Monday, December 19, 2011

over the weekend and through the woods

was the annual caroling party, affording me the annual question, when faced with a score of four-part harmony, what do I sing?

It's not a question of my voice range, so much. My speaking voice is medium high, but I find it easier to sing low in my range than up at the top, and I'm more secure at the bottom of the parts than somewhere in the middle, so I sing bass rather than tenor.

No, the problem has to do with reading music. I can read music in the sense that I know what all the symbols mean, can follow along the score with almost anything I hear, can analyze harmonies, and can often recognize on sight music I already know. But I can't sight-read, that is, sing a tune I don't know from just seeing it. When I learn part-songs, I have to learn my part by ear, and then use the score as a crib. I learned Handel's Messiah that way, for instance, and managed to get along OK at sing-along Messiahs when we used to go to those.

At most part-song gatherings I go to, we just sing, so what I have to do is plant myself next to some basses who can sight-read, and by a combination of picking up from them and reading the score feel my way through. That depends on there being some, and the caroling party is small, but this year there were two such basses at least part of the time, so I ventured more than usual. Particularly rewarding were "Angels We Have Heard On High" with its broad contrapuntal "glooooooooooorrria", "Silent Night" which is easy because the bass line has only about three different notes, and "We Three Kings" which has a particularly rich and satisfying arrangement.

But trying to keep my eyes on both the music and the word simultaneously - that's tough. Sometimes I just look ahead and try to memorize the next line of words, if I don't already know it, so that I can keep my eye on the notes, which are the hard part.

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