Stylistic Framework in Harmonizations
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640
    During my college years, my primary professor would often use the term "stylistic framework." We were talking about jazz piano styles, how differently we would accompany a Count Basie tune than a Coltrane tune, how the same approach (even within the same overarching genre) is not appropriate in all situations. Could be the same melody, same chord progression, whatever ... but the context might determine that something ought to be different. We ought to observe the Stylistic Framework in which our music would be constructed.

    Working on the organ accompaniments for the Parish Book of Psalms, something about this particular antiphon (or the particular coffee) got me experimenting this morning. Studying in the genre I did, these sorts of comparisons are old-hat. Heck, with the Simple English Propers accompaniments, the early drafts were FAR different than the final product.

    I thought this psalm a striking example of the conflicting liturgical styles we encounter in the average American parish, and how much the harmonic approach affects what is going on. Listen to the audio and see how drastically the same melody changes in a different harmonic context. I imagine two entirely different sanctuaries in these.


    Here is how I hear these:
    -The melody, by itself, is beautiful. Rising and falling naturally, with a rhythmic and melodic cadence perfectly aligned to the pattern of speech. Singing this is simply an elevated form of speaking it.
    -The first harmonization follows these natural rhythms and underpins the natural modality of the melody. It supports the text, and (unless you're an a capella purist) enhances the melody by supporting [not distracting from] it.
    -The second harmonization creates a forced metrical feel and the insistence on creative chromaticism distracts from the melody. The voice leading is at times smooth, at times disparate in favor of "functional" harmony - an external construct imposed upon the music. The piece becomes something quite different than its a capella conception. The Stylistic Framework dominates and transforms it into something new. Whether that's good or bad is up to taste, but its certainly different with and without the accompaniment. If you're a fan of this style, its lacking when sung a capella. If you're of the a capella or "First Framework" leaning, its ruined by the accompaniment.

    An enthusiastic "contemporary worship leader" might see it as:
    (and I've heard directors give such over-the-top praise to some schmaltzy passages before)
    -An exciting modern approach, incorporating independent melodic movement within the inner voices, rich with suspensions and rhythmic independence. Liberal use of inversions and dramatic chromaticism that returns to a functional cadence just as the line comes to its end. Cohesively encompassing centuries of harmonic approaches in a brief micrcosm of ETCETCETC

    And all I was really trying to do was RUIN the piece.


    What I find interesting in this is that the latter assessment of the Second Framework is what so many will ascribe to the quality or worthiness of music. As its sarcastic composer, I forced its components. But as a proponent of "contemporary" worship, one might impose this on an unsuspecting parish choir, speaking down to those who couldn't keep up with the lingo. "This is good because it has THIS and THAT abstract concept which you do not personally comprehend, and now that I have built this smokescreen of expertise in the field, you'll trust my opinion on what's good or bad, what's suitable and what's inappropriate." The theoretical assessment of the music determines its quality, rather than the inherent beauty in the sound of the music itself.


    There was a point to this before it started getting rant-y.

    Oh yeah. Just interesting how much the accompaniment can frame a piece.

    Stylistic Framework. Dig?
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  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640
    (btw I'm a fan of very complex jazz harmonizations and atonal music and all that ... but its a different stylistic framework ... a different context than proclaiming the word of God)
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,510
    My organ professor once said, just play and make it beautiful, don't over-think it - or words to that effect. I would have used the first two at mass, but an occasion could arise to use the third. Yeah, I know they are different, but context can make a difference. I would classify all three as good work.
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  • I was once (fortunately, for not too long a time) in a situation in which I had no way of getting out of playing something called 'renewal' music, which was sort of a faux folk-pop-rock idiom that was infecting Episcopal churches in the eighties and nineties. The choir were quite with me in their traditionalism, but I could not avoid doing one or two of these pieces each week. So, first of all, I 'straightened out' the rhythm and performed them (on an organ!) in strict time, absent the rhythmic 'give and take' which I knew full well would have been employed by a renewal music purist. Second, I 'straightened out' the harmonies and performed these songs with a rather conservative harmonic vocabulary. I did these things 'to' this renewal music and performed it with a straightened out face. The choir loved it! They said, 'this is nice! you take the "country" out of it!'. In fact, I almost succeeded in making this awful stuff sound like conventional hymnody that one would sing at liturgy.

    So yes, you are right. Context (and imagination!) is everything. I think that your third version is quite out of place in church. It really seems like something one might hear in a bar, or on a television variety show, or as background Hollywood film music. Further than that, you, yourself, have made an excellent case for why chant should not be accompanied: although those who just love their chant accompanied will instantly offer the excuse that the organ is on a quiet 8' stop and is barely audible and is only playing a 'supporting' and unobtrusive role, the fact is that it is none of these! The accompaniment is there in order that it might be there. It is quite audible even if it is quiet. It is distracting because it, by its very nature, competes with the chant. And, finally, it imposes inelluctably upon the chant a structural rhythmic underpinning which is essentially foreign to it and puts the natural vocal flow of the chant into the accompanimental straightjacket.

