Thursday, May 16, 2019

There are no accidents - just accidentals!

Again I find myself at the blog following on some Facebook-inspired digressions.*

A colleague casually mentioned, as a topical aside, that he was listening to sight-reading exams. Another colleague, gamely avoiding the topic at hand, asked:
"Can we please focus on the important issues though... how did the sightreading tests go?" 
I couldn't agree more that this qualified as the more important issue! Colleague #1 replied:
"I need more hymn harmonizations that are rife with secondary dominants. I often let [students] choose which voice to read and there aren't many with an accidental in every voice."
And we're off!

If it should turn out that I am nothing more than a robot, the first clue might be how predictably I react to this sort of stimulus. You want a hymn harmonization that's rife with secondary dominants?!? I cannot resist such a siren song. Basically, secondary dominants are chords which include accidentals as a way of strengthening the approach to the next chord. So a harmonization saturated with secondary dominants would have lots of pitches outside the given key, which of course would make sight-singing more difficult. (A harmonization with no accidentals means all the notes would fall into the "diatonic" Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti pattern, a stepladder of pitches to which our ears are conditioned to relate; adding accidentals is like hiding steps where not expected...which