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singing-msg - 7/6/00

Judging whether a song is period in style. Period comments and referances on singing.

NOTE: See also the files: p-songs-msg, bardic-msg, theater-msg, songs-msg, song-sources-msg, SI-songbook1-art, instruments-msg, Bardic-Guide-art.


This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I  have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.

This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org

I  have done  a limited amount  of  editing. Messages having to do  with separate topics  were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the  message IDs  were removed to save space and remove clutter.

The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make  no claims  as  to the accuracy  of  the information  given  by the individual authors.

Please  respect the time  and  efforts of  those who have written  these messages. The  copyright status  of these messages  is  unclear  at this time. If  information  is  published  from  these  messages, please give credit to the originator(s).

Thank you,
    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous
                                          Stefan at florilegium.org

The following is from an article I posted to the Rialto.  It describes
my criteria for determining if a song is appropriately period in style.

Lord Miklos Sandorfia

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca
From: andrew at bransle.ucs.mun.ca (Andrew Draskoy)
Subject: Re: Authenticity & Analogy
Message-ID: <1992Jul3.193957.7078 at morgan.ucs.mun.ca>
Date: Fri, 3 Jul 1992 19:39:57 GMT

  Bertram proposed a model for analysing songs/performances to
determine acceptability for authenticity, on the criteria of tune,
lyrics/language, and instrumentation.

  What to sing and how to sing it while maintaining that "A-feeling" has
been my main focus in the society.  I've come up with what I feel is a
satisfactory approach.  Let me see if I can put it in words.  (I should
explain that I sing folk, traditional, and other songs outside the SCA.)

  When I learn a new piece, I look at it's elements to see if they are
period, blatantly non-period, or somewhere in between.  I also check
my overall impression of the piece, since quantitative analysis only
works so well on an abstract artistic object.  If *any* element is
obviously non-period to my perception (being vaguely knowledgable about
it) then I won't sing it at an event, though I might consider it at a
post-revel.  Period english songs are unfortunately rare, so I think
it's valid to flesh out a repertoire with pieces that still maintain
a period feel.

  I look at slightly different elements than Bertram suggests.  Keeping
in mind that I haven't done this consciously, here's my stab at a checklist
(everything here is personal opinion, BTW.)

1) melody
   If separated from playing-style and arrangement, I consider this the
   least worrisome of the lot.  Melodies are the least-restricted part
   of a song, so it is harder to be blatantly non-period here.  The
   rythmic structure of the melody is the part that will most likely
   "give away" an OOP tune.  Modern scales are mostly a subset of those
   used in period, so that's less of of problem.  Knowledge of hexachords
   and such might be useful in analysing a melody, if you wanted to do it
   methodically.  Certain motifs appear in a lot of modern music, and of
   course they shouldn't be there for a period-style performance.

2) arrangement
   i) instrumentation
     So far as I can tell, the most common way to perform a song in the
     Middle Ages in most places was without accompaniment.  For  some
     places and times, instrumental accompaniment on particular instruments
     may sometimes be appropriate.  Period-style instruments are hard
     to come by, but modern equivalents played in period style can
     still provide the appropriate feel.  (i.e. modern recorders or
     neo-celtic harps vs.  Medieval or Renaissance ones).  Modern variants
     of late period instruments are considered jarringly OOP by most
     people (e.g. guitars), so I personally won't use them except at
     post-revs.  I am also rather affronted by the fake lutes-strung-and-
     tuned-and-played-like-a-guitar that I have seen at Pennsic,
     but maybe that's just me.
   ii) harmony
     Any accompaniment or vocal harmony should use intervals that were
     used in the appropriate place and time, not modern chords.

3) lyrics
   a) language
      i) period dialect
        Period pieces in the original language are wonderful to hear.
Personally, I get someone to teach me how to pronounce the dialect
in question so that I don't mangle it too much.
      ii) modern English
Most people don't understand period dialects.  I love singing
Anglo-Norman songs, but they're not so good for telling a story,
getting a message accross, or keeping attention on a performance.
Either poetic translations or songs in modern English can still
have a period feel.  It's a matter of content and idiom.  Look
at the old Child ballads (the ones he documents as coming from
period sources) as examples of songs that have evolved from period
to modern language.  Also, some other languages have a rich
folk-heritage of old songs, which are documentably period.
Hungary, for example.
   b) references
      any references to OOP objects, events, times, and places obviously
      destroys any possibility of a period feel.
   c) form
      I mean this in a poetic sense - rhyme and metre and all that.
      Some forms are period, some aren't.  (BTW, I have yet to find
      a book of poetry forms that consistently includes chronological
      information.  References would be appreciated!)
   d) style
      This is hard to define.  It includes symbolism, idioms, stock
      phrases, common analogies and plot elements.  Basically, the things
      that are different between a period story and a modern one.  One way
      to develop a sense of this is to read lots of period stories
      and listen to and study lots of period songs.

