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Exploring the World of Music

Melody

Melody — the part of music we most often remember — is examined here both scientifically and poetically, from a strict sequence of pitches to a group of notes "in love with each other." We see and hear melodies shaped, elaborated, and developed within Western classical music, the Arabic maqam tradition, Irish dance music and sean-nós singing, and Indian raga.

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Exploring The World Of Music Program  #6 “Melody” Transcript

 

PAUL ROBESON: SINGS “SILENT NIGHT” NARRATOR:

MELODY IS ONE OF THE ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS OF MUSIC. CHANGES IN PITCH, ONE AFTER ANOTHER, CREATE RISING AND FALLING CONTOURS WHICH TAKEN TOGETHER IMPART MEANING.

 

JOSHUA REDMAN:

MELODY IS THE STORY YOU’RE TELLING AND FOR THAT REASON TO ME MELODY IS IN SOME WAYS THE MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENT OF MUSIC.

 

FREDERICK STUBBS:

IT’S LIKE A STORY BECAUSE IT HAS A BEGINNING, IT HAS A PLOT AND IT HAS AN ENDING.

 

SIMON SHAHEEN:

MELODY, I DEFINE IT AS A GROUP OF NOTES THAT ARE IN LOVE WITH EACH OTHER.

 

NARRATOR:

ALL OVER THE WORLD WITH INSTRUMENTS AND VOICE PEOPLE CREATE AN UNCOUNTABLE NUMBER OF MELODIES IN AN ENORMOUS VARIETY OF STYLES. THE METHODS IN WHICH A MUSICAL CULTURE GENERATES IT’S MELODIC FORMS DEPEND ON THE MUSICAL RULES AND PRACTICES OF THAT CULTURE. THESE  RULES ARE EMPLOYED BY COMPOSERS AND PERFORMERS AND ARE IMPLICITLY UNDERSTOOD BY LISTENERS AS WELL.

 

(IRISH SONG)

 

 

NARRATOR:

BUT AT THE BASIS OF ALL MELODIC FORM IS THE CONCEPT OF VIBRATIONAL FREQUENCY OR PITCH.

 

GERALD SHAPIRO:

PITCH IS THE HIGHNESS OR LOWNESS OF THE SOUND. IT’S A MATIER OF HOW MANY VIBRATIONS PER SECOND FORM THE FUNDAMENTAL FREQUENCY OF THE SOUND. FOR A MUSICIAN OF COURSE THE PITCH, AT LEAST IN THE WESTERN VOCABULARY, ARE THE TWELVE PITCHES OF THE OCTAVE DIVIDED UP AND HERE’S A CHROMATIC SCALE. AND THAT’S ALL WE HAVE. EACH OF THOSE PITCHES OR PITCH CLASSES FROM C TO C IS REPRODUCED IN EVERY OCTAVE SO THAT THERE’S SOMETHING FUNDAMENTALLY THE SAME ABOUT THAT CAN D THAT C AND THAT C. THEY’RE AN OCTAVE APART. THEY’RE DOUBLES IN FREQUENCY.

 

EVERY MUSIC AROUND THE WORLD TAKES THAT RAW MATERIAL AND SOMETIMES THE OCTAVES ARE NOT DIVIDED UP INTO TWELVE EQUAL PARTS. YOU CAN DIVIDE OCTAVES INTO TWENTY, THIRTY, FORTY PARTS OR YOU CAN DIVIDE OCTAVES INTO ONLY THREE OR FOUR OR FIVE PARTS. BUT EVERY MUSIC HAS A CERTAIN IDEA OF WHAT IS THE PITCH MATERIAL INSIDE THE OCTAVE. WE’RE FAMILIAR WITH A MAJOR, MINOR SCALE SYSTEM THAT WE USE IN OUR MUSIC. HERE’S A MAJOR SCALE. IT’S A KIND OF BAG OF NOTES FROM WHICH YOU CAN CHOOSE THE NOTES OF YOUR MELODY. BUT EVERY MELODY DOESN’T GO… THEY JUMP AROUND. AND SO THERE ARE BIGGER AND SMALLER INTERVALS BETWEEN THE NOTES YOU PLAY. AND YOU NEED TO KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT THAT BECAUSE THOSE INTERVALS ARE VERY IMPORTANT.

