Sunday, 24 July 2011

What is music, what is song, what is poetry? Tones

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If music came first (as many say) - then music is not what we think.

Not melody, nor harmony - certainly not rhythm.

But tones - or even just one tone.

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If the psalms of the King James Bible are song - yet are not metrical, nor do they rhyme - nor are they alliterative.

Then song is a mode of vocal production - in tones rather than speech.

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If poetry was originally a mode of performance, a presentation - yet it was not specific words (was memorized, was a paraphrase); then - minimally - it was words vocally produced in tones.

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What is characteristic of these forms is that the unit is the breath length.

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What is a tone? Hard to define, easy to detect.

At our railway station (which is a national hub) - around a decade ago and for several months, maybe a year or two - there used to be a female announcer that provided information on the public address system.

And she sang everything: that is to say she spoke everything in tones - not with a tune of any specific kind, but vocally produced on a note, various notes.

This is, indeed, the easiest, most natural method of vocal projection  - as a way of making yourself heard over distance.

(A mother calling her son's name for him to return home - she sings it on two descending notes roughly a minor third apart Jon - ny...  Jon - ny... )

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Therefore chant - that is to say (merely) speaking words using tones (and absent any specified sequence of tones) - is perhaps the spontaneous way of addressing a group; and of addressing divinity; and therefore (perhaps) chant is behind music, song, and poetry.

Chant-based music, song and poetry would necessarily be characterized by breath-length units - some words would be given extra individual importance or stress, and the specific identity of these stressed words would then be important (and un-paraphrase-able) as part of their meaning - and we have arrived at poetry.

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Strange that the primary form of public vocal production should nowadays be known only in its elaborated and professionalized versions of composed songs - except for the glimpse provided that female station announcer on the public address system, who spontaneously used tones as the natural and appropriate method of addressing the public.

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