4) singing/playing style
  It is difficult for most musicians to keep modern techniques,
  styles of improvisation and ornamentation out of their performance
  and substitute period ones.  Still, that's what you have to do.
  I love playing recorder with Highland bagpipe ornamentation, vibrato,
  and four-note pitch-bends, but recorders were probably not played that
  way in period.  Similarly, a blues or jazz feel would ruin a period song.

Sorry, this is off the top of my head and not as coherent as I would like,
but I'll send it anyway to stimulate further discussion.

References (from memory - I'll double-check later):
McGee, Timothy; Medieval and Renaissance Music - A Performers Guide
Child, Francis J.; English and Scottish Popular Ballads
Bartok, Bela
- a study of Hungarian folk song - I don't recall the
  title, send email if you want bibliographic data.

Miklos, singer in herald's clothing
  beyond the Glass Mountain, farther than the birds fly
  dancing away in far Ar n-Eilean-ne

andrew at bransle.ucs.mun.ca

Date: Fri, 8 Aug 1997 07:43:43 -0700 (PDT)
From: Heidi Johnson <heidij at rocketmail.com>
To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re: Singing

---RMcGrath at dca.gov.au wrote:
> Thank you to those who have so kindly responded to my request re period
> vocal styles.  I've just returned to my desk, and have realised to my
> disappointment that I was not precise enough in my request ...
> I am a trained musicologist, tho have spent the past 3 years studying
> psychology as light relief.  :-)  To be more precise in my request, I'm
> interested in how current research thinks medieval and renaissance vocal
> music ought to be performed, specifically in how the voices ought to sound.
> I acknowledge that a musicologist ought to know these things, but the fact
> is that when real life keeps on intruding and the necessity for a career
> change, the beautiful things of life may sometimes be neglected. :-( So I
> am not up to date in every aspect of research.
> Rakhel Petrovna


    As a former musicologist myself, and a trained vocalist, I rather
thought you might be asking more about technique than general musical
    My understanding is that the tide is slowing ebbing away from the
extreme view that allows no vibrato in anything written before the
1600s.  In the case of sacred music, the "pure tone" interacts with
the architecture in a marvelous way, and, particularly when the
harmonic complexity increases, a case can be made for less
"extraneous" harmonic overtones.  And of course, several composers
wrote with the long decay in mind.  (Boy, it's fun stuff to sing!)
    But, that's still the "old school" position, I think.  Considering
(though even this is debated by some vocal theorists!) that vibrato is
a natural element of the voice, I don't see how a vibrato-free tone
can be applied universally to madrigals, chansons, chant, etc.
    In the case of madrigal singing, it's often easier to match and
blend voices with less vibrato.  But there's good and bad techniques
for achieving that effect.  Badly repressed vibrato can ruin a voice.
Trust me - I almost did it myself singing madrigals in my 13-year-old
voice at the age of twenty.  Anyway, I think I'll stay in the shallow
end of the pool and not dive into registers and turns and all that.
I'm sure the uninterested will thank me.
    I think properly controlled vibrato is a wonderful tool for
expression.  I'd certainly hate to see it excluded without some
concrete evidence.  So, if anyone has any recordings made before 1600,
I'd love to hear them!  :)

Thanks for the interesting question!
Kassia of Trebizond
Barony of Nordskogen, Principality of Northshield, Kingdom of the

Date: Fri, 8 Aug 1997 10:38:12 -0500 (CDT)
From: fiondel at i1.net
To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re: Singing

<learned viewpoint snipped>

>    I think properly controlled vibrato is a wonderful tool for
>expression.  I'd certainly hate to see it excluded without some
>concrete evidence.  So, if anyone has any recordings made before 1600,
>I'd love to hear them!  :)

Milady, Kassia, I agree with you.  However, there is one point on
which I am unclear.  We are discussing two different types of music.
Sacred music (intended for performance in church or hall) and secular
music (e.g. madrigals).  These had two different performance types
and, in many cases, two different types of performing groups.  

Sacred music, a la masses, oratorio, motets, etc., was nearly always
performed either in a church/cathedral or in a large hall.  My college
choir never could understand why our conductor was so adamant about
singing the tone as evenly as possible, until we got to the European
cathedrals and halls.  When the music is performed in stone or
marble rooms, the echo created completely changes the way the music
is heard.  An extended echo factor requires both a slowing down of
"part" harmony (otherwise, the tonalities overlap, and may or may
not be pleasing to the ear), and as little vibrato as possible. Yes,
the vibrato is a natural part of the voice.  However, the slight up
and down of the vibrato is enough to "muddy" the tonality, given a
cathedral's echo factor (which can run from 2-15 seconds, depending
on the size and ceiling height).  The vibrato that causes the major
problem is in the higher voice parts (particularly the soprano) since
the vibrato of the soprano is much faster than that of the lower voices.
Although a bass vibrato can also cause problems, if it is wide enough
to confuse the hearer as to where the "foundation" line is.  In college,
working for the director of choral music, he and I did research on how
this problem was overcome.  Typically, the soprano parts were sung by
young boys, for specifically these reasons.  Young boys have virtually
no vibrato.  So what you get is a single, "clean" tone, which holds the
melody line as it was written by the composer.  So, in period, the
vibrato, at least in the highest register, was avoided whenever possible.

