do whatever you like pretty much with it.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 07:11 PM

When I tried to sing my kids to slepp, I always fell asleep first.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Alice
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 08:09 PM

I have been amazed to hear several instrumental musicians, people who I thought were really into traditional music, tell me that they never paid attention to the lyrics of songs. Hearing just the words was a wake up call for them.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: mg
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 08:46 PM

I must admit to not paying too much attention to the lyrics of the song..sometimes I wake up out of my slumber and am quite surprised to find out what the song was about I sung for 10 years. I generally sing unaccompanied, only because I just never learned to play the guitar, which seems upside down to me or something..and I do play at home with the accordian but it is too loud for public consumption..also the notes don't go low enough for me. I love singing along with really good guitar players..once I got to sing with Gordon Quinton, my #1 favorite guitar player. But I hate it when they get the chords wrong....

I'm really more of a small group singer I think..3-6 people..mg


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: GUEST,Timcat
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 09:34 PM

My earliest memories of music were my family singing in the car. This was when car radios were pretty rare and were toast by the time the then secondhad car was ours. I have sung to all three of my kids, all of whom are now taller than me, and they all know the words to many of the old camp songs we sang. We sang in the car, in the bath, in the yard and on boats and canoes. Around campfires, and so on. My grandfather actually collected medicine show songs from the hucksters that came through northern Illinois in the 1880's and 90's, and he sude to sing a lot of them that I have never heard anywhere else.All unaccompanied. Lots of folks didn't have the money for instruments or lessons where I grew up, but I think just about everybody sang.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Art Thieme
Date: 12 Mar 03 - 09:47 PM

I've done a few al capone (a capella) songs ;-) over the years. An Erie Canal ballad called "THE BULLHEAD BOAT" that I got from Lyman King of Fulton, New York --- also a humorous ballad by Craig Johnson to the tune of "The Buffalo Skinners" called "A North Country Tragedy". The American lumberjack song by James Stevens---"The Frozen Logger", is fun without instruments. Another lumbercamp song, "The Pokegama Bear" from Minnesota is one I did unaccompanied after I couldn't play it on guitar any longer. An Arkansas song called "Father Oh Dear Father" is another one.-------Only just now did I realize that these were all rather funny songs on one level or another. The serious songs in my rep were almost always done with an instrument. Jaws Harp songs were sung a capella ---but with accompaniment of sorts; the instrument plays the melody (so to speak) in-between the verses.---------- For my money, Lou Killen and Roy Harris have been two great ones. Lou's performance of "The Flying Cloud" is simply sublime. EMERY DE NOYER who was a blind singer of lumber camp ballads in the earlier 20th century is my favorite American unaccompanied singer. Hear his songs as collected by and issued by the Library Of Congress Archive Of Folk Culture. Horton Barker and Lee Monroe Presnell and Vera Hall and Granny Riddle are also at the top of the list. -------

All that said, these days I really think that JUDY COOK does as good a job as can be done presenting the unaccompanied songs with a real respect for the story she is telling through music while, still, being very entertaining on stage.

Just a few of the things this thread has had me thinking about.

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: GUEST,Keith A working
Date: 13 Mar 03 - 04:22 AM

I can't play so do what I do.
I have noticed that musicians sometimes do not get so much quiet, and wondered why. Sometimes I think that concentrating on fingering isolates you from the audience. Note the discussion on eyes closed singing. Really confident players never get that (I was watching Breezy last week!)
Keith.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: JudeL
Date: 13 Mar 03 - 05:16 AM

Singing with eyes closed is not a matter of confidence, but it does help you concentrate on the song, rather than yourself or the chap in the back that is crunching crips and discussing the footie.

And it's not a matter of those who sing unaccompanied do so because "the poor things" can't play an instrument. More than one person who is primarily a musician has said that for certain songs, even though they could play with them they choose not to.

Lots of people have stated very clearly that having an instrument playing can detract from a song rather than enhance it, and be very restrictive in terms of regulating tempo. This is not to say that some songs cannot benefit from having a regularised beat that doesn't slow down to near dirge when others join in the chorus, but there are many songs where the instrument is unneccessary, a distraction and is there because the performer wants a crutch, or because the musician wants to fiddle with something.

