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What Makes A Song Sing

Posted by Team APATA | Jul 3, 2020

Over 60% of us now stream our music preferences, carefully collecting and curating our favourites into playlists, but have you even wondered about the mechanics of your music? Enter Andrew Ford and Anni Heino who break down why you may find yourself on the bus singing in your head with no-one around to influence you – kids at school and you’re not watching television, but somehow it’s still in there?

The Song Remains the Same arrives in the middle of a surge in interest in how music – popular music in particular – is constructed. So, what’s driving this increasing interest in the mechanics of music? The Song Remains the Same traces these connections through seventy-five songs from different cultures and times: love songs, anthems, protest songs, lullabies, folk songs, jazz standards, lieder and pop hits; ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ to ‘We Will Rock You’, ‘Jerusalem’ to ‘Jolene’. Unpicking their inner workings makes familiar songs strange again, explaining and restoring the wonder, joy or loathing the reader experienced on first hearing.

At its most basic, a song is a short piece of music, usually with words. It combines melody and vocals, although some composers have written instrumental pieces, or musical works without words, that mimic the quality of a singing voice.

The words of a song are called lyrics. Lyrics can include a series of verses, the longer sections of the song that tell the story, and a refrain, a short phrase repeated at the end of every verse. Songs can have a simple structure of one or two verses, or a more complex one with multiple verses and refrains. Songs usually have a meter or beat. Whether you sing or speak the lyrics, you can feel a pattern or pulse in the way the words move the song forward.

The word ‘song’ has been around for a very long time, and it connects back to Old English and Old Norse languages. As such a history suggests, songs are used for many purposes: to tell stories, express emotions, or convey a belief in faith. Sometimes they give instructions or help make difficult, repetitive work a little less tiresome.

Which brings me to a book I was gifted over Christmas and finally had the opportunity to enjoy –  ‘The Song Remains the Same, 800 Years of Love Songs, Laments and Lullabies’ (By: Andrew Ford and Anni Heino)

The book is available from numerous online book stores and the accompanying playlist of the songs discussed in the book can be accessed via Spotify….clever and adds to the experience of the read which is loads of fun.

From Schubert to Springsteen, Archie Roach to Amy Winehouse, comes an illuminating history of the song for every kind of music lover. On iTunes, the word ‘song’ is used to describe all music. A free-jazz improvisation, a Hindustani raga, a movement from a Beethoven symphony, a Springsteen anthem or a Leonard Cohen ballad: they’re all songs.

But, in fact, a song is a specific musical form. It’s not so much that they all have verses and choruses – though most of them do – but that they are all relatively short and self-contained; they have beginnings, middles and ends; they often have a single point of view, message or story; and, crucially, they unite words and music. Thus, a Schubert song has more in common with a track by Joni Mitchell or Adele than with one of Schubert’s own symphonies.

Today people don’t necessarily listen to an album from start to finish as intended by an artist, instead choosing to search and curate their own playlist as streaming opens up numerous ways to search through collections. It seems people tend to lean towards “relatability” when collecting songs.

Grab yourself a copy…thoroughly enjoyable and explains my playlist curations!

The Authors

Andrew Ford is a composer, writer and broadcaster who has won awards in each of those capacities, including the 2004 Paul Lowin Prize for his song cycle Learning to Howl, a 2010 Green Room Award for his opera Rembrandt’s Wife and the 2012 Albert H Maggs Prize for his large ensemble piece, Rauha. He has been composer-in-residence for the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) and the Australian Festival of Chamber Music. In 2014 he was Poynter Fellow and Visiting Composer at Yale University and, in 2015, Visiting lecturer at the Shanghai Conservatory. A former academic, Ford has written widely on all manner of music and published ten books, most recently The Song Remains the Same with Anni Heino (La Trobe University Press, 2019). He has written, presented and co-produced five radio series and, since 1995, presented The Music Show each weekend on ABC Radio National. In 2018, Andrew Ford was H.C. Coombs Creative Arts Fellow at the Australian National University. www.andrewford.net.au

Co-Writer Anni Heino, is a Finnish-born Australian writer and musicologist. She works as Editor, Communications & Resonate (online magazine) at the Australian Music Centre in Sydney.

Anni studied journalism and musicology at the universities of Helsinki and Tampere (Master of Social Sciences, 2001), writing her thesis on the public image of Jean Sibelius in the Finnish press. Prior to her move to Australia in 2001, she worked for a number of years in the Finnish Music Information Centre in Helsinki in several capacities, including the Centre’s Head of Classical Music. In 2003-2005, she was manager of a community technology centre in Robertson, NSW. In March 2008, ABC Books published Talking to Kinky and Karlheinz, a collection of interviews from The Music Show (ABC Radio National), edited by Anni.

Her other activities as music journalist include producing and realising the feature-length Local Portraits program for ABC Radio national in 2008, tutoring the Words About Music course for aspiring music journalists at Australian Youth Orchestra’s annual National Music Camp in 2004-06, background research for radio (Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s series Music and Fashion), program notes, feature articles, interviews and pre-concert talks, including Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s Sibelius festival in 2007.

Over the years, she has published numerous articles on a variety of topics, from musicological essays to foreign news, columns, travel and wine articles and translations from English into Finnish. Her stories have appeared in publications such as the Australian Financial Review, Finland’s major daily, Helsingin Sanomat, and Alko’s food and wine magazine Etiketti. For many years, she was a regular contributor and columnist of the Finnish music magazine Rondo-Classica. She was also contributing editor for an encyclopaedia of Finnish performing musicians, published in 2002.

Her work at the Australian Music Centre includes editing the AMC’s social media and online publications, including monthly eNews campaigns and the web magazine Resonate, and design and editing work for print and web. www.anniheino.com


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