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Why sing harmony?

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Saro 27 Jul 06 - 04:39 PM
GUEST,mg 27 Jul 06 - 04:46 PM
Joe Offer 27 Jul 06 - 05:07 PM
Saro 27 Jul 06 - 05:12 PM
Mrs.Duck 27 Jul 06 - 05:17 PM
Drumshanty 27 Jul 06 - 05:23 PM
Gwenzilla 27 Jul 06 - 06:55 PM
McGrath of Harlow 27 Jul 06 - 06:57 PM
Kaleea 27 Jul 06 - 07:07 PM
Herga Kitty 27 Jul 06 - 07:57 PM
Richard Bridge 27 Jul 06 - 08:38 PM
Herga Kitty 27 Jul 06 - 08:46 PM
frogprince 27 Jul 06 - 08:54 PM
Herga Kitty 27 Jul 06 - 09:05 PM
frogprince 27 Jul 06 - 09:28 PM
michaelr 27 Jul 06 - 10:44 PM
Greg B 27 Jul 06 - 11:21 PM
JohnB 27 Jul 06 - 11:31 PM
Liath 28 Jul 06 - 03:54 AM
Sooz 28 Jul 06 - 04:02 AM
Dave the Gnome 28 Jul 06 - 05:10 AM
Sooz 28 Jul 06 - 05:14 AM
GUEST,Neovo 28 Jul 06 - 05:37 AM
Grab 28 Jul 06 - 05:46 AM
Dave the Gnome 28 Jul 06 - 05:46 AM
Dave the Gnome 28 Jul 06 - 06:05 AM
Marje 28 Jul 06 - 06:48 AM
GUEST,The black belt caterpillar wrestler 28 Jul 06 - 07:36 AM
Greg B 28 Jul 06 - 08:09 AM
Dave the Gnome 28 Jul 06 - 08:52 AM
Saro 28 Jul 06 - 11:05 AM
GUEST,Russ 28 Jul 06 - 11:52 AM
BTMP 28 Jul 06 - 12:09 PM
GUEST,Janie 28 Jul 06 - 01:23 PM
Georgiansilver 28 Jul 06 - 01:33 PM
MartinRyan 28 Jul 06 - 02:42 PM
Sue the Borderer 28 Jul 06 - 04:54 PM
GUEST 28 Jul 06 - 04:56 PM
Bert 28 Jul 06 - 04:58 PM
Genie 28 Jul 06 - 05:05 PM
Genie 28 Jul 06 - 05:09 PM
Scoville 28 Jul 06 - 05:12 PM
Genie 28 Jul 06 - 05:16 PM
Bert 28 Jul 06 - 05:40 PM
Artful Codger 28 Jul 06 - 11:44 PM
Ferrara 29 Jul 06 - 11:45 AM
Ferrara 29 Jul 06 - 12:05 PM
Marje 29 Jul 06 - 12:07 PM
Ferrara 29 Jul 06 - 02:36 PM
Rumncoke 29 Jul 06 - 05:07 PM
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Subject: Why sing harmony?
From: Saro
Date: 27 Jul 06 - 04:39 PM

This is a question for those who love singing harmony - why do you (well that should be "we" really) do it? What is it that draws you towards harmonising songs, what's the appeal for you? is it a musical thing...an emotional thing...to do with being part of a group...or what?
Here's hoping for some interesting thoughts.
Saro


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: GUEST,mg
Date: 27 Jul 06 - 04:46 PM

It sounds pretty to me. mg


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 27 Jul 06 - 05:07 PM

My wife Christina never could sing, but she joined the church choir because I was in it (somewhat to my chagrin). We have a terrific choir director, and she realized right away that Christina was trying to sing in the wrong range. Now Christina is singing alto, and feeling really good about it.
For once in her life, she really feels like she can sing. And the altos have taken her under their wings - and they especially like it because Christina is a chiropractor and gives massages to the whole choir...
-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Saro
Date: 27 Jul 06 - 05:12 PM

How lovely for her! Yes, i suppose "because the tune doesn't suit my vocal range" is a really good reason which i nhadn't thought of!
saro


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Mrs.Duck
Date: 27 Jul 06 - 05:17 PM

Harmony is a bit like a vocal accompaniment. Done properly it enhances the melody.


