Lessons for Rufus: Critique on chant assignment

May 15, 2006

[Rufus dutifully hands in the three chant assignments. Professor Berlioz offers his critique]

The melodic shape and sense of flow in your assignments are excellent. Clearly, your work was the work of a latter day monk, and not one from the 12th century. Let me illustrate a few things that your counterpart from that era would not have done, that you did.

Notice here, here, and [turns page] here, you have triadic arpeggiation. Remember there was no concept of a triad at that time. Any time a melody leaps this is a dramatic gesture, and rather rare. Remember that after a leap, the melody often recovers in the opposite direction. Not unlike “two steps forward, one step back.” Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t do this in YOUR music, but if you wish to emulate chant, avoid triadic arpeggiation.

Another problematic section is [looks through the papers], uh, here. Listen. [Prof Berlioz sings the passage stomping his foot every four beats.] This passage is far too metric for the style. There wasn’t any concept of 4/4 or 3/4 in this music, nor a concept of a downbeat, a pickup, syncopation, or other modern rhythmic notions. The music’s job is to sell the text.

And finally, in this section [points to a section of music] you’ve got a motive going, alright, it’s just a little motive, but remember that motivic writing was extremely rare. Wait till we get to the Baroque period, you can sequence yourself into a frenzy.

Now, I’d like to take you out of the 12th century. Take your favorite part of these three chants and make a song, a 21st century song that is you, but is based upon what you’ve just composed here. It is due in one week. Record it all yourself using ProTools, or Logic, or Performer. You will perform and sing all the parts.

Assignment for today’s work: A-

Prof. Berlioz

[Illustration courtesy of Raymond Holbert]

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