Minstrel Banjo

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I'm working on an old song from an 1863 piano score. As is typical of many of these songs the chorus is arranged for harmony, with a separate line for "ALTO.", "TENOR.", and "BASS.". There's also one noted as "AIR." Does that just mean it is the melody line (as in "air" being a synonym for melody)?

Also the staff for the tenor part does not have the normal treble clef, it has a different symbol. I'm thinking maybe this means its supposed to be sung an octave higher than written. Yes?

One more, one of the measures has a flatted b note. The same note appears later in the same measure without the flat symbol. Is it supposed to still be flatted or does the lack of symbol means its back to b natural?

Thanks - Dave Culgan

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Air is the main melody line, or the "tune" in 19th century vernacular.  For instance, The Land of King Cotton is to the air of Red, White and Blue (the melody for Columbia, Gem of the Ocean). 

 

I'm not sure what the symbol is, but I think you've made a good guess. 

 

Conventional musical notation would say that when a note is flatted, it is for the entire measure.  I have seen very few exceptions to this.

Thanks for your reply John. That's what I thought too, about the note being flatted for the entire measure, but on this song I'm working on, in addition to the 19th cent. sheet music I also found a midi file and simplified single line melody transcription together on mudcat. This transcription has a natural sign before the second occurrence. That's what had me thinking that maybe the convention has changed over the years. Dave

Dave,

What makes more sense in the sound of the passage?  I've been reading old piano scores, including the likes of Mozart, Bach and Beethoven for many years.  Of course, I've been playing from modern transcriptions, but I don't think that the transcription changed.  It comes down to the score, and who wrote it out.  There were a number of 19th century musicians who played more by ear than by sight, and it is possible they wrote one thing down, meaning another. 

 

I have also seen at times in the original scores sharps and flats where they were not necessary.  As an example, in one score in D, the F# was set to natural, and in the next measure there was a # sign in front of the F. 

 

John



Ol' Dan Tucker said:

Thanks for your reply John. That's what I thought too, about the note being flatted for the entire measure, but on this song I'm working on, in addition to the 19th cent. sheet music I also found a midi file and simplified single line melody transcription together on mudcat. This transcription has a natural sign before the second occurrence. That's what had me thinking that maybe the convention has changed over the years. Dave

sounds like your strange symbol may be a "C clef" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clef) which basically allows someone with a tenor range to read more comfortably and without a whole bunch of ledger lines to count. Hope that wild guess helps!

I think Cory is probably correct but there are some complications involving the tenor C clef.

The usual place for a tenor clef to be placed is on the 4th line of the staff (counting from the bottom). This would make that line "middle C." In addition to being the traditional way, it is also the way tenor clef is used nearly universally today.

However, since fewer people read the C clefs in the past century and a half than they did in the 18th century and earlier, there have been other solutions and this is where the complication arises. It became conventional for tenors to read in treble (G clef) but sing an octave lower than indicated. The G clef specifically indicates the G above middle C but the tenor singers (and guitarists) read it as if it indicates the G BELOW middle C.

That's why many modern scores, in an attempt to be more explicit (or accurate) will use a G clef with a little "8" at the base of it.

In the past (19th and early 20th c.), however, some publishers used a C clef centered on the third SPACE instead of the 4th line. This really indicates the the same thing in a different way --That C is middle C or one octave lower than the C that would be indicated by a treble G clef of the normal kind.

This ends up being confusing to folks (like me and my conservatory students) who do read the C clefs -- we need to be careful to look closely enough to see if the clef is centered on the 4th line or 3rd space.

It will most likely be that the C is on the space but indicating middle C.  Just check it carefully -- you don't have to look at too many period scores to see some awfully strange approaches...

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Regarding the issue with the flat -- I'd say that the convention didn't change but perhaps there are different variants of the melody. That is much more likely.

There are some 20th and 21st century compositions in which the convention is abandoned but those are usually highly complex atonal compositions in which the conventions and even the use of a key signature would be counterproductive and a bit anachronistic. In those cases, the composer will usually state on the score "accidentals apply only to the note that immediately follows."

Well I played around with the melody last night and I think that it sounds best with both of the notes in the measure flatted so that's the way I will play it. What threw me off was a later single melody line transcription that had a natural sign.

Jim and Cory, thanks for your explanation around the notation. I can read a melody line and understand key signatures but chords slow me down and its a struggle to get the rhythm right. This gets better with practice so by the time I've gone through one of these songs making an arrangement I am more comfortable with it.

We are not good singers in my band and we tend to sing in unison even if trying for harmony but I have noticed that as I look at more songs from the 1860's I see a lot of the choruses scored for multi part harmony. Time for some vocal training maybe. Regards, Dave

In standard sheet music, an accidental last for the duration of the measure it appears in, unless another accidental sign is used for the same note later in that measure. In either case, at the start of the next measure the piece reverts to the key it was in before the accidental occurred.

Paul

Even some of the minstrel tunes from the 1840s are scored out in multiple parts.  What is interesting in some of the minstrel scoring is that you start to see a lead or tenor line, and a higher tenor part above the lead line, like you see in barber shop arrangements. 

Right John -- I've noticed that too.

Barbershop style is a natural thing with all male voices and it is similar to the African American male gospel quartets. I'm sure there are many other similarities that can be explained by the fact that it is just good vocal arranging.

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