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Drumshanty
Date: 27 Jul 06 - 05:23 PM

A good question, and one that's been on my mind this past while. I sing in a group with three other people and, during the past year, it's become clear to us that people expect harmonies if they see more than one person singing. And they seem to expect those harmonies to be quite elaborate.

However, I believe that a harmony should complement and enhance the melody, not drown it out. I find it frustrating trying to hear the actual melody of a song that has been harmonied too elaborately to my ears.

Some of our songs have no harmonies, or not many, because we believe that the words and the way in which we sing them are better at getting the song across.

So why sing them? For me, it's a group thing. There is a wonderful feeling to be had when we make a pretty sound! And it's also wonderful when I am singing alone, and the audience or the people I am singing with join in with all sorts of harmonies that seem to make the song into something else.


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Gwenzilla
Date: 27 Jul 06 - 06:55 PM

I love to sing in harmony because for me there's nothing like the feeling of being part of a rich, layered, larger sound. We are all individual, isolated within ourselves, apart from other human beings. There are some very beautiful activities and experiences that can make us feel part of a greater whole, at one with our fellow human beings, sweetly and perfectly at one and in tune with another person. One of those things is good harmony singing.


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 27 Jul 06 - 06:57 PM

When you can't reach some note beacuse it's a bit high or too low, singig a harmony is a good way to solve the difficulty, and it sounds good too. And if everone sings the melody notes it gets a bit crowded in there, so it seems natural to find a harmony where there's a bit more space.

Actually what tends to happen a lot of the time in folk clubs and so forth isn't so much the kind of harmony singing where people are aimig for block chords, like barbershop singers, but rather people evolving different melody lines that come together at times and move apart. And part of that is because where people pick up songs orally (which includes listening to records), we tend to pick up and pass on variants, either because the variants were there in what we were listening to, or because our memories and are ears aren't all that accurate.


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Kaleea
Date: 27 Jul 06 - 07:07 PM

I began to sing harmony as a child. The melody was pretty. Then, I began to harmonize--and experienced a rush I had not known before as two voices blended to become something different which was even more beautiful.
I have always preferred to sing & play in an ensemble. This is always more fun to me. A fiddle, combined with my pennywhistle, becomes a separate instrument that is unlike any other--and there are certainly many beautiful combinations of instruments.
And, yes, although I sing Soprano, I still prefer to sing harmony.


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Herga Kitty
Date: 27 Jul 06 - 07:57 PM

Saro

Yes you're right, it's an interesting subject, particularly because it raises the issue of "folk or art?" But the other issues are about getting the song across and story, tune, texture.

If I understand correctly, harmony singing in the UK is not typically traditional apart from the Copper family (and Ron's bass lines were pretty basic).

I sing harmonies because it's a compulsion.

I learned to sing from sheet music in choirs when I was at school, but found I was instinctively wanting to sing harmony on hymns in school assemblies.

Then I was introduced to the Herga folk club (in the heyday of the Young Tradition, and round about the time of the Watersons' first farewell tour)and discovered that improvising harmonies was a) an accepted thing to do in folk clubs, and b) (especially where there are fabulous acoustics like the Bracknell South Hill Park Cellar) utterly exhilarating. Also, in the 1970s, we had Jim Mageean and Johnny Collins most Mondays at Herga, and great opportunities for adding harmonies.

I agree with Kevin that a lot of the time harmonies are the result of people singing in keys that don't feel comfortable for you to sing the tune.

I've sometimes thought that CBS and Artisan are/ were so polished that they're more art than folk.

I very much enjoyed your workshop with the rest of CMR at Chippenham last year, when you explained your approach to harmonies (especially the Snows of Winter). As you pointed out, having 3 singers gives several possible combinations for 1. 2 or 3 singers at any one time.

i love the Anchor Middle Bar at Sidmouth (if anything the February reunion is better than the August festival) because it's dedicated to unaccompanied singing and provides opportunities for vocal harmonies. (Ditto the Wareham Wail.)

Kitty


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 27 Jul 06 - 08:38 PM

Just 'cos a song is accompanied is no reason not to sing harmony.