Others may be delighted when people with instruments join their singing uninvited but most of the time I find it restricting. Mostly other voices which join in can adjust to minute alterations of tempo, almost without their owners being aware that they are doing so and thus don't pose the same problem and are welcome as they add to the song. Unfortunately most of the time when an instrument is played the cumulative effects of the minute differences between the timing of how the singer would have sung it and how they sing it because the timing has been regularised often makes a song (which is wonderful unaccompanied) come out very flat and robs it of meaning. There are some very skilled performers who, accompanying themselves can make the transition but very few.

The absolute worst is the musician who constantly noodles along with everything, even when they have NO idea what the song is.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Stewart
Date: 13 Mar 03 - 12:24 PM

Since I took up fiddle playing again several years ago I do more a capella singing since it's hard to fiddle and sing at the same time. I usually begin a song on the fiddle, then sing a few verses unaccompanied, then a fiddle interlude, and finish the song unaccompanied. Sometimes I follow the song with a related fiddle tune. For example, I sing the Scottish song "Johnny my Man (Farewell to Whiskey)" followed by the two Scottish fiddle tunes, Farewell to Whiskey and Welcome Whiskey Back Again - it makes a great set.

Singing unaccompanied is much more demanding as a singer, but it allows me to fully express the song, and I think it is much more interesting for the listener, as most songs tell a story and it is the words and they way they are expressed that are important. As I have been doing this more and more at our open mic, I have inspired several other singers to also sing unaccompanied. It takes some courage at first, but it has its rewards. I guess I have heard too many "singer-songwriters" who can't really sing, but play virtuoso guitar (or at least think they can), and I have a hard time understanding their songs underneath all the fancy guitar work (it just gets in the way).

My approach to learning a new song is to first sing it unaccompanied. That way I can freely explore different ways to express the song unhindered by the guitar rhythm and chords. Then I add accompanyment only if it adds something to the song, otherwise I'll sing it a capella.

Cheers, S. in Seattle


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: IanC
Date: 13 Mar 03 - 12:38 PM

Er ...

What's all this "a capella" stuff? is it posh for "unaccompanied" (in which case why not just say so?) ... I know it means "in the mode of the chapel" in Italian and I thought that was probably part-harmony or polyphonic singing.

Anyone help?

;-)


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 13 Mar 03 - 12:42 PM

Just to support the emphasis that the words receive when singing without an instrument, there are some songs my gospel quartet does where the words of the verses are sung with just a guitar backing, with harmonies coming in just on the chorus. The reason is the same as it is for singing a capella... the focus is on the words, and adding harmonies... even with wordless humming or "ooh"s is a distraction.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: JudeL
Date: 13 Mar 03 - 12:42 PM

yes it's another way of saying unaccompanied


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: IanC
Date: 13 Mar 03 - 12:45 PM

Well ... why use 2 word we don't understand in a foreign language to mean 1 word in English that we do? I don't get it.

;-)


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Genie
Date: 13 Mar 03 - 01:00 PM

I sing unaccompanied (no guitar) when:

- I don't know the chords well enough to accompany myself competently and for one reason or another I want to do the song. (E., g., in retirement homes, I get a lot of requests for "It Had To Be You," and "My Funny Valentine" and the chords are not obvious to me, so I do them a capella. I've gotten such a good response that way that I keep doing them sans guitar. Gives my fingers a rest.)

- The song seems to 'want' a very lyrical interpretation and the guitar does not seem to enhance it. (On or near St. Patrick's I do a really schmaltzy "A Little Bit Of Heaven Fell" and it just doesn't seem to be enhanced by back up guitar. And it gives my fingers a rest on a day of long hours of playing.)
   (And, David I., your rendition of "The Sick Note" is a perfect example of a song working better without accompaniment than with one! An instrument would, I think, distract from the story.)

_ I like to use my guitar as a rhythm instrument on some songs. I know that's not really "unaccompanied," but it does mean having no help staying on pitch. If I had a bodhran, I'd use it as the sole instrumental background for some songs, because the rhythm back up is more important than the tune back up. (I do "It's A Long Way To Tipperary" and "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head" and "Tea For Two" with my guitar as a rhythm instrument only.)

As for talking over instrumentals and not over vocals, it's simple. You can hear and appreciate music without focusing on it with your left brain. But you won't process lyrics while you're chatting or otherwise distracted.

