Volume 6 (2020)

Melodic Language and Linguistic Melodies: Text Setting in Igbo

Aaron Carter-Ényì (Morehouse College) & Quintina Carter-Ényì (University of Georgia)


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There are no other sense-altering aspects of culture that equate with language’s effect on aural perception (hearing). Increased sensitivity to pitch is a cognitive characteristic in the 60% of the world’s ethnolinguistic cultures that speak tone languages (Yip 2002). Lexical tone is a pitch contrast akin to the contour of a melody that distinguishes between words. An example is [íké] (high-high, like a repeated note) and [íkè] (high-low, like a falling interval) which forms a minimal pair between the Ìgbò words for strength and buttocks. Being a tone language speaker also impacts ways of musicking, especially singing. This is the case in sub-Saharan Africa, where “language and music are tied, as if by an umbilical cord” (Agawu 2016:113). A favorite tool for evangelism among 19th- and 20th-century European missionaries in West Africa was to translate European hymn texts into the language of the missionized and teach them to sing the translation to the original hymn tune. An example included in the video is “All hail the power of Jesus’ name” which is often sung to the Coronation hymn tune by Oliver Holden (1792). Unfortunately, early missionaries would translate the texts metrically (to preserve the number of syllables) but had no understanding of the necessary tone.

Because of the link between lyrics and melody in tone languages, composers of vocal music in tone languages have argued that one should not compose vocal music in isolation from text or vice-versa. In 1974, Laz Ekwueme, a doctoral advisee of Allen Forte, published an article on Ìgbò text setting and harmonization. In addition to parallel harmony, Ekwueme recommends staggering text (as in European polyphony or African call-and-response) and using alliterative sounds (vocables and onomatopoeia) in subordinate voices.

Drawing on field recordings gathered in Nigeria from 2011–2020 by the authors, and commentary by Ekwueme and Dr. Christian Onyeji, this SMT-V article studies the phenomenon of “tone-and-tune” in Ìgbò culture.

  • Compositions by Laz Èkwúèmé, Sam Òjúkwū, Christian Ònyéji, Joshua Úzọ̀ígwē
  • Commentary by Laz Èkwúèmé, Christian Ònyéjì
  • Performances by Ogene Uzodinma, Laz Ekwueme Chorale, Agbani-Nguru Ikorodo, Lagos City Chorale, Elizabeth Ime Ònyéjì, University of Lagos Choir, Morehouse College Glee Club
  • Video scores by Ebruphiyor Omodoro
  • Field recordings and interviews are provided by the Africana Digital Ethnography Project (ADEPt), with support from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), the Fulbright Program, and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

Keywords: Igbo, Nigeria, Melody, Harmony, Colonialism

DOI: http://doi.org/10.30535/smtv.6.5


The Dance Chorus in Recent Top-40 Music

Alyssa Barna (University of Minnesota)


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Contemporary trends in popular music incorporate timbres, formal structures, and production techniques borrowed from Electronic Dance Music (EDM). The musical surface demonstrates this clearly to the listener; less obvious are the modifications made to formal prototypes used in rock and popular music. This article explains a new formal section common to collaborative Pop/EDM songs called the Dance Chorus. Following the verse and chorus, a Dance Chorus is an intensified version of the chorus that retains the same harmony and contains the hook of the song, which increases memorability for the audience. As the name implies, the Dance Chorus also incorporates and acknowledges the embodiment performed in this section.

Keywords: Dance, Popular Music, Top-40, Electronic Dance Music

DOI: http://doi.org/10.30535/smtv.6.4


Discovering Essential Voices in Johann Sebastian Bach’s Solo Instrumental Suite Movements

Daniel Ketter (Missouri State University)


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This video-article presents the concept of “essential voices” in Bach’s solo instrumental works, which explains how notes can be connected together or implied so as to form continuous musical voices that support the solo part. The contrapuntal lines that essential voices highlight are often repeated in transformed ways within movements to relate different thematic rotations and heighten the musical drama. The video concludes with an analysis and performance of the intriguing Sarabande from J.S. Bach’s Cello Suite No. 5 in C Minor, BWV 1011, accompanied by a four-part setting of essential voices for cello ensemble.

Keywords: Bach, cello suites, essential voices

DOI: http://doi.org/10.30535/smtv.6.3


Detour or Bridge? Contrasting Sections and Storytelling in Musical Theater

Brian Edward Jarvis (University of Texas at El Paso) and John Peterson (James Madison University)


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A standard feature of many numbers in musical theater is a highly contrasting section known as a “detour.” Detours function in dialog with the standard bridge section in various fascinating ways, as may be seen in selections from the musicals Wicked, Everyday Rapture, and Legally Blonde.

Keywords: Musical theatre, Broadway musicals, musical form, music analysis, Stephen Schwartz, Sherie Rene Scott, Laurence O’Keefe, Nell Benjamin

DOI: http://doi.org/10.30535/smtv.6.2


Sensitivity, Intimacy, and Bodily Interaction in Kurtág’s Four-Handed Piano Works

Cecilia Oinas (Sibelius Academy)


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György Kurtág’s four-handed piano works often demonstrate a highly unorthodox distribution of the primo and second parts in which the embodied, physical interactions between the two pianists play a central role in the composition. A sense of the variety of ways in which this interaction can be realized may be witnessed in two movement’s from Kurtág’s Games (Játékok) VII: “Flowers we are . . .” (Virág az ember…”) and “Beating Quarreling” (“ Verés - veszekedés”).

Piano Duos: (1) György Kurtág (1926– ) and Márta Kurtág (1927–2019); (2) Maija Parko and Cecilia Oinas. Permission to use Kurtág’s compositions in this article generously granted by © Universal Music Publishing Editio Musica Budapest.

Keywords: Kurtág, four-hand piano music, post-war music, musical embodiment.

DOI: http://doi.org/10.30535/smtv.6.1


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