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Exploring the World of Music

Form: The Shape of Music

Form — the way music is organized and structured from beginning to end — guides composers, performers, and listeners in all musics. Here, the traditional Western sonata, the blueprints behind improvisational jazz, the narrative structure of traditional Japanese music, call-and-response forms in West African music and American gospel, and Irish fiddle tunes exemplify worldwide variations in musical form.

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Exploring The World of Music Program #10 “Form: The Shape of Music” Transcript

 

 

NARRATOR

Music, whether composed or improvised, is shaped and organized by people. Underlying this creation there is always some sort of structure which both guides the artist in creating the music and provides an anchor for the listener. This framework is the music’s form.

 

TIMOTHY YING

Form in music I think is basically a response to the problem that you have to structure the artistic experience somehow. Music is a little bit different from some of the other arts, for instance with a painting you can see the whole painting at once. Music occurs through time.

 

MARY JO PAGANO

Form is kind of like a blueprint. In the same way that an architect might decide to, well first maybe he’ll have to decide whether he’s going to make a skyscraper whether he’s going to make a little log cabin.  They’re different blueprints.

 

RAVE TESAR

Form is one of the things that most people understand without knowing that they understand it. Because it’s one of the simplest aspects of music. For example, if the basic rhythm is something that you could tap your foot to, most people can understand that and hear it. Well most people know that when they listen to their favorite popular piece of music that some sections of the music come back again. These are things that are apparent to everybody so it’s something that people understand whether they dwell upon it or even think they don’t understand.

 

GAGE AVERILL

When we’re talking about form we’re talking about the shape that a piece or a presentation or a performance of music takes, from beginning to end. Included in this is a notion that a piece has a beginning, an end, and some way of dividing a piece or structuring a piece from moment to moment.

Human beings are pattern-seeking creatures. We want to understand a larger unit as being made up of smaller units.

 

 

NARRATOR

All musical traditions have established form. These forms can be looked at as models or formulas which are used by composers and performers to structure their music over time. However the way this is accomplished can vary significantly from one culture to another.

 

DAVID YING

I think everyone views form differently. Like there are many ways you could organize music just as, you know, if you or I were to organize our daily schedule, we’d all have our own way of doing it. It so happens that in Western Classical Music it’s organized around the idea of things repeating and things developing. And the sort of constant conflict between repeating something that you know or changing it.

 

MARY JO PAGANO

In Western Classical Music there are many different kinds of forms and some of them are shared by other musical cultures. But there’s one form that is very unique to Western Classical Music and is very much favored, that’s called the sonata form.  Now the sonata form is not just used for what we call sonatas, it’s also usually the first movement of a symphony is in a sonata form, first movement of a piano trio, first movement of string quartets. It’s used often.

 

DAVID YING

Sonata form is sort of fancy name that’s been developed over the years, mainly, I think, because so many composers have written music that sort of falls into that form. Has these very technical terms of exposition and a development section and finally a recapitulation section but the idea of it is really not nearly so complicated.   Again it’s this idea of what’s the same and what’s different.

 

MARY JO PAGANO

The first section is called the exposition, the second section is called the development, and the third section is called the recapitulation. And each of those terms are self explanatory as to the function of those sections. In  other words, I have here the Beethoven Trio Opus I No.3 in C Minor and you can hear the opening theme begins like this. And then of course it continues on. This is exposed, a theme, an opening idea. Every exposition must have two themes and usually the second theme is contrasting. Here is the second theme in the Beethoven C Minor Trio.

 

DAVID YING

You want to remember as much as you can about those first notes that you hear because a good composer’s going to take those notes and do different things with them. For example, this “uhhhh”  which was the ending  of… this little bit. In the development section, gets played with in all different sorts of ways, you hear it pass from instrument to instrument just that little idea.

 

MARY JO PAGANO

The development section is probably one of the reasons why composers really favor this form. Because it gives them the chance to explore tonal possibilities.

 

DAVID YING

Just when the development section seems to be getting crazier and crazier, harmonies start getting odder and odder and you wonder  what’s gone wrong with this piece. It sounds so strange and not at home. Well, just at that moment you’ll hear… the beginning of the piece again. But this time instead of soft and ominous it comes crashing in with the most, sort of, the biggest amount of passion and really intense.

 

TIMOTHY YING

There are many different kinds of form but essentially  they all take  the same tact, that something has to happen over the course of time and you have various things that will come back and repeat. And those repetitions  are what signals your ear, they’re the sign points for structure.  So whether it’s a sonata form, whether it’s a binary or ternary form,  these  oral sign points are what indicate to you when the various sections occur.

 

NARRATOR

Jazz as opposed to much of Western Classical Music is an improvised medium. The musicians create a large part of the music while they’re playing. However, pre-composed songs often play a vital role in structuring a Jazz performance.

 

RAVE TESAR

We have so much room for improvisational expression that we need something as a band to keep us together and it is the form itself. Song that we play, “The Comet” is what we call an AABA form. The AABA song form is very typical for many many popular compositions. If you were to follow a piece of sheet music and look at the way it was constructed you would see we’d play an A section which is eight bars, another A section which is eight bars, we play a bridge which would be a different section and then we go back and we play another A section. Now if you listen to the melody, it’s going to be stated in a thirty-two bar context. Same thing. Bridge. Back to the top. End of thirty-two bars. And then, those same thirty-two measures of music or the structure that we’re playing in, goes around and around and around and the musicians improvise on that form. And when we improvise, we’re improvising on that same form. A lot of people ask the question “How do you know what to play when you’re done playing the melody?  How do you all know when to start and stop together?”  Form is crucial.  Later in the piece we may break  the form down into smaller sections where we’ll have a dialogue between the instruments. I might play four measures, and the drums might be featured for four measures, and the saxophone might play four measures, then again featuring the drums. We call it trading.  We start passing the ball around  the band a little bit and we trade back and forth four measure phrases.