    Of course, this logic is not going to dissuade those who simply like their chant accompanied, no matter what. Some of them are very good friends of mine. Some have such a love of accompanied chant that one could almost say that they do, after all, like their accompaniments accompanied by chant.
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640
    My organ professor once said, just play and make it beautiful, don't over-think it - or words to that effect. I would have used the first two at mass, but an occasion could arise to use the third. Yeah, I know they are different, but context can make a difference. I would classify all three as good work.


    Good within their Stylistic Framework. :)
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640
    Of course, this logic is not going to dissuade those who simply like their chant accompanied, no matter what. Some of them are very good friends of mine. Some have such a love of accompanied chant that one could almost say that they do, after all, like their accompaniments accompanied by chant.


    Everybody should accompany chant and use my books as their source material.
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  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,510
    I have singers who never need chant accompanied. I have other singers who had better have their chant accompanied, or disaster strikes. LOL.
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640
    MJO, as to the argument diffusing accompanied chant, this is where I make the distinction on whether an accompaniment is appropriate or not:

    If you're a fan of this style, its lacking when sung a capella.


    When the accompaniment becomes more important than the melody, or drastically alters its perception, then the point has been missed entirely.* With the SEP and the PBP projects, the intention is to create something that is supporting, not distracting. Ideally they could be alternated a capella / accompanied and it wouldn't feel "empty" or like it was "missing" anything without the organ underneath. To what extent this has been accomplished, YMMV.


    *(This, IMO, is particular of accompanying liturgical chant... but not necessarily so outside of sacred music. In other popular styles the melody is often not the most important/memorable aspect. In jazz, sometimes, the chord progression to solo over might be important than the melody, which is just a popular tune to frame the magic that happens in the middle. Is the chorus of Play That Funky Music the important hook, or is it that infectious bassline? I can't count the number of friends who are great fans of rap but hate the lyrics - the groove is just so deep they gloss over objectionable content. When we're looking at liturgical music, this balance of accompanying music vs melody/lyrics is often carried over from the secular world into the sacred liturgy. However, the teachings of the Church mandate a different Framework in which to work - a different aesthetic and hierarchy of elements in the music. Of these documents and citations we are all of course familiar...)
  • mrcoppermrcopper
    Posts: 653
    Ryand, I'm glad you posted this reflection. I've been on the fence about your harmonizations: it's an awesome prodigy of work, but in fact, the harmonizations DO color the the music, for better or worse. Keep musing!

    William
  • I believe there exists something in between #2&3 that maintains the sacred tone, somewhat like Hindemith, way less like a dank lounge. Could work during annual jazz mass though...I'm thinkin doowah backup choir.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,510
    You know I only accompany chant to annoy Jackson, right? ;-)

    I am not familiar with "renewal" music. At the college where I studied organ, Dr. Noel Tredinnick held a series of lectures and prayer services some years ago. He brought an Anglican preacher with him who gave sermons, and they performed some of the worst English praise music anyone could ever have heard. It was performed at a high standard, it was just a wretched excuse for worship music. I wonder if that is similar to "renewal music?"
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640
    Ryand, I'm glad you posted this reflection. I've been on the fence about your harmonizations: it's an awesome prodigy of work, but in fact, the harmonizations DO color the the music, for better or worse. Keep musing!


    Thank you.

    I think that anything is going to color the music. The simplest harmony might be a drone - that's going to add some sort of color though! And what drone to use?! The final might be a good option, but that adds a particular color. Mode III, for example ... with two flats, a cadence ending F Eb D, I would now harmonize ending on Dm, but years ago I would have harmonized it ending on Bb, hearing it as resolving to the 3rd. So if we're going to go with a drone, should it be D or Bb?!

    Ok, let's skip the drone. Just play in unison with the melody. Now it's been colored! And what octave(s) is/are the instrument(s) in? What stop(s) is/are active on the organ? So many textures! All these colors! How many voices? Men, women, children? Combinations?


    I think the main observation I wanted to drive at was how much the harmonic approach can stylize even a 2 bar snippet like this. Sometimes its the rhythmic approach that makes a piece non-liturgical, but a lot of the stylistic schmaltz can be influenced by what's going on underneath the vocals.
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640
    Now for something completely different...
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  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,510
    Ah! Proulx! Ducking and running. LOL.
  • As long as we are doing this, how about a la Poulenc or Howells?
    And why not Stravinsky?
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Proulx will ever remain an enigma to me (and I perhaps to him from heaven!) in that he could scribe out a marvelous hymn like "Jesus, lead the way" on one hand, and then totally Bartokify (and thus screw up) the accompaniment to the sublime melodies of his RESPONSORIAL MASS for JPII in 87. It's understandable, a lot of mid 20th century serious composers had to cover the waterfront of heritages.
    Give me LaRocca and liberte!

  • I think that anything is going to color the music. The simplest harmony might be a drone - that's going to add some sort of color though! And what drone to use?! The final might be a good option, but that adds a particular color. Mode III, for example ... with two flats, a cadence ending F Eb D, I would now harmonize ending on Dm, but years ago I would have harmonized it ending on Bb, hearing it as resolving to the 3rd. So if we're going to go with a drone, should it be D or Bb?!

    The drone can change, too, a la a cantus firmus in a Perotin melismafest. If you isolate a chant phrase, you can see the phrase as having its own sub-mode, and figure a drone, or a drone+P5 to play during that phrase. That lends a cantus firmusy color to the chant, on a simpler level than the official accompaniments.