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Herga Kitty
Date: 27 Jul 06 - 08:46 PM

Richard - I have a sneaking feeling that my harmonies quite often come from picking up notes in the instrumental accompaniments!

Kitty


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: frogprince
Date: 27 Jul 06 - 08:54 PM

"I've sometimes thought that CBS and Artisan are/ were so polished that they're more art than folk."

You mean there's a distinction between folk singing and art? And the distinction is, if you do it too good, it's art?   ; )


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Herga Kitty
Date: 27 Jul 06 - 09:05 PM

Yes, frogprince, I think there's a distinction, though I'm not entirely clear what the boundaries are. The Living Tradition review of a CD I recorded in 1997/8 concluded that I was a singer who sang folk songs, but not a folk singer.

Kitty


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: frogprince
Date: 27 Jul 06 - 09:28 PM

Must say, I've never thought of it that way. When I listen with chills running up my spine, to Sweet Honey in the Rock, or to Anne Hills, Cindy Mangsen, and Priscilla Herdman, I think of what they do as fine musical art, and I don't think of them as violating the folk tradition.
Now I have heard people sing folk songs as opera. Art, perhaps, but not my kinda art.


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: michaelr
Date: 27 Jul 06 - 10:44 PM

Because it FEELS good!

My band began as a trio, with a female lead singer, myself on guitar, and a fiddler. I've always sung low harmonies (being a highish baritone). Then the fiddler joined in, with a range somewhat higher than mine. Then we got a conga player who loves singing bass. Then we got a bass player who sings great tenor!

There is nothing like the feeling I get when we're all singing on the chorus of some great song. I love it!

Cheers,
Michael


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Greg B
Date: 27 Jul 06 - 11:21 PM

Ever feel the plates in your skull start to vibrate
with the sound of the people around you?

That's why.


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: JohnB
Date: 27 Jul 06 - 11:31 PM

I just LOVE those dirty nasty chords that finish a song COMPLETELY, the one's that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand out.
There is also something in an unacompanied human voice which can shut up the noisiest Pub around and soemehow, somewhy, if it's good they listen, instruments can NOT do this.
When any of the above happens, you don't have to ask why or how, it's just Muckin Fagik.
JohnB


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Liath
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 03:54 AM

All of the above. It's a great way of fitting stuff into your vocal range.

I think harmonising with voice is no different to any kind of instrumental accompaniment. It can enhance the melody and enrich the sound for the listener. Whether or not any kind of accompaniment is traditional is something I'm sure we can argue about 'til the cows come home ;-)

Like any other sort of accompaniment, there's a time and a place for it - and I do think harmonisers should make sure it's OK to jump in on an unaccompanied song. Sometimes I love harmonies, but at other times, I really just want to sing stark and solo. Unless you really click musically with someone, it can be tricky to harmonise sympathetically.


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Sooz
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 04:02 AM

If I hear a group of singers singing in unison, I always wonder why. Singing in harmony comes naturally to me and like Kitty, I couldn't resist harmonising in school assemblies!


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 05:10 AM

I think it is a perfectly natural thing to do and agree with all the above. I remember having an argument with a member of some 'shanty crew', who were incidentaly landlocked but shall remain nameless. He was stating categoricaly that sailors would never have sung harmony because the shanties were work songs, because they were not trained to sing harmony and all sorts of nonsense.

If we do it because it sounds good, it's easy and it's natural then I am pretty sure that our ancesters would have done the same:-)

Cheers

DtG


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Sooz
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 05:14 AM

Quite.
Just off to Saddleworth now - looking forward to Monday Dave!


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: GUEST,Neovo
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 05:37 AM

All of the above and more. I think this is one of those "If you have to ask the question you won't understand the answer" things.


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Grab
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 05:46 AM

Dave, I can well believe that they wouldn't have sung work-songs in harmony, any more than soldiers would harmonise on a jody. But they may well have harmonised in the pubs - plenty of what we call "shanties" because of their nautical subject are actually drinking songs that wouldn't get sung at sea.

And I'd be very surprised if there was no tradition of harmonising in Britain. For centuries, the church was the high point of musical theory, and the religious songs of the mediaeval period definitely have harmony elements. Musical notation was pioneered by church singers as a way of recording how the melody and harmony lines were supposed to go. So it'd be quite surprising if other "home-made" music didn't include harmonies.