Now, secular music is an entirely different story.  These were sung in
much smaller, more intimate places.  Thus, a much reduced, or non-existant
echo problem.  In madrigals, rounds, chansons, and others, the vibrato
poses no difficulty to the integrity of the music.  

As for recordings pre 1600 <g>, if you get recordings of a good boys
choir, or, better, a recording of a good boys choir along with an adult
choir, it will give a good indication of what sacred music sounded like
in period.  The music, as far as we can recreate it, was the same, and
the voices are similar in mix as to what they would have had.

Okay, I guess you all know this fascinates me. :)  Sorry if I've bored
you to death.

Fiondel the Song-Spinner
mka Michelle Heitman
Former Vocal Performance Major

Date: Fri, 08 Aug 1997 12:41:19 -0700
From: "Finella Harper (MKA Wendy Creek)" <finella at lightspeed.net>
To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re: Singing

RMcGrath at dca.gov.au wrote:
> I'm interested in how current research thinks medieval and renaissance vocal
> music ought to be performed, specifically in how the voices ought to sound.

If you'd like to try a really good book on the subject, try "Medieval
and Renaissance Music, a Performer's Guide" by Timothy McGee (university
of Toronto Press ISBN#0-8020-6729-8). It's copyrighted 1985 so it's
fairly current and it is a wonderful resource that discusses all types
of vocal techniques from the medieval and renaissance period, including
sacred, secular, solo, and ensemble singing, as well as instrumental

Unfortunately, it's a little hard to get. My apprentice has been trying
to get a copy and she's had to call the University of Toronto Press
themselves. Since you're in Australia this is probably out of the
question, so if you're interested in knowing more about the book or
you'd like help getting a copy, e-mail me privately and I can have her
order another one and make arrangements to send it to you. As I recall
it costs just under $20.00 (American).


Date: Fri, 8 Aug 1997 18:54:11 -0500 (CDT)
From: fiondel at i1.net
To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re: Singing

> I for one am thrilled to have more musicology on the list.
> That said, I have a couple of questions.  First,  what do those of you who
> perform period vocal music in the SCA  do about the "magic and religion"
> stricture?


For the most part, I don't worry about it.  First, much of the sacred
music was written in Latin, so, unless you have an audience of Latin
scholars, they aren't going to know whether you are singing sacred or
secular music.  Find something that has a pleasing, or rousing, or
deliciously melancholy melody line, and have fun.  The only problem
with the church music that's available is that most of what remains
for us to know is in parts.  Now, if what you want is to start a
group, then that's fine.  But if you are looking for solo pieces, there
isn't much repertoire available that I have found.  If anybody knows
of some, that would be great.

> Regarding the secular repetoire,  I've been having a hard time finding
> things to sing that aren't very late period or impossible to document.
> I've found a lot of troubadour music, but I'm not good enough with French.

Is late period a problem?  :)  Most of the sources that one *can* find
are in the style of music which was developing in the 13th and 14th
century.  Some of the tunes were reused many times, as well as some of
the poetry.  So, while it may not be documentable that your Chanson
from 1596 was performed much earlier, a very good case could be made.
But that, of course, is a whole 'nother bucket of fish.

> My voice training was mainly in Italian and Latin, and I can muddle through
> Spanish and German,  but that's about it.  The books on secular music in
> English  have maybe  ten songs that date before 1550, and  most of them
> have heavy religious references.  

Three suggestions.  William Byrd (1540-1623), John Dowland (1563-1626),
Thomas Morley (1557-1603).  Of these, the best for solo performance is
John Dowland.  I have a book published by Stainer & Bell (American
Agents Galaxy Music Corporation)1971, which is called "Fifty Songs in
two books".  The second contains music written and published after
1600, but the first has 25 songs, all secular in nature, written and
published prior to 1597.  Late, yes, but still period.  And very nice,
singable songs.  Some light-hearted, some very melancholy.  They pretty
much run the gamut.  William Byrd has a number of very pretty, sad,
"unrequited love" type songs, but the book of his songs that I had
got up and walked away, so I'll have to find it again.  Morley is
rumored to have written solo songs, but I have never been able to find
any in print.  Still, if what you want is secular part music, Morley
is wonderful.  Frequently depressing lyrics, followed by a bunch of
Fa-la-la-la's.  Delicious.  *AND* relatively easy for a young and/or
inexperienced group to sing.

