Posts Tagged ‘singing’

Brian Eno on singing

January 29, 2009

Brian Eno wrote this essay on a capella group singing earlier this year. His points about the power of group singing are important, but I’m more interested in his views on harmonizing. He notes that songs with complex chord progressions are not conducive to spontaneous harmonization and that long vowels are where the opportunities are for the harmonies to express themselves. His also describes the experience of harmonizing:

It’s thrilling to get the rhythm of something tight and sing it well together. The second is tone. To hit the same vowel sound at a number of pitches seems unremarkable, but it’s beautiful when it happens.

His reaction is similar to the one I’ve had when singing with a group and everything comes together just right on a particular note or phrase. I think some listeners experience the thrill and beauty, too, and that that is what draws them to particular kinds of songs, especially ones by groups like the Everly Brothers, Simon and Garfunkel, Loggins and Messina, etc.


Making the connection between American musical theater and duos

January 26, 2009
Muttering to myself…
  • Vocal duets are inherently dramatic. Two voices suggests two people. The voices interact, even if they sing in unison. That interaction defines the dramatic elements and adds a layer to the interpretation of the text. 
  • Duets can be found throughout opera and other forms of musical drama but less so in other forms of vocal art music, such as lied or chanson. Duets in American popular music are directly connected, historically and paradigmatically, to musical theater. This is due in part to the fact that popular music in America, at least until the advent of rock and roll, was intertwined with musical theater–Broadway, revues, variety, vaudeville, minstrelsy.
  • Musical theater, for a long time, provided the model (as well as the material) for the musical and rhetorical structure of duets. For example, voices in alternation suggest a dialogue. If the same text is sung by both, then two viewpoints (possibly in opposition) exist. The point at which the voices join implies a connection or a reconciliation.

Singing Duo

January 21, 2009

Singing Duo

I saw this license plate in New Hampshire. I wanted to hop out of the car and rush up to this person and ask about it, but the line of traffic behind me presented a problem.

Makem and Spain Brothers

September 24, 2008

The Makem & Spain Brothers

Makem and Spain Brothers on stage

Makem and Spain Brothers on stage

My friend in Indiana recently heard this group of harmonizing brothers at an Irish Fest. You can hear snippets of their songs on iTunes.

That High Lonesome Voice

September 18, 2008

The country brother duos like the Everly Brothers and their predecessors are often described as having a “high lonesome voice.” Wayne Erbsen, in Origins & History of Bluegrass Article-Native Ground Music, makes the case that this vocal style is related to the Scots-Irish (or Scotch-Irish, as my mountain relatives always say) way of singing the old ballads, most notable among the women. Bill and Charlie Monroe of the Monroe Brothers, and later of Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, sang in the tight vocal style of their Scotch-Irish ancestors. The same vocal style can be heard among many of the other country brother duets of the 1930s, such as the Delmore Brothers and the Blue Sky Boys, as well as in later duos like the Louvin Brothers and Everly Brothers.

Bloggin fae the ‘Burn: The Louvin Brothers and brother duets

September 16, 2008

Mark Thompson has some great videos of the Louvin Brothers here: Bloggin fae the ‘Burn: The Louvin Brothers and brother duets.

The Origins of Part Singing

July 3, 2008

In my endless quest to understand vocal duos, I have, of course, been reminding myself about the history of part singing, reaching back to Medieval days. Here’s a video along those lines.


It’s also fun to listen and see if I can recognize a single word of the French. I could. Understand a single word, that is. Exactly one word. And I can’t use that one when I go to Paris this summer.