Graham.


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 05:46 AM

Seez you, Sooz.


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 06:05 AM

There were the foc'sle shanties as well, Graham, which were not work songs. Even those that were were for work likely to have some harmony in them simply because the 'chants' were needed to keep time and, as said, singing in your own register is easier than singing in someone elses! Unless the whole crew were in the same register it is far more likely that you would be able to hear some tenors, barritones and bases in there with the odd alto thrown in for good measure:-)

They may of course of sung the dots in unison but the ranges would have applied. My opinion is that even the notes would have been different between different singers. There are people who will naturaly sing 3rds, 5ths and etc. as well and to have none of them amongst a whole cross section of crew is unlikely. Of course none of this applied to the Royal Navy after a certain date that escapes me at the moment...

Cheers

DtG


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Marje
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 06:48 AM

I'm not convinced that there is no real tradition of harmony singing in the UK.

I know Vaughan Williams declared that the English tradition was a single melody line, not harmonised, but he happened to collect most of his songs from individual, mostly elderly people singing solo in their homes. As far as I know he didn't really look into how singing was used in farms, on ships, in factories, at feasts and festivals, or in groups of families and friends at leisure.I agree with Graham above - church music was so much in the blood of many (most?) people in Britain that it would be very surprising if there weren't other harmony traditions like those of the Coppers, whose harmonies are very churchy.

This applies, I think, in Scotland and England but probably less in Ireland; Irish traditional singing often uses ornamentation as an alternative to harmony. This does happen in English and Scots songs too, but there are also an awful lot of big solid melodies and chorus songs that are just crying out for harmonies, and I'm pretty certain they'd have been sung in harmony, especially before the widespread use of pianos, accordions, guitars etc which put in the chords and harmonies for you.

I don't think I can add anything about why we do it, it's all been said so well already. I'd just add that since so many of us feel that it's very natural, almost instinctive, it would be astonishing if it had only just become prevalent in the last generation or two.

Marje


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: GUEST,The black belt caterpillar wrestler
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 07:36 AM

When it comes to the English music tradition don't forget that for most people Church music and folk music were two sides of the same coin. The church musicians were the barn dance band. Look at the complexity of some of the West gallery music and then you will realise that there was plenty of harmony singing around available to all.
Am I unusual in experiencing a tune as a chord sequence around a melody, whether or not the chords are actually being played? For me the harmonies are there ready to be sung, and probably nearer my register!


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Greg B
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 08:09 AM

>There were the foc'sle shanties as well

I know of many fo'c's'le songs, but I believe
there doesn't exist a single "foc'sle shanty."

What work to be done in the crew's quarters that
would need a song to keep the pace eludes me at
the moment, unless someone knows a dolphin-flogging
chanty.

On the other hand, I think it absurd to assert that
people who lacked instruments (because they were poor)
or the free hands to play them (because they were working)
wouldn't exploit the full capabilities of the one instrument
available to them, the human voice.


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Dave the Gnome
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 08:52 AM

We all know what can be done to a regular rhytm in a hammock, Greg:-)

It's mine and I'll wash as fast as I want...

:D (tG)


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Saro
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 11:05 AM

My response to GUEST,Neovo is that I don't at all think it is a situation where if you have to ask the question, you won't understand the answer. Mind you, I didn't "have" to ask the question, I just wanted to ask it, and the responses are a great insight into people's way of experiencing and enjoying music. For me, there's a real physical thrill created by some combinations of notes, and even more when we can create a harmony that replicates in sound something of the same emotion that the words create at a particular point in a song. When all thse factors come together, it is the nearest thing to heaven. I'm sure one day there'll be a way of physically measuring the way every cell in the body responds to particular chords - or maybe there is already, in which case I expect someone will point me in the right direction!
OK, that's probably marked me down as completely round the twist, I dare say, but it is nice to know that my particular form of insanity is shared with a lot of others...
Best wishes
Saro


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 11:52 AM

Harmony is theoretically wonderful.

But...

I don't sing harmony for a number of reasons. Mainly because given the people I sing with regularyly there is no need for yet another harmony singer.

