Happy Weekend! Tall Men and Wailin’ Women

I once heard a musician say that a lot of folk dribbles into the music of Minnesota. I, a homegrown Minnesotan no less, have taken notice of the dribble and its satisfying sound. The voices of musicians and their guitars, like a thick powder, fell from the small radio in the corner of the kitchen while dinner was being cooked on Saturday nights both dreary and sunlit. I’ll spare more words so you can hear more music.

The Tallest Man on Earth, a soloist originally from Sweden. I will always practice my instruments, listen to others, and try to sing, so that one day, maybe, I will be as tall as he is.

This is a recording of the Wailin’ Jennys, a female trio, as they sing in Portland, Oregon. As pure as music comes.

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Mumford and Sons – A Music Post

Sorry for my absence from blogging lately. It was a busy Lent, and now that Jesus has been resurrected and there is one month left of school, it’s a race to the finish for all of us.

Today’s topic totes a transatlantic trip. (Read that sentence again. I’m proud of it.) Because my friends Nicky and Steen both thought it would be beneficial to their education and personal development to travel around in Spain, France, Greece, et al (yeah, whatever), I decided I would take a trip of my own… to the British Isles! (via YouTube, so not really.) Be jealous.

I bring you Mumford & Sons. They’re a folk band in the growing trend of London folk bands, and their first album Sigh No More was released October of last year (so I’m a little behind, but not by much). As you can tell by the title track alluding to Shakespeare, they’re a classy bunch. To best exemplify their classiness, I chose this clip to show you. Pea coats, banjos, the whole nine yards. Grab a nice, dark beer.

As an Irish violinist, I feel unaccomplished without adequate fiddling talents (same as an American saxophone player who can’t play jazz. I’m one of them too). I flock to this music like I flock to the coffee maker at 7:00 am. (Isn’t “flock” a funny word?) Combining folk and rock genres is not a new thing (Flogging Molly, The Decemberists, The Tossers… even Weezer can’t avoid it in Variations on a Shaker Hymn), but what is fresh to Mumford & Son’s sound is the organic way these two styles seam together. Nothing seems unnatural to the banjo, organ, or accordion accompanying Marcus Mumford’s stinging vocals with electric guitars and kick drums. But it seems there is more to their inspiration, and watch for the Beatles shout-out in the music video below.

“In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die. Where you invest your love, you invest your life.” – “Awake My Soul”

Something I’ve Never Heard Before – Corsican Folk Music

I get too excited about world music. When something is brought to my attention that I’ve never heard before, I slap my hands to my head and squeal with glee. My new discovery? Corsican folk music.

The Island of Corsica: a territory of France since 1768 (even though it’s closer to Italy), and the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte. And according to the Google image search, it’s always sunny there.

Sweet, sweet tourism.

Briefly how I found it: I have been playing saxophone pieces by French composer Henri Tomasi, and one of these pieces (“Ballade”) uses distinct Gaelic melodies that could have originated farther south, like France. When Wikipedia told me Tomasi had learned traditional Corsican folk songs from his grandmother, I wondered if this was the source. Turns it, it wasn’t. But what I found is spectacular.

No one really knows how this music came to be, since it was not documented. Records of singing groups date back to the 12th and 13th centuries, though it all but vanished since then. A wave of Corsican nationalism in the 1970s revived it, and YouTube has brought it to us. Hooray.

Moving along. What you’re hearing is polyphony; “poly” meaning “many,” which you probably know. It means that several melodies are being sung simultaneously. The opposite is monophony, with a single melody. The middle voice is the lead voice, while the upper provides ornamentation and the lower provides the bass, usually as a drone. There is also a fourth voice, which is considered the voice of the angels—when the three singers are consonant and harmonics resonate as a result, magically appearing. (In my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful part of music.)

There are many types of polyphony from this region. What you heard is the oldest, called paghjella. It varies across the island, but typically accompanies work or family and town gatherings. Some think this polyphony was heavily influenced by Gregorian chant that may have crossed the region in the Middle Ages. Sure, maybe. I also hear a strong Middle Eastern influence. Whatever the source, it’s beautiful stuff.

So next time we hang out, let’s cup our hands to our ears, lean our heads in close, and sing away.