 

SIMPLER MUSIC, GREGORIAN CHANT FOR INSTANCE, THE INTERVALS ARE SMALL. BETWEEN TWO NOTES ADJACENT, THE INTERVAL IS A SECOND. OF COURSE BETWEEN THE SAME NOTE AND ITSELF THE INTERVAL IS A UNISON. A SECOND, A THIRD, A FOURTH, ETC.

MELODIES ARE VERY MEANINGFUL. TO PEOPLE MELODY IS OFTEN THE

 

MOST MEANINGFUL ASPECT OF A PIECE OF MUSIC. IT’S WHAT WE REMEMBER, IT’S WHAT WE RELATE TO. AND THOSE MELODIES COME FROM THE INTERVALS BETWEEN THE NOTES AS WE PLAY THEM.

 

MARY JO PAGANO:

MELODY IS THE TUNE. THE SINGABLE PART OF A PIECE OF MUSIC. IT’S THE PART THAT OUR EARS NATURALLY GRAVITATE TOWARDS. TECHNICALLY MELODY IS A SUCCESSION OF PITCHES COMING ONE AFTER ANOTHER THAT TOGETHER FORM A COMPLETE THOUGHT OR A PHRASE. THAT’S WHAT WE CALL IT IN MUSIC. JUST LIKE SENTENCES HAVE WORDS, AND WE DON’T HEAR THE INDIVIDUAL WORDS IN THE SENTENCE. WE HEAR HOW THOSE WORDS JOIN TOGETHER TO FORM A SENTENCE. THE SAME GOES WITH MUSIC. THERE ARE MANY NOTES. BUT THOSE NOTES WE DON’T HEAR REALLY INDIVIDUALLY. WE HEAR THEM AS A LONG LINE AND IT GIVES THE CONCEPT OF A COMPLETE THOUGHT. MELODIES HAVE A BEGINNING, A MIDDLE, AND THEN AN END. OK? AND THAT GIVES US THE SENSE OF A SENTENCE OR A PHRASE. ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT COMPONENTS OF MELODY IS ITS RHYTHM. IN OTHER WORDS IF WE JUST TOOK RHYTHM OUT OF MELODY, AND JUST PLAYED THE NOTES, IT’S RATHER BORING. BUT THE RHYTHM THAT THE COMPOSER WRITES WITH THOSE NOTES JUST BREATHES LIFE INTO THOSE NOTES AND MAKES THE MELODY MUCH MORE COMPELLING.

 

NOW COMPOSERS HAVE SOME TOOLS THAT THEY USE WHEN THEY’RE CONSTRUCTING THEIR MELODIES. ONE OF THE TOOLS THAT THEY USE IS REPETITION. THEY CAN REPEAT AN IDEA. ANOTHER TOOL THAT THEY CAN USE IS VARIATION. THEY CAN TAKE AN IDEA AND CHANGE IT SLIGHTLY OR THEY CAN CONTRAST IT SOMETHING COMPLETELY NEW AND DIFFERENT. IN THIS BEAUTIFUL COMPOSITION BY MOZART, WE HAVE AN IDEA, AND THEN HE TAKES THAT IDEA AND MOVES IT DOWN A NOTE, VARIATION. AND THEN THE ANSWER IS A CONTRAST COMPLETELY NEW. AND NOW WE’RE IN THE MIDDLE OF IT, WE HAVEN’T QUITE COME HOME YET. SO HE REPEATS IT. VARIATION, AND THEN A NEW CONTRAST WHICH BRINGS US TO A CLOSE. NOW WHEN WET ALK ABOUT MELODY, WE’RE JUST TALKING ABOUT THE

 

BEGINNING OF A COMPOSmON.  MELODIES CAN GENERATE  AN ENTIRE WORK. IN THIS PARTICULAR PIECE THAT’S ONLY HALF OF THE THEME. THE THEME THEN IS DEVELOPED A LITTLE FURTHER. AND THEN HE WRITES A SET OF SIX VARIATIONS ON THIS THEME.