Genie


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: MMario
Date: 13 Mar 03 - 01:02 PM

it's actually easier to say.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 13 Mar 03 - 01:48 PM

I think it's more Americans who seem to say "a cappella" (or "alla cappella"). I've never heard anyone in England or Ireland say it, not in a folk song context. It must have been taken from people with an art song orientation. I think it might have come into use in the pop context at first, and sidled across.

Properly speaking it means "in the chapel style" and is really more appropriate for choral singing, or for the type of solo you get in a cathedral choir; and it can also mean the same as "alla breve" which is a musical instruction meaning "take the minim as your beat unit", which would I suppose imply singing rather slowly.

When the term is used to mean a bunch of folkies in a pub roaring out a chorus, it seems a very strange term to use. Or even of a singer giving forth in a singaround. I think it's a usage that might be better pensioned off, but if people like to use it, fair enough.

But perhaps in a setting where unaccompanied singing is liable to be looked down on, there's a case for it, as a way of making the point that singing without an instrument shouldn't be thought of as an impoverished type of singing, or as make-do with what you've got, but rather as a positive choice, as a way of helping put over a song more effectively, as well as a way of broadening the available range of songs, and bringing in more singers.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 13 Mar 03 - 02:14 PM

We say a capella as part of our mutual desire to grow in knowledge and improve our vocabulary. :-)

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Naemanson
Date: 13 Mar 03 - 02:32 PM

I don't think anyone has addressed GerMan's original question, "Why do people at sessions shut up & listen to a singer but when someone with, for example, a guitar does something everybody starts/carries on talking?"

I have a theory that's based on modern music technology versus general human interaction. In our world we run a radio or have the TV on and manage to talk while it blares in the background. However, we generally shut up and listen when someone is talking to us. When a musician or group of musicians are playing instruments and singing the mental picture is similar to running that radio. How many people shut up and listen to the rock band playing in the bar? What they do is either dance or try to yell into each other's ears.

But when a person stands alone on stage, singing unaccompanied, then the mental picture is similar to someone talking directly to you. And you cannot talk without interrupting them.

At least that's my theory.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Naemanson
Date: 13 Mar 03 - 02:39 PM

The other thing that surfaced is the relative value of accompanied versus unaccompanied.

I think Jerry said it best. Some songs are just better without the additional notes. I mostly sing unaccompanied, often with my eyes closed, feeling the song within and bringing out to place it into the hands and hearts of my audience. I seem to be fairly successful with it to judge from the comments I've received.

I do Sally Free And Easy, Grey Funnel Line, Polly Von, Griesley Bride, The Sick Note, and all my shanties unaccompanied.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: JohnnyBeezer
Date: 13 Mar 03 - 03:02 PM

That's a good theory Naemanson m' boy.
However, I think that these days(as opposed to the 60's) the etiquette in folk clubs has been eroded somewhat.
Time was when you paid the same attention and good manners to any artist by keeping quiet between songs, unaccompanied, six piece jigs and reels whatever.
I can't help but think that we've lost something important here in the passage of time. If someone is putting him or herself on the line, the least you could do is give a fair and well-mannered hearing.
I'm not advocating this, but there was a time in 1967 at the Fitters Arms club in Walsall when the late great Alex Campbell- never the most patient of men- threatened to come among the audience and clip the ears of the people chattering away while he was singing.
Bring back the birch!!

Shalom
Johnny N


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Schantieman
Date: 13 Mar 03 - 03:31 PM

I agree with lots of the above comments. I used to play the guitar, and less often the melodeon & anglo-concertina, sometimes to accompany songs. I found I used them less and less and now haven't played my guitar for years. You do get closer to the audience, you can communicate with them better and it does place all the emphasis on the words - which are crucial. (I still play the squeeze boxes, but usually on their own. I can't do two things at once!)

Manners! It is SO rude to talk when someone is singing but people do. (Including me, sometimes, I fear). And walking into the room in the middle of a song. And even walking OUT during a song! And yes, why should tunes get treated worse?

Harumph.

Also, of course, if you sing accompanied it's a bit hard to practise while you're driving!