A personal observation:
Lead singers often at least profess modesty. In my experience it is not unusual for a lead singer or the person who starts the song to apologize in advance for real or imagined shortcomings.
I have never met a harmony singer who was the least uncertain about his/her harmonizing abilities. Why is this?

A number of harmony singers of my acquaintance sing harmony for what to are TO ME (the nonharmony singer) not the best reasons. As one person put it, "When you sing harmony you don't have to know the tune." She then proceeded to make it crystal clear that she did not know the tune.

A number of harmony singers of my acquaintance apparently follow the rule "anything goes." TO ME (the nonharmony singer), and to MY ears, that is not the best approach.

Russ (the last GUEST standing)


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: BTMP
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 12:09 PM

I love singing along with CDs while I'm driving or putzing around the house. It's great to be singing a baritone line with, for example, the Louvin Brothers, whose wonderful duets usually leave out a harmony part for me to jump on. Also, most singers are really average as far as pure vocal talent goes, but when you get 3 or 4 'average' singers together and they are singing harmony, it truly can be a great experience, more so, perhaps than singing individually. It just makes you feel good.   -btmp


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: GUEST,Janie
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 01:23 PM

Like Michael R and others have said, harmony singing is so visceral it is literally a rush to sing or to hear. It also can add so much to the emotional interpretation of a song.

Interesting observation Russ. That has not been my experience, however. For myself, whether I am singing the melody line or a harmony, when it goes off I always assume it was me who lost pitch.

Janie


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Georgiansilver
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 01:33 PM

Some years ago I recorded myself singing and whilst playing it back I begun singing in harmony with myself. The next step was recording me singing harmony to my own song on tape...I got a real buzz from it and I tend to sing harmony wherever possible now..as to why, I can't tell you as I have no idea why I get such a buzz from it.
Best wishes, MIke.


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: MartinRyan
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 02:42 PM

Most of the time (not always) when I sing harmony, my objective is to make an invisible but not inaudible contribution to something I'm enjoying listening to i.e. to blend in a sound that contributes to what the lead singer is doing, without distracting from it.

The exceptions are with singers I know well, where we are used to harmonising a song which we know between us - and shanty singing, which is a different matter!

As ever, the song itself is what matters - it's just as easy to destroy a song with poor harmony as it is with inappropriate phrasing, decoration or whatever in the melody line. Call it "taste", "experience" or whatever - it comes down to being able to listen and learn....

Regards


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Sue the Borderer
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 04:54 PM

Just thinking about some of those wonderful scrunchy harmonies makes my fingers and toes curl and raises my neck-hairs! (Haven't quite managed to move the plates in my skull yet)

I'm trying really hard not to be envious of Kitty, Sooz and Kaleea etc to whom it all seems to come naturally. For me it's been a huge struggle. When I first started singing at the local folk club (about 6 years ago now) I liked the sound people were making, but couldn't work out how it was done or where I might 'fit in'.

I remember my excitement a couple of years later when watching (and listening) to Grace Notes; for the first time ever I could follow what each person was singing; instead of just being a huge jumble of sound, I could pick out the separate threads. Mind you, I could only do it one at a time, cos I had to be watching their mouths move!

Then a lengthy 'do it quietly and hope no-one will hear' sort of stage until now, just occasionally 'going for it', with a little bit more confidence - and getting it right! That's such a buzz


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: GUEST
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 04:56 PM


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Bert
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 04:58 PM

A polite request to harmony singers. If you want to sing your harmony along with another singer, Please ask first.

While I love to hear good harmony, for various reasons I find that if someone sings harmony along with me it is very distracting and can often cause me to lose the tune completely.


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Genie
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 05:05 PM

Why do I sing harmony? Lots of times I don't even realize I'm doing it. LOL

Some songs are hard to harmonize and in that case I seldom try. But others seem to have such obvious/natural harmonies that I go into them spontaneously and may not even realize I'm not singing the melody unless someone points it out to me.   That can be because the song and a common harmony are familiar to me (e.g., Amazing Grace or Puff, The Magic Dragon) or it can happen with a song I've never heard before.