 

NARRATOR:

MANY NON-WESTERN MUSICS EMPLOY COMPLEX MELODIC ARRANGEMENTS THAT FORM THE BASIS FOR COMPOSITION AND IMPROVISATION. THE WORD MODE IS SOMETIMES USED TO REFER TO THESE STRUCTURES. ONE EXAMPLE OF THIS IS THE ARABIC MAQAM SYSTEM. THE MAQAM SYSTEM IS BASED ON SCALE LIKE GROUPINGS OF NOTES THAT EACH HAVE CERTAIN DISTINCTIVE CHARACTERISTICS. SINCE THERE ARE DOZENS OF MAQAMS, THE MELODIC POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS.  MELODY IN ARABIC MUSIC DEVELOPS ALONG A SINGLE LINE AND IS DISTINGUISHED BY THE INTRICATE USE OF ORNAMENTS, SUBTLE ADJUSTMENT OF PITCH CALLED MICRO TONES AND A SOPHISTICATED USE OF RHYTHM.

 

SIMON SHAHEEN:

THE BASICS OF THE STRUCTURED AND IMPROVISED MUSIC IS THE MAQAM SYSTEM. THE MAQAM SYSTEM, YOU HAVE A SET OF SCALES THAT HAS CERTAIN CHARACTERISTICS. A CERTAIN FEEL, A CERTAIN MOOD. FOR EXAMPLE THERE IS A CERTAIN MAQAM THAT COULD RELATE VERY MUCH TO AN EVENING TIME, FOR EXAMPLE. OR CERTAIN MAQAM CAN RELATE TO A SAD STATE OF BEING. FOR EXAMPLE…        IN ARABIC MUSIC THE INTERVALS IS VERY MUCH IDENTIFIED BY WHAT WE CALL QUARTERTONES OR MICRO TONAL INTERVALS. AND THESE ARE INTERVALS THAT, FROM MY EXPERIENCE WITH THE WESTERN EAR, ITS VERY DIFFICULT TO HEAR THIS QUALITY BECAUSE IT’S AN INTERVAL OR DISTANCE BETWEEN TWO PITCHES THAT THE EAR IS NOT USED TO. FOR EXAMPLE, IF WE LISTEN TO THE THIRD NOTE, AND I’M GOING TO COUNT, THIS IS THE FIRST, THE SECOND, AND THE THIRD. AGAIN. OKAY, SO THESE ARE THE FIRST THREE NOTES IN A SCALE THAT IS FAMILIAR TO MANY PEOPLE. THAT’S CALLED MINOR SCALE. OKAY, WE CAN CALL IT ALSO, WE CALL IT IN ARABIC MUSIC, NAHAWAND. IT HAS A NAME. NOW LET’S LISTEN TO THE THIRD

 