And the drums would take it. The way of featuring a drummer without maybe necessarily all of a sudden having the music stop and feature only the drummer.

 

BILL TESAR

The interplay can be back and forth between one other instrument or the entire band so it’s an opportunity for the drummer to lend a little excitement to the piece, to make his statement very briefly and succinctly.

 

RAVE TESAR

And then all of a sudden melody just comes back in we all seem to know where we are, magically, but we were just really counting measures.

 

NARRATOR

Unlike the majority of Western Classical or Popular Music  where repetition of a theme,  section, or verse plays a big role in determining  form, traditional Japanese music unfolds progressively like a story. So that with each new section different musical ideas are introduced.

 

TOMIEHAHN

Most of Japanese music is based on narrative. In other words, in Japanese music the text is primary for most pieces. And the clarity of the singing voices is very,  very important.  The narrative is actually  a pathway through the music so in a sense the narrative is shaping the form. And this in contrast to many musical styles around the world where repetition of particular phrases is quite important. This is quite different from that. The text of the song Yugao is quite melancholy. Yugao is a woman in the tale of Genji and after Genji has an affair with Yugao she actually dies in his arms because of the vengeance of Lady Rokujo. “Holding a fan permeated with faint scent of fragrant incense the owner of the house offers Genji a blossom of the evening faces glittering with pale dew. In a brief  dream he is bound together with Yugao, a flower ever more beautiful. When he awakes he feels keenly the chilly winds of midnight.” So in this poem there’s such sadness, actually this is quite typical of many many Japanese songs.. They are about particularly a woman’s sadness, deep deep sadness and it’s expressed through nature. Even in contemporary pieces there is a drawing on the narrative and drawing on themes of nature so, a great example is a piece by Tadao Sawai called “Tori No Yo Ni” written in 1985. He says “How would it feel to fly free in the sky as a bird flys. Humans have invented airplanes but we are not free to feel the clouds as we pass through them.” Mr. Sawai is composing a contemporary piece for Koto, a traditional instrument, but he continues the tradition of writing with some expression of nature and somewhat of a narrative.

 

NARRATOR

One of the most common vocal and instrumental forms found around the world is call and response. Call and response is both a structure and a way of performing. It relies on the regular alternation between soloist and chorus. In sub-Sahara Africa it is one of the main ways that vocal music is organized.

 

MICHAEL WIMBERLY

Call and response is the lifeblood of African people. And so, for example, when we play Kakilambe there was a call (sings) and we responded. And so, as you could see there is a lead person singing and we respond directly. So if you had to connect it to, perhaps, a Western sense of it, you would have section A stated and then section A repeated. In the ceremony for Kakilambe, call and response plays a very important part within the music. It’s a harvesting dance. You’re calling to Kakilambe for blessings.

 

JALAL SHARRIFF

Call and response goes back to the communal nature of African music. Traditionally in Africa there are truly no spectators, everybody’s involved. So if somebody’s starting a ceremony or singing a song, everybody answers. There’s a call. It brings everybody into the ceremony,  so that it ties the community together.

 

REV. DR. HENRY T. SIMMONS

Call and response–that is one of the common features of gospel music. It began with Africanisms that are part of our heritage.

 

 

ELMER HAMMOND, JR.

It bounces back and forth between the soloist and the choir and that helps to heighten the energy. It has a hypnotizing effect because it’s something that is being done over and over again. And it gets the people caught up in what’s being sung.

 

REV. DR. HENRY T. SIMMONS

You also would need to remember that when blacks were brought to this country as slaves we were not permitted to learn to read or to write. And we had always been a people of an oral tradition so one of the ways you make sure a message that is handed down orally takes root is you have to deal in redundancy. And so there’s a sense in which call and response is rooted in the need to pass a vital message along.

 

ELMER HAMMOND, JR.

The leader is expressing an emotional vocaling and the choir or congregation is responding to that. It creates a sense of “Hey, I’m participating too, I can’t sing in the choir but I can sing and I can participate in this as well.”

 

NARRATOR

Musical forms often play an important role in dance and theatre traditions. In traditional Irish dance music the structure of the fiddle tune functions as a guide for both the dancers and musicians. While there are thousands of these tunes the majority fall into one single form.

 

JERRY O’SULLIVAN

With Irish music nearly all these pieces are composed of two major ideas. You’ll have an A idea and a B idea and in actual performance what usually happens, the A idea is played twice through so you would go AA and then play the B idea twice, BB.

 

BRIAN CONWAY

There’s no such thing as an Irish tune that only has an A part, or there’s no such thing as an Irish tune that has an A part, three B parts, and one C part. Usually if one part’s repeated they all are, with one or two exceptions.

And that is the guiding force within Irish music.

 

JERRY O’SULLIVAN

It works very well with the dancing, when you either repeat an A or a B part or you switch from an A to a B part, the dancers also change what they’re doing.

 

BRIAN CONWAY

It’s fun to watch the dancers react to what you’re doing. And the really good dancers, they’ll react when you change keys in tunes, they’ll react when you do little things in the tunes. And that’s always fun.

 

JERRY O’SULLIVAN

I think it’s worth taking the time and effort to think about the form and structure. Maybe you could use the analogy of seeing a very fine painting and that you know looking at it that it’s something wonderful and something very special. But if you could actually see that artist put it together and watch all the stages, and watch it come to life, it means much much more. You see the skill and the artistry that goes into the whole process. It’s really the same thing with music, if you do understand that structure you get a lot more out of the experience.

 

(CREDITS)

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