I agree with Mary (mg).   When I sing harmony it's because I like the way it sounds. §;-D

Genie


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Genie
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 05:09 PM

Bert, with all due respect, I think it would be cumbersome in most song circles and sing-alongs for people to ask before every song, "Is harmony OK?"   If it's a setting where it's not "understood" whether you're supposed to sing along or not, of course it's good to ask if you may. But where the normal mode is for people to join in or if the singer has invited people to sing along, it makes more sense to me that if they don't want harmonies (or other back-up types of vocals), they should specify that.

:)

Genie


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Scoville
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 05:12 PM

Why not?

That, and I'm one of those weird slightly-high-register altos that is definitely not a soprano but whose comfortable range is a couple of notes higher than a normal alto. I can't keep up with either the altos or the sopranos and it's often easier to find something in between.


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Genie
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 05:16 PM

I would add one case where spontaneous harmonizing is probably not a good idea.   That's when someone is introducing a NEW song or new tune.

Too often, I find when someone is presenting a new song that has familiar, common chords, when the group starts to sing along and starts adding harmonies from the get-go, nobody really learns the TUNE. So it ends up sounding like a dozen other songs that have similar chord patterns (e.g., Goodnight, Irene and Roll On Columbia would end up sounding identical).   
In that case, I think it helps if everyone tries to stick to the melody until people have got that down. Then they can add harmonies later.

But, as has been said, harmony (or melody transpositions) can be the only way you can sing a song that's really in a bad key for you.


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Bert
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 05:40 PM

Good point Genie.


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Artful Codger
Date: 28 Jul 06 - 11:44 PM

In addition to the above reasons, there is frequently greater freedom in a harmony part than in a melody part.

I mostly sing solo unaccompanied, but in a "harmonic" style, which is to say that I flex the melody to include harmony notes, and will even integrate snatches of harmony lines into a melody line, once the melody is established enough to "ghost" in the listener's mind.

If several people sing together, I generally prefer that they sing harmony because otherwise the melody "averages out": the singers all stick to the least common denominator, which is dull. It is easy to over-ornament in a harmony situation, but when people sing their own lines, they're more prone to add touches that make a song much more than what can be written on a page - or sung by a group in unison.

For this reason, I also prefer small groups to large ones. I've always been a fan of close harmonies, particularly when three or four people give the illusion of a more massive sound, or weave intricate progressions that nevertheless sound just right. In small groups, you have more opportunity for harmonic experimentation - a simple change of harmony can transform a song.

Of course, harmony singing is, like most things, a two-edged sword: it can enhance or detract, and only sensitivity and skill (and occasionally chance) determine which direction it will take a piece. Just because you have four or more people does NOT mean that you should always have full chords, and that everyone should be singing pretty much all the time. However, in informal groups one must bow to the spirit of democracy, the tyrrany of mediocrity.

If you want a song you're performing or leading to NOT be harmonized, you can just announce, "This song sounds best in unison", or, "Please hang off on the harmonies till the third verse." If you have the luxury, you might propose that you sing a few verses first, then return to the beginning so they can all sing in harmony. Simple directions put everyone on the same page.


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Ferrara
Date: 29 Jul 06 - 11:45 AM

I "learned" other people's harmonies (written harmonies on hymns, Ian & Sylvia's harmonies etc) very naturally, and sang them happily. But I didn't really start adding spontaneous harmonies until I joined the Folklore Society of Greater Washington and found that a lot of melodies on chorus songs were out of my range. :-) Now I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of finding a "good" harmony.

But what I like best is to lead a song that has a strong chorus or refrain, and to get back really fine harmonies and strong singing on the chorus. There is nothing like having a song be transformed, I guess I would describe it as taken to its full potential, by a group of people singing it together.


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Ferrara
Date: 29 Jul 06 - 12:05 PM

Here are a couple of observations (not pronouncements!) about harmony singing in Britain in earlier centuries.

I have heard that to some extent it was a regional thing. In some regions, you sang harmonies, in others no. In some areas, only the lead singer sang refrains and choruses -- They didn't expect to have any audience participation at all. This tradition was carried on, for example, in Sodom Laurel, NC, where Sheila Kaye Adams was raised. I believe Norman Kennedy said the tradition where he came from was to sing along on choruses, but in unison. If I'm wrong I apologize. I do know he said, categorically, that he prefers no harmony singing on his choruses. Lou Killen, on the other hand, said that where he comes from they certainly do sing harmonies.