NOTE IN A DIFFERENT SCALE. FIRST, SECOND, THIRD. AND WE CALL IT HERE, MAJOR SCALE. OR IN ARABIC MUSIC AJAN A-J-A-N AJAN. NOW BETWEEN THOSE THREE TWO NOTES AND I’M REFERRING TO THE THIRD NOTE I PLAYED OR I CAN FIT ANOTHER INTERVAL IN BETWEEN, THAT WE CALL QUARTER TONE. AND MANY PEOPLE THINK ITS KIND OF WEIRD OR IT SOUNDS OUT OF TUNE, BUT IT IS NOT. IT’S A QUALITY THAT IF YOUR ARE BORN IN CERTAIN REGION THAT PRACTICE THIS TYPE OF MUSIC OR IF YOU GET USED TO IT, LIKE MANY AMERICAN STUDENTS WHO STUDY WITH ME FOR YEARS AND YEARS AND THEY GOT USED TO IT AND THEY PERFORM IT PERFECTLY. I WENT TO SCHOOL IN THE EARLY EIGHTIES, IT’S MANHATTAN SCHOOL OF MUSIC. AND I SPECIALIZED ON VIOLIN. AND ONE OF THE TOP VIOLINISTS THEN USED TO COME AND GIVE US MASTER CLASSES WAS HEINRICK SZERING, THE POLISH VIOLINIST. AND IN ONE OF THE MASTER CLASSES I WAS SUPPOSED TO PERFORM, I THINK IT WAS A BEETHOVEN SONATA ON THE VIOLIN AND PIANO. AND AFTER I FINISHED HE SAID, YOU KNOW HE COMMENTED ON MY PLAYING, AND BEFORE I LEAVE THE STAGE I ASKED TO PLAY ANOTHER PIECE OF MUSIC. SO I TOOK THE VIOLIN AGAIN AND THEN I PLAYED AN IMPROVISATION USING ALL THESE ORNAMENTS AND QUARTER TONES. WHEN I FINISHED OF COURSE EVERYBODY WAS ASTONISHED. AND HE ASKED ME ONE QUESTION. HE SAID “YOUNG MAN, THIS IS FASCINATING. HOW COULD YOU PLAY ALL THESE INTRICATE NOTES. BUT ONE THING I DON’T UNDERSTAND, WHY DID YOU PLAY SO MANY NOTES OUT OF TUNE?”

 

NARRATOR:

MELODIC EXPRESSION ALSO PLAYS A FUNDAMENTAL ROLE IN OTHER MUSICAL SYSTEMS FOUND AROUND THE WORLD. IN IRISH DANCE MUSIC, FOR EXAMPLE, IT IS THE TUNE THAT IS OF PARTICULAR IMPORTANCE. A FIXED MELODY THAT IS REPEATED OVER AND OVER AGAIN IN PERFORMANCE. BUT VARIED AND ORNAMENTED DIFFERENTLY EACH TIME IT IS PLAYED.

 

JERRY O’SULLIVAN:

WITH IRISH MUSIC THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS THE MELODY. AND WHEN PEOPLE ARE PLAYING TOGETHER IN ENSEMBLE THEY

 

BASICALLY PLAY THE SAME MELODY. WHAT MAKES A DIFFERENCE ARE THE VARIATIONS. YOU CAN’T CHANGE THE MELODY TOO MUCH, IT’S NOT LIKE, NOT TO THE SAME DEGREE AS YOU WOULD IN JA.72.

YOU CAN ONLY CHANGE IT SLIGHTLY BUT IN ANY TYPE OF CELTIC ART, IF YOU LOOK AT THE BOOK OF KELLS FOR EXAMPLE, ALL OF THE REAL ARTISTRY IS IN THE DETAILS.–LITTLE, LITTLE, DETAILS. THE BASIC PICTURE STAYS THE SAME. BUT YOU CHANGE THESE LITTLE, LITTLE DETAILS. IT’S THE SAME IDEA WITH THE MUSIC.

 

BRIAN CONWAY:

THAT’S JUST THE STRAIGHT NOTES THAT’S THE UNDERLYING MELODY. THAT’S IT WITH ORNAMENTATION. NOW THERE’S ALSO ROOM TO ALTER THAT MELODY BUT THE CHALLENGE IS TO ALTER IT SUCH A WAY AS TO ENABLE YOU TO SIT IN AND PLAY WITH SOMEBODY YOU’VE NEVER MET BEFORE, WHO ALSO PLAYS THAT TUNE, AND THEN DO IT SUCH A WAY THAT DOESN’T SOUND DISCORDANT, THAT DOESN’T SOUND CHAOTIC. THAT’S THE BEAUTIFUL THING. I CAN SIT DOWN WITH SOMEONE I’VE NEVER EVEN MET FROM ANOTHER PART OF THE COUNTRY OR IRELAND AND SIT DOWN AND BE ABLE TO PLAY TUNES WITHTHEM.