Steve


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: GUEST,Diva
Date: 13 Mar 03 - 04:04 PM

Because its the best way to sing???? I have tried both but much prefer unaccompanied.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Stewart
Date: 13 Mar 03 - 05:00 PM

I'm afraid I used the terms "a capella" and "unaccompanied" interchangeably. That's probably not correct, since the Harvard Dictonary of Music defines "a capella" as "choral music without instrumental accompaniment," and I was using the term to refer to solo singing. The dictonary goes on to say - "Historians of the 19th century held the idea that all 'early music' - i.e. music before 1600 - was 'a capella'. Such a statement is correct, however, only with respect to strictly liturgical music, such as masses and motets. Secular music, whether for a soloist or a choral group, was frequently accompanied or duplicated by instruments, particularly in the period 1300 - 1450."

S. in Seattle


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Art Thieme
Date: 13 Mar 03 - 05:19 PM

Those who once only said unaccompanied but now have learned to say a capella also, are like the Oakies who moved to California in the dust bowl days of the 1930s ; they have raised the I.Q.s of both groups.

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 13 Mar 03 - 05:22 PM

How can they possibly know something like that? I'd imagine they'd be thinking about posh people's music, John Dowland and that - great stuff in its way, but posh people were always a minority, and you can bet that the rest of us weren't silent.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Don Firth
Date: 13 Mar 03 - 06:34 PM

Unaccompanied is five syllables. A capalla is only four.

Less effort.

Don Firth   

;-}


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: BUTTERFLY
Date: 13 Mar 03 - 07:02 PM

I generally sing accompanied - as soon as I open my mouth the audience gets up and leaves!


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: toadfrog
Date: 13 Mar 03 - 07:15 PM

No. I don't know of anyone who became commercially successful by singing a capella. (Except do-wop groups, which is not a tradition I much follow.) But I personally would never go back to playing a guitar; there are so many more rythmic subtleties without an instrument.

The best unaccompanied folk singers I know of are Scots; Jeannie Robertson, Ewan McColl, and Jean Redpath, in that order. Anyone who doubts the possibilities of this style should listen to some of Ms. Robertson's songs.

Shay Black is a magnificent a capella singer. And a very capable guitar player. But I cringe, and want to leave the room, everytime he cranks up one of his smooth, technically perfect guitar accompanyments and ruins another fine old traditional Irish song.

The most beautiful and exciting operatic aria I ever heard was on My Music. It was sung by Maria Callas, and Frank Muir was called on to explain why there was no orchestra for that particular performance. I forget the explanation, but for sure, she was better off without it.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 13 Mar 03 - 07:29 PM

Alla cappella of course is five syllables. And most people who I hear seem to pronounce "unaccompanied" as four syllables - "un-a-cump-need".

"Rugby songs and sea shanties are normally sung a cappella" - no, it just doesn't sound plausable: "'Twas on the Good Ship Venus..."


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Alice
Date: 13 Mar 03 - 07:43 PM

A capella is what generally Americans call unaccompanied, but folk music is pretty much accompanied in the USA. A capella is usually do-wop groups, but anyone singing unaccompanied is generally called a capella. There are not that many of us who sing trad music unaccompanied, usually connected with Irish sessions, shanty groups, folk song circles, or authentic old time songs/Mountain music. I was the only person at our session who sang unaccompanied and now there are others picking it up.

Alice


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: kytrad (Jean Ritchie)
Date: 13 Mar 03 - 08:05 PM

Unaccompanied- gets a bit confusing if you're talking of more than one singer, doing the same song at the same time. Say, a group of singers, perhaps doing harmonies but with no instruments. Each is "accompanied" by the others, but their singing is a cappella (without instrumental accompaniment).


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Marion
Date: 13 Mar 03 - 11:34 PM

Perhaps the Nylons have been the most commercially successful a capella act.

Marion


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Bee-dubya-ell
Date: 14 Mar 03 - 01:04 AM

We have a couple of regulars at our session who sing unaccompanied. Everybody else in the session loves it when they take their turn. The drinkers love it 'cause they get a restroom break. The smokers love it 'cause they get a smoke break. I love it 'cause I can go out back and get my guitar back in tune. Not really sure if anybody ever listens, but we love it just the same.

Bruce


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: GUEST,Philippa
Date: 14 Mar 03 - 05:21 AM

I appreciate listening to good accompaniaments, but I also very much enjoy listening to unaccompanied singing.