Maybe there's also a difference in the type of songs from region so region. Love songs and ballads are one thing but livelier songs may have been treated differently. It's hard to imagine that a harvest song in the pub, or accompanying the last hay wagon home, had no harmonies! In fact as I think of it, I suspect the songs that invite the best harmonies mostly came from regions where harmony singing was prevalent. These are all suggestions & theories folks, just throwing out ideas for discussion (or not).

About shanties, I read something once that made me suspect they were actually frowned on in some quarters. How much difference that made to the seamen is another question. What I read was a quote from a British writer who had heard a crew singing shanties and said it was all well sung, except for one problem -- there were black sailors from the West Indies in the crew, and they "could not be taught to stay on the tune." !!!!!!! It makes me sigh, both at the arrogance of it, and at the ignorance. Surely the West Indian sailors were perfectly capable of singing the tune but sang harmonies because it was what they liked. I have wondered how much their singing encouraged other sailors to harmonize.


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Marje
Date: 29 Jul 06 - 12:07 PM

I have to say that my experience is quite the opposite of Bert's (above) - if I'm leading a song I find it really helpful and supportive if others are singing harmonies. It's a great feeling to be able to lean into the harmonies, and for me in enhances the whole thing. I suppose we all need, as individuals, to make our likes and dislikes known to those we sing with, so nobody gets upset.

For those who like to learn from recordings of harmony groups but struggle to identify the parts, one tip is to listen on stereo headphones. With any luck you'll hear the separate voices sounding in (apparently) different areas of your head, and it's much easier to pick out individual parts or notes that way.

Marje


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Ferrara
Date: 29 Jul 06 - 02:36 PM

I always like people to sing harmonies on refrains and choruses, but I don't think it's appropriate to sing harmony (or to sing at all) on the verses unless it is a very well known song where lots of people know not just the verses, but the same version as the singer.

It's similar to the situation where people try to back up a singer with an instrument. They may not have the same timing as the singer, or the same phrasing and feeling, and they just interfere with what the singer is doing. Sometimes they throw the singer off complete, sometimes it just turns into a different type of song.

It depends a lot on context or the specific song and venue. You just have to be sensitive. I remember once I started to sing Janie Voss' "Standing Behind Some Man." Songster Bob on guitar, Pauline L on fiddle, and various others started backing me up. It is in straight 3/4 time and has straightforward chords, it isn't a ballad that needs expressive timing and phrasing and therefore might be unsuitable for accompaniment, and it was a great jam. What a good time. That still stands out in my memory, especially Pauline's fiddle line.

And I have friends who know the accompaniment to some of my favorite songs and I'd be disappointed if they didn't join in. Other times, I've occasionally asked someone not to accompany me because it just didn't fit.

I suspect harmony is almost a complete parallel. Also, there are some singers who have trouble holding the tune if someone sings a harmony.


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Subject: RE: Why sing harmony?
From: Rumncoke
Date: 29 Jul 06 - 05:07 PM

I have a 'difficult' voice - I never met anyone who can sing the same range - though I know there was someone who sang exactly one octave lower.

I met three quarters of a quartet several times when their ship was in Portsmouth, Hampshire England. They went under the name of Crow's Nest.

They came and sang at one of the pubs where I used to sing with the usual suspects, and when I started to sing they got very enthusiastic. They were so pleased, having lost the man to another ship, to find someone who not only sang the same way, but knew a lot their songs.

I supose I am lucky in that once I get started I can hold a tune - I remember very well going to Cecil Sharpe House and spending the day in the library, then in the evening went to a folk club in one of the cellars.

The two hosts seemed to find it presumptious that someone asked if I could sing, before even asking me if I wanted to. I was told to be brief, so I sang 'Westering Home' - it being but 2 verses.

By the end of the first verse they were both howling out slightly different tune and words, and having to hold eachother up because they were laughing so much. It is no wonder that the EFDSS went into decline after that - the distaff side of the family have Gipsy blood and if they curse someone it is usually good - or rather bad, for about 13 years....

Singing along can be wonderful but it can also be vindictive.


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