(IRISH SEAN-NOS SINGING IN GAELIC) JERRY O’SULLIVAN:

IRISH TRADITIONAL MUSIC, ANY OF THE INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC, IT REALLY COMES FROM THE OLDER SINGING STYLE CALLED SEAN NOS SINGING AND SEAN NOS IS TWO IRISH LANGUAGE WORDS MEANING OLD WAY. THEY’RE VERY VERY MOVING, VERY VERY INTIMATE SONGS. IT’S USUALLY A GROUP OF PEOPLE SITTING IN A CIRCLE AROUND AT ABLE. THE CUSTOM IS FOR THE SINGER TO REACH OUT AND GRAB THE HAND OF WHOEVER IS NEXT TO HIM OR HER AND THEY START THIS ROWING MOTION AS THEY’RE SINGING THE SONG. IT’S NOT IN TIME TO THE PIECE, THERE’S NO RHYTHMIC THING. BUT IT’S AN EMOTIONAL CUSTOM WHERE YOU’RE REALLY, THE SINGER AND THE AUDIENCE ARE REALLY JOINED TOGETHER. (MUSIC) I THINK THE FACT THAT I PLAY THE UILLIAN PIPES–ITS A GOOD INSTRUMENT FOR

 

IMITATING THE SEAN NOS SINGERS. YOU CAN SLIDE NOTES IN SOMEWHAT THE SAME WAY. YOU TRY TO ORNAMENT IN SOMEWHAT THE SAME WAY SO IT’S A VERY GOOD INSTRUMENT FOR PLAYING SLOW AIRS. SLOW AIRS. WHAT YOU ATTEMPT TO DO AS CLOSELY AS POSSIBLE IS TO FOLLOW THE STYLE OF THE SINGER WITH THESE SONGS IS TELLING A STORY, LITERALLY. SOME THEMES CAN BE TEN, TWELVE VERSES LONG. AS AN INSTRUMENTALIST YOU TRY AND COMMUNICATE THE SADNESS, THE LONELINESS, FREQUENTLY. YOU TRY AND DO WHAT THE SINGER DOES TO DRAW IN YOUR AUDIENCE TO MAKE THEM FEEL THE EMOTION. IF YOU’VE DONE THAT, YOU’RE A GOOD SLOW AIR PLAYER.

 

NARRATOR:

A MELODIC CONCEPT KNOWN AS RAGA LIES AT THE HEART OF NORTH INDIAN CLASSICAL MUSIC.  THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF RAGAS, EACH OF WHICH FUNCTIONS AS A SORT OF RECIPE FOR THE CREATION OF COMPOSED AND IMPROVISED MELODIES. EACH RAGA POSSESSES ITS OWN SET OF RULES AND IS ASSOCIATED WITH A PREVAILING MOOD AND TIME OF DAY OR SEASON OF PERFORMANCE. AS IN ARABIC CLASSICAL MUSIC, MELODIES DEVELOP ALONG A SINGLE LINE. A TYPICAL PERFORMANCE FORMAT INCLUDES A SOLOIST, EITHER A SINGER OR INSTRUMENTALIST, ACCOMPANIED BY DRUMS CALLED TABLA. AND BY A TEMPURA, A LONG NECKED STRINGED INSTRUMENT THAT IS USED TO CREATE A DRONE OR CONTINUOUS WEB OF SOUND EMPHASIZING THE TONIC OR PRIMARY NOTE OF THE RAGA.