>The Baroness of Arn Hold is trying to
>encourage more performances of period music and I would like to get a
>group going in my area (but, again, the problem of lack of interest).

One way to gather up some interest is to start with Rounds.  At a
Baronial meeting (Do other groups do "Medieval Moments?") teach a
simple round.  There are a great number of them which are period, fun,
and easy to learn.  Just look up rounds in the local library.  If yours
is anything like ours there will be a bunch of entries.  Anyway, after
they have actually seen how easy is can be to perform (a round can be
taught in a matter of 10-15 minutes), you very well may find people
being more interested in the complicated part songs.  Most people don't
express interest in music because they think they "Can't do it."  Once
you prove they can, you'll have an easier time.

Hope this helps.

Fiondel the Song-Spinner

Date: Mon, 18 Aug 1997 21:24:21 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Greg Lindahl" <lindahl at pbm.com>
To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re: Singing

> I wish I understood better why so many people seem to be intimidated at
> the prospect in singing in another language. Didn't they sing "Frere
> Jacques" or "Cielito Lindo" as kids? "La Bamba"? The pronunciation in
> singing doesn't have to be perfect. I think it is really a tragedy that
> the enormous corpus of French, Italian, German, and Spanish period vocal
> music is largely ignored in the SCA. Perhaps what we need is a phonetic
> guide to these languages.

Timothy McGee's latest book has not only a phonetic guide but a CD
containing pronunciations, which I find much more useful than figuring
out linguistic scribbles. I used it to learn the pronunciations for
Edi Beo Thu, which is in Middle English, but it covers all of the
major early langauges, i.e. the stuff you use for Troubador songs and
the Cantigas de Santia Maria.

-- gb

McGee, Timothy James. _Singing Early Music: The Pronunciation of
European Languages in the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance_.  Indiana
University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-253-32961.

Date: Mon, 18 Aug 1997 21:25:19 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Greg Lindahl" <lindahl at pbm.com>
To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re: Singing

> Is there anyone on the list, or someone you know with e-mail,  who is
> learned in the area of "period" vocal styles?

There's a whole mailing list devoted to this sort of topic in the
sca -- the minstrel mailing list. To subscribe, send mail to
majordomo at pbm.com saying

subscribe minstrel

-- gb

Date: Mon, 18 Aug 1997 21:05:54 -0700
From: bshuwarg at lausd.k12.ca.us
To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re: Singing

Regarding the subject of singing early music, I just came across this
information on pp.55-57 of Tim Mc Gee's "Medieval & Renaissance Music - A
Performer's Guide", Univ. of Toronto Press, 1985.

"The voice is referred to by a number of writers from the late fifteenth,
sixteenth, and early seventeenth centuries from France, Germany, and
especially Italy.....Because of the agreement - or lack of disagreement  
- in the various instructions and fairly wide geographical distribution,
they can probably be taken as a general European view of singing in the
late Renaissance.  The information in these writings can be summarized as

Advice given by two or more writers

1.  Sing with the mouth open only as wide as in casual conversation.  Do
not open it wide or close the teeth.
2.  Place the singing tone in the front of the mouth.  Avoid singing from
the back of the throat or through the nose.
3.  Use a moderate tone.  Do not force the voice.
4.  Sing with a steady tone that does not change in pitch, volume, or
intensity.  This appears in the contxt of singers who attempt to convey
emotion by unsteady vocal production - by varying the intensity and pitch
of a single note or by rapid and frequent chnage of volume in a short
passage.  It probably does not intend to advocate colorless and unvarying
expression.  As early as 1535, Sylvestro Ganassi was urging
instrumentalists to imitate singers' use of flexible volume for
expression, and Giulio Caccini gave a number of expressive vocal examples
in his instructions of 1601.
5.  Rapid notes should receive clear articulation.  Passages with text
should be articulated clearly in the throat.  However Finck warned
against sounding like a goat!
6.  Avoid excessive body motion while singing.  Maffei found so
distasteful and distracting the custom of expressing emotion with
trembling lips and motion of the head, body, hands, and feet, that he
forbade any motion at all.  He even recommended that singers use a mirror
to help limit excessive eye motion.  Zaconi (1592) agreed motion was to
be avoided, but he stopped short of Maffei's extreme, and Caccini,
writing for the professional, encouraged support of expression by the use
of body motion.....

"...the attitude of the 16th century writers towards the voice would be
even more appropriate for the early centuries:  a good vocal tone is one
that is light and agile."

I'll let you all know what the Boston Camerata have to say on the subject
of singing troubadour/trouvere music when I return from my voice
masterclass with them in Provence in the middle of September. I'm leaving
in 12 days, and boy am I excited!

Helisenne de Gue-Pierreux

<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org