I can get annoyed when the music overwhelms the song and the words are not clear, when the voice just functions as another instrument in the mix.

I usually prefer to sing unaccompanied, to concentrate on the singing and not to have to keep a strict rhythm.

Yes, some people who sing unaccompanied do so because they haven't learned to play an instrument, but there are also many people who lack the confidence to sing solo without backing.

I participate in a monthly 'folk club' or singing circle, where there does seem to be a preference for accompanied singing. A goodly variety of music is presented, from the Carter Family to the Eagles, from very old songs in Irish to contemporary singer-songwriter songs.Good order prevails no matter who is singing. But I do have a strong impression that most of the people at the club prefer to listen to songs with guitar backing, or to a capella harmony singing, as opposed to solo singing.

I agree with those who have made a distinction between solo and group singing. These two forms have different roles in the tradition/different traditions, and to my mind group singing is a form of accompanied singing. Lullabies are usually solo - it is not desired that the baby cry along! Sea shanties and other worksongs normally involve group participation; 'Haul away Joe' doesn't come across well with no one else to sing the chorus.

Solo singing plays a large part in the Irish tradition, and often the tunes are not the sort you would clap along to. Generally speaking, I think both tunes and lyrics tend to be more complex in songs that are traditionally sung solo/unaccompanied.

There are other societies in which solo singing isn't the norm. I have a neighbour from Indonesia who plays guitar and sings Elvis Presley songs. When I asked him to sing a song from his own culture, he said that he couldn't sing Indonesian songs without a group (to sing the other parts of the song).

I believe that often accompaniment has been developed to take the place of other voices. In blues music the guitar is played in-between lines of the song, in a call and response pattern. It is hard to put blues songs across solo unaccompanied.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 14 Mar 03 - 05:28 AM

Unaccompanied singing has always been common as far back as my folk-club life goes (to about 1968). Although I learned the guitar before I got the hang of singing properly, singing without it never really seemed a strange thing to do, and Mom often sang around the house (still does). Some songs just seem to be naturally unaccompanied, especially if they call for a rubato style; some are just too tricky for my poor fingers! I sometimes find that even a simple accompaniment takes my mind off a song I know very well and makes me pause at awkward moments to grasp for the next line.

Funny story ... back around 1976 (on the occasion I met the woman who was to become my wife -- a romantic story too!) I dropped in on the folk club at the local college; it was purely on impulse, and I hadn't got my guitar. I volunteered to do a floor spot (so I wouldn't have to pay!) and got up to do my bit. I dried in the last verse of a comic song, but I laughed it off and immediately went into another song. Later on, I was accosted in the gents' (eek!) by a student, who sang my praises very highly: "if you've got a guitar, man, you just keep playing till you get to the next verse, but if you ain't, you're naked! But you talked your way out of it -- I was reallly impressed, man!" (You can see it made a deep impression on me! I never talk to strange men in public lavatories now!) Cheerful confidence is a great asset when singing "naked", and I've seen some awful singers who were great entertainers. I think I come out better than "awful", but probably lower than "great".

Steve


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Dave Bryant
Date: 14 Mar 03 - 05:44 AM

The sessions which I've enjoed the most have all been primarily unaccompanied singing ones. I have memories of the first singarounds which we held in the cellar at South Hill Park, Bracknell during one of the "Handsome Mouldiwarp" festivals. I can also remember an incredible evening at "Capital Folk" when the guest was Roy Harris and the "audience" contained Johnny Collins, Jim Magean, Tom & Barbara Brown, Charley Yarwood - and many other fine singers. Roy agreed that it was one of his most memorable sessions in a previous thread. There are many other occasions which I have really enjoyed, but they always seem to have been times when the singing was mainly unaccompanied. Even when an instrument was used in these sessions, it tended to be used to enhance the song, not to overpower it.

For many songs I hear in clubs these days, accompaniments are misnamed because the performer obviously thinks that the instrumental playing is much more important than the actual song itself. Some singers in this category even give the impression that they are ashamed of the fact that they are singing at all and try and offset this by making the words completely unintelligable. I think that in these cases it is really the song which is accompanying the playing !