 

BUDDHADEV DAS GUPTA:

INDIAN MUSIC IS TOTALLY MELODIC. BUT WE CANNOT JUST GO ON PRODUCING ANY MELODY THAT COMES TO OUR MIND. IT IS GUIDED BY CERTAIN RULES AND FRAMEWORK. WHEN WE PLAY CLASSICAL MUSIC IT HAS GOT TO CONFORM TO ONE RAGA OR THE OTHER. OUR MUSIC HAS THE SAME 12 NOTES THAT OCCUR IN YOUR PIANO KEYBOARD IN ONE OCTAVE. IN ANY PIECE OF MUSIC THE FIRST THE DO OR LET US CALL IT THE TONIC, MUST ALWAYS BE THERE AND THIS CANNOT BE CHANGED. TEMPURA PROVIDES THAT DO, THAT BASELINE AGAINST WHICH THE WHOLE MUSIC IS BEING GENERATED. HAYING

 

SELECTED YOUR DO, YOU HAVE TO SELECT AT LEAST FOUR OTHER NOTES. SO LONG AS YOU PLAY THAT PARTICULAR RAGA YOU CANNOT USE ANY OTHER NOTE. SECONDLY OUR MUSIC HAS DEFINITE AND PREFIXED MODE OF GOING UP AND COMING DOWN. THE RULES OF THE RAGA MAY PRECLUDE YOU FROM JUST CLIMBING UP STRAIGHT FOR ONE IN SEQUENCE. IT MAY HAVE KINKS IN IT. THIRD POINT IS, THAT OUT OF THESE NOTES ONE NOTE IS GENERALLY MORE PROMINENT IN THAT IT’S USED MORE FREQUENTLY AND SOMETIMES YOU STOP ON THAT PARTICULAR NOTE VERY OFTEN. SO OUT OF THESE SEVERAL DO’S AND DON’TS THERE FINALLY EMERGE A STATE OF BASIC PHRASES. WHICH ARE JUST LIKE THE, YOU KNOW, EARS, NOSE, EYES, LIPS OF A HUMAN COUNTENANCE. THESE BASIC PHRASES, ACTUALLY, WHEN YOU GO THROUGH THEM, THEY PAINT THE FACE OF THE RAGA. SO I HAVE BEEN ABLE TO EXPLAIN TO SOME EXTENT WHAT A RAGA MEANS. CHOSEN NOTES IN AN OCTAVE, DEFINITE AND PREFIXED MODE OF GOING UP AND COMING DOWN, SOME PARTICULAR NOTE GETTING PROMINENCE, AND MANY OTHER

SMALLER RULES WHICH YOU’D RATHER NOT GO INTO RIGHT NOW FOR

WANT OF TIME.

PAUL ROBESON: SILENT NIGHT, HOLY NIGHT… NARRATOR:

MELODY IN THE FORM OF SONG MAY BE ONE OF THE MOST COMMON TYPES OF MUSICAL EXPRESSION FOUND AROUND THE WORLD.

 

DILLARD CHANDLER SINGS.

 

IT IS THE HUMAN VOICE, SOLO OR ACCOMPANIED THAT HAS THE PRIMARY ROLE OF CONVEYING THE MEANING OF A SONG AND SONGS OFTEN EXPRESS OUR MOST HEARTFELT SENTIMENT.

 

FLORDEHUANCAYO SINGS (IN SPANISH) MARK SLOBIN:

 

A SONG HAS TWO PARTS, THE MELODY AND THE WORDS. THE MELODY HAS TO DO SOMETHING FOR THOSE WORDS. MELODY IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT IN MAKING WORDS WORK. IT MAKES THE WORDS SING, LITERALLY, AND HAT’S WHY YOU DO A SONG. OTHERWISE WE COULD JUST KEEP ON TALKING TO EACH OTHER.

PETE SEEGER SINGS “WE SHALL OVERCOME” PETE SEEGER

I DON’T KNOW IF YOU KNOW THE NAME YIP HARBURG, HE WAS A GREAT LYRICIST OF A POP SONG, HE WROTE THE WORDS FOR “IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON” AND “BROTHER CAN YOU SPARE A DIME” AND “OVER THE RAINBOW,” AND HIS WAY OF SAYING “WORDS MAKE YOU THINK, MUSIC MAKES YOU FEEL, AND A SONG MAKES IT POSSIBLE TO FEEL A THOUGHT.” INTERESTING WAY OF PUTTING IT.

 

CROWD SINGS: “WE SHALL OVERCOME” CREDIT ROLL

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