To Thread - Forum Home

The Mudcat Café TM
12 messages

Changing the verses around?

09 Jan 00 - 07:01 AM (#160275)
Subject: Changing the verses around?
From: AllisonA(Animaterra)

Sometimes in concerts and recordings I hear performers take liberties with old hymns or songs by switching the order of verses to make whatever point the performer has in mind. I used to be more of a purist and think "ha! that's not how it's supposed to be!"
Now, I am an arranger of music for my women's chorus, and I'm working on "How can I keep from singing" (words in DT) and I'm thinking of switching verses 2 & 3 around to get a big ending with "Love is lord of heaven and earth..."
I'd like to see others' ideas on the hot topic of poetic license vs. "purity" of original source. Especially since this is a song where lots of poetic license has been taken!

09 Jan 00 - 08:28 AM (#160278)
Subject: RE: Changing the verses around?
From: Dave (the ancient mariner)

I don't think the Lord will mind; and if it sounds better to the choir, then I doubt if anyone else will object. As long as the intent is honourable, the conduct true applause in spite of trivial faults is due. Yours,(constantly changing verses) Aye. Dave

09 Jan 00 - 09:38 AM (#160292)
Subject: RE: Changing the verses around?
From: DonMeixner


Thats why its called arranging.


09 Jan 00 - 09:50 AM (#160294)
Subject: RE: Changing the verses around?
From: Alan of Australia

You could always put back the original last verse:

I lift my eyes, the cloud grows thin, I see the blue above it
And day by day the pathway clears, since first I learned to love it
The peace of God restores my soul, a fountain ever springing
All things are mine since I am loved, how can I keep from singing?

A keychange for this verse can be very effective & also a slight drop in tempo.

Note that the third verse in the DT was written by Doris Plenn during the McCarthy era.


09 Jan 00 - 12:13 PM (#160345)
Subject: RE: Changing the verses around?
From: emily rain

i change folk songs (even copyrighted ones) boldly and with abandon. i also delight in finding early, less sullied versions of songs. there is joy both in preservation and in adaptation. do what makes you happy.

09 Jan 00 - 12:16 PM (#160348)
Subject: RE: Changing the verses around?
From: MMario

I think it depends on why you are presenting the song. If it were as part of a program on the history and evolution of the music , then you more or less need to be true to the original as part of the function of the program. if the piece is being used to set a mood, or as part of a general entertainment program, then you arrange to best suit your needs.

09 Jan 00 - 12:35 PM (#160356)
Subject: RE: Changing the verses around?
From: Murray Macleod

There is nothing wrong with with changing the words (or the melody for that matter) of a traditional song if it makes for a more satisfying performance. The example that jumps to my mind is the "Banks of the Bann". I have heard dozens of different sets of lyrics to this song, but they all include the same third line in the second verse "Her eyes bright like diamonds, her hair softly twining" This ignores that every third line in all the other verses contains an internal rhyme, and this line really sticks out like a sore thumb. When I sing this song I alter the line to "Her eye brightly shining her hair softly twining" IMHO a much more satisfying line.

09 Jan 00 - 03:38 PM (#160428)
Subject: RE: Changing the verses around?
From: SeanM

When it comes to arranging songs, and the "purity" of the original source, I've always liked a friend of mine's description of the "purity" of the source material:

(Quoted roughly)

"One night in Ireland, a couple hundred years ago, Da is in his cups, and hears a song he really likes. Being slightly tone deaf and incredibly drunk, he decides to join in, attempting to remember this wonderful new song. Thus, another version starts. He goes home to his family, staggering and singing all the while. Most of those along the way are just pissed off at his singing, but one or two hear the song, rally their sleepy minds around it, and 30 versions are born of the song on his way home.

Once home, he sings this song to his family. His family, none of whom are trained musically, all hear the tone-deaf slurrings in slightly different ways, and when they share this song that "Da heard somewhere, probably a pub", they are sending a 3rd version into the world, where the same process will happen over the entire village.

The same thing happens over, and over, and over again. Eventually, either the original singer will be able to push through one generally accepted version, or the village itself will settle on a more popular version, but before then, the other renditions will wend their way throughout the local area, spawning new copies as it goes."

For a modern version of this, listen to a song once that you aren't familiar with. Then, sing what you can remember of it for a while. Then, record what you're now singing. Then, listen to it compared to the original.

THAT is where "oral tradition" really comes from.

And THAT is why I feel no particular shame in arranging songs to suit the needs of the time, as long as we keep true to the spirit of the song.


09 Jan 00 - 04:29 PM (#160444)
Subject: RE: Changing the verses around?
From: AllisonA(Animaterra)

Thanks, all!
Alan of OZ, I like that last verse. I may have to add it in, now that I'm all done arranging the whole season!!
This place is always a goldmine of info.
Peace, Allison

09 Jan 00 - 07:39 PM (#160506)
Subject: RE: Changing the verses around?
From: Victoria

Great story Sean! I love that! I think that part of the beauty of the oral tradition actually IS that things get subtly (and sometimes not so subtly!LOL!) changed, to make them special for a particular singer, dialect, region, time frame etc. (for example, Appalchian or Civil War era treatments of traditional Irish or Scottish songs) that's all part of the music's history too. - Plus I love learnig "new" verses to old favorites! :-)

09 Jan 00 - 08:19 PM (#160526)
Subject: RE: Changing the verses around?
From: McGrath of Harlow

Murray - "The Banks of the Bann". How I've got it in my head is "Her eyes were like diamonds in the skies brightly shining".

And rhyming diamonds with shining or twining , or for that matter with rhyming, they're all perfectly good rhymes or para-rhymes within the tradition of Irish songs in English.

Note, I'm not saying that the way it is in my head is the right way, and yours is wrong, either the one yiou started with or the one you finished with.

I think it's wrong to see a song as being a single entity, that has to be cloned to keep it pure and unchanging. Songs are clusters or similar variations on a theme, broadening out into related songs which may have diverged from some common ancestor. And the process never ends unless the song dies and turns into a fossil. (And even then it can come alive again.)

A song changes from singer to singer because of fading memory, personal preferences, and circumstances (as when you change a word in a song because it might help listeners see it is more relevant to their own lives, or because it might give offence - for example, you might sing "brother" in Swanee River instead of "darkie", for either reason.)

09 Jan 00 - 08:20 PM (#160529)
Subject: RE: Changing the verses around?
From: McGrath of Harlow

Or sister