I sing with or without accompaniment depending on both the song and where and to whom I'm singing it. For many comic Music Hall songs, I need to be able to move around and act, which is much easier (and effective) without a guitar. Other songs sound so much better on their own - or in harmony with Linda. Several other people have mentioned the freedom in the timing and phrasing of songs that singing unaccompanied makes possible. On the other hand when I'm working to a primarily "non-folk" audience, the guitar can form a useful bridge - in these circumstances when I suddenly throw in an unaccompanied song it has a much greater impact. I also find that many of the above audiences find it easier to join in choruses if there is an accompaniment.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca
Date: 14 Mar 03 - 11:03 AM

Thanks for this thread. Answers some great basic questions.

I agree with Johnny N. unaccompanied vocal singing is the original instrument humans learned. It's been said that ALL instruments are attempts to attempt to duplicate the human voice.

Not sure I necessarily agree with that one.

We've had lots of unaccompanied singing here in the Maritimes from Gaelic songs, through to sea shanties and other work songs. They are all enjoyable.

Ref: query about a whole concert of unaccompanied singing.
It CAN be quite enjoyable, IF the participants vary the style, tempo and range of the singing. If it's all of one type, for 2 or 3 hours it can be a problem even for the most enthusiastic.

Last year, Betty Lord organized a concert of Gaelic songs in Pictou Nova Scotia, and it was excellent. It went way over time, but no one was complaining. We had single singers, group singing, waulking songs, as well as chorale singing over 3 hours. There was a piper at the end and one band who played with instruments for 2 numbers but the other material was totally unaccompanied.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: JudeL
Date: 14 Mar 03 - 11:49 AM

It does depend upon the quality and variety of the performance(s), but this is true when instruments are used as well. There are any number of "tune" sessions that I would not bother going to because while the quality of playing may be good, there seems to be very little variety in what is played. This may be enjoyable for the musicians themselves who are playing very minor variations on a basic tune but not necessarily something that holds the interest of those listening. (Another possible reason why people often talk over tunes but shut up for songs).

Back on the unaccompanied theme, there is a trio called Artisan who are excellent who do not use instruments in their concerts. When they perform tickets are frequently sold out. Using an instrument would diminish their perfomance by obscuring the subtleties of nuance, tone and timing.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Genie
Date: 14 Mar 03 - 12:27 PM

Naeamonson, you said "I don't think anyone has addressed GerMan's original question, "Why do people at sessions shut up & listen to a singer but when someone with, for example, a guitar does something everybody starts/carries on talking?"
(A-hem!) I did address that question a couple of posts above yours. Not a definitive answer, of course, but one plausible one, I think.
"As for talking over instrumentals and not over vocals, it's simple. You can hear and appreciate music without focusing on it with your left brain. But you won't process lyrics while you're chatting or otherwise distracted."

Genie

PS,
I usually call it "Acapulco" singing, instead of "any comp kneed."


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: GUEST,JohnB
Date: 14 Mar 03 - 12:43 PM

I have played around with the guitar on and off for the last 35 or so years. OK so I should have practised more and had some lessons. I seldom use an instrument though in performance. I have had two a cappella groups in the last 10 years one with 8 of us and now one with just three. At song cicles in pubs etc. the three of us not only get listened to. I have noticed on several occasions that if people were not applauding the efforts of others, we seem to be able to draw a large round of applause as well. It is sometimes a little embarrassing when this happens after somebody else has flogged their guts out doing something instrumental or accompanied, that nobody really either noticed, or acknowledged. Young Tradition would be another group that made some sort of money through their voices.
JohnB


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: George Seto - af221@chebucto.ns.ca
Date: 15 Mar 03 - 07:42 AM

Don Firth.

That's beautiful. Wonderful story.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 15 Mar 03 - 10:02 AM

Favorite a capella groups of mine are the Fairfield Four for black gospel, and Stormy Weather, for wonderful doo wop. The Fairfield Four have started adding instruments now, after 70 years of a capella singing. In their case, too bad... I consider it a loss, not a gain.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Liz the Squeak
Date: 15 Mar 03 - 10:36 AM

I sing solo, because I a) can't play the guitar, b) couldn't be arsed to hump the thing around if I did and c) I have trouble enough remembering to take the words with me, Heaven only knows how I'd go if I had to bring dots as well....

When I started singing regularly in clubs, it was a rare thing to see a woman singing sans guitar, and singing rude songs, which is what I did. Most people shut up because they wanted to hear the words. Those that didn't were put upon by their more discriminating neighbours until they did.

The addition of the 'talk while they sing, buy them a pint' rule in one club did wonders for the chatterers (and my beer intake!). The reasoning was they'd paid to come into the club so obviously wanted to hear the music.. anyone who only wanted to drink was welcome to use the bar across the yard.

We're all so innured to background noise and 'muzak' now that when it stops, we wonder where it went. If you can, check out certain programmes on UK and US TV. Star Trek is a prime example.... Whilst in Canada I watched an episode. The background music on the US showings was almost enough to drown out the dialogue. When I saw the same episode a few weeks later in the UK, I couldn't work out why the words were strange but the pictures hauntingly familiar (any comments about them using the same plot every week will not be answered). I realised then, that the US showing was inaudible because of the loud, intrusive music. When a room goes quiet for a singer, it's because of the change in background noise.

One thing that infuriates me is when a singer is introduced in a club or singaround and people don't shut up.

LTS


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: boglion
Date: 15 Mar 03 - 04:55 PM

I spend a lot of time in County Kerry where my mother was born. I started singing in pubs there some 20 years ago. Nearly every singer in the area sings unaccompanied.

A CD was produced just before Christmas of local performers both living and dead. My grandmother is on it with two concertina tunes and a recitation. This thread has led me to analyse the content and I was not surprised to find that not one of the 52 tracks is an accompanied singer.

The breakdown is:
Solo Instrumental         17
Unacompanied Singer


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: GUEST,Santa
Date: 25 Mar 03 - 08:33 AM

I wouldn't dream of walking out or talking during a song or a tune - though I might yawn during a tune. (Though not deliberately, honest.)

I find unaccompanied folk music - without words - pretty limiting. It really does have very little to communicate unless you have a technical interest in the playing - which I don't. And why play dance music if you're not going to dance?

OK, a good example can make a nice break in an evening's entertainment. I recall being enthralled by Martin Carthy's guitar rendition of The 51st Highland Division's Retreat from St. Valery - I guess a good performer with a good tune will win through everything!


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Dave Bryant
Date: 25 Mar 03 - 11:20 AM

There are many wonderful unaccompanied singers and groups on the UK scene and I would definitely endorse Judel's choice of Artisan. They not only sing wonderful harmonies but much of their material is written by member Brian Bedford (the other two are his wife Jacey and Hilary Spencer) who has produced such wonderful songs as "What's the use of wings". If you have any preconceptions that unaccompanied singing is boring and all terribly serious do go and hear them, I'm sure they'll change your mind !

Other groups which I've liked in the past included The Young Tradition and English Tapestry.

The Waterson's seem to have gone from being an institution ta a dynasty.

More recently there's Coote, Boyes, and Simpson, Salt of the Earth, and of course, there's always the shapely Dangerous Curves.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: Naemanson
Date: 25 Mar 03 - 01:40 PM

I agree on Artisan. What a great group! And Brian's songs are pure magic. Great stuff.

In reading through this thread I can see that I have been very lucky indeed. Since I started singing in clubs and coffeehouses I have been listened to by my audiences. I cannot think of a single instance where I sang something and wondered if anyone was paying attention. There have been gigs with Roll & Go where that was the case but those were exclusively gigs where we were hired to be background music and atmosphere.

If I am going to do any traveling I guess I'd better get ready for rudeness and rejection.


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Subject: RE: Unaccompanied Singing - How & Why!
From: GUEST,mac
Date: 26 Feb 04 - 05:19 PM

Hey, i'm only 17 , and i've been singing for just a little over a year. mostly simple things, but then the band i was in started getting me into screaming and now i know why i should never do that lol i can't hit the high notes or hold mid notes steady anymore, it always feels like its slipping just a little bit out of tune when i'm singing... (i quit the band) , and so now i play and sing lots of my own acoustic stuff agian my dad made me a webpage www.hammac.com/mac listen to my voice and you'll probably hear what i'm talking about! i just want to know what i can do to make my voice more powerfull and how to hit the right notes more often, i dont know how good i'm doing for how long i've been singing or anything of that sort so anyone that listens to it leave me a message on my email if you have any advice.... thanks -Mac


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