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]

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Rufus May 15, 2006 at 8:43 pm

This is a really interesting blog! I wouldn’t worry about the rhythm or the harmonic/triadic intimations. That is not how I think of my music when I write songs. I try to write songs from listening to my influences. I was not a good theory or ear training student at McGill and I can’t read or write music very well. I think I’ve done more than a decent job on my own, though.

Berlioz May 15, 2006 at 10:04 pm

Yes my dear, but I am teaching you a combination of traditional musical training, and folding it into your own music. In this technique you are not a slave to any academic study. Stay with the course and you’ll see the payoff over the years. No grades. Tolerating idiotic critics is bad enough.

And yes, you may re-do your assignment if you will: it is due in my in box by tomorrow, 5 pm PST.

Berlioz May 16, 2006 at 6:54 am

“I try to write songs from listening to my influences.” I think that ethnomusicologists refer to this as “acculturation.” For instance, the violin was originally an Arab instrument. Both the playing style as well as the way the instrument is held is different in each tradition, not unlike the difference between a “fiddle” and a violin. Fiddles play bluegrass and mountain music. Violins play classical music.
Stravinsky once said: “mediocre composers borrow, great composers steal.”

The good thing about acculturation, or writing by influence, is that more often than not, the imitation sounds more like the imitator than the style trying to be imitated. So no matter how hard one tries, you still end up sounding like yourself. Yes there can be some surface similarity.

Listen to the Stravinsky’s “Variations on ‘Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her'” Even though most of the notes are Bach’s, Stravinsky continually pokes through.

dysonation May 16, 2006 at 7:37 am

Wait, Roger, that’s not actually Rufus, right? That’s just you putting potential words in his mouth, right? If not, HOLY COW YOU ARE MY PERSONAL JESUS MR. RUFUS!!!!!

Berlioz May 16, 2006 at 8:22 am

No, it’s not actually Rufus, but it wasn’t me.
These are imaginary lessons: YOU can be Rufus.

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