Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Perfect Parallel Harmony

During my college days, I became fascinated with Early Music, both instrumental and vocal. Plainchant sounded so beautiful, and I’d always loved polyphonic music. So I began to read more about the subject. One unfamiliar practice was singing in parallel organum. It theoretically made sense as part of the development of harmony, but the idea of actually singing Perfect Parallel Fourths or Fifths seemed rather rebellious. Didn’t only music geniuses like Charles Ives do things like that? What if my music theory professor caught me?

Once or twice, I attempted to play the piano and sing familiar melodies but in different keys. I usually quit with a headache. I needed a partner in crime so that I could reasonably concentrate on one part. However, I did notice that chant had the advantage of stepwise movement, making it easier to stay on key. “Happy Birthday” was out.

At some point, I felt bold enough to recommend parallel singing to the older two of my younger sisters. One was excited, while the other was convinced that we’d never make it work. I selected Of the Father’s Love Begotten because all three of us knew the hymn fairly well. We probably tried it two dozen times, restarting because it was so easy to fall into “normal” harmony, and fumbling around for the best keys to make the song’s range singable. Eventually, we mastered it, and we’ve been singing like that ever since.

Don’t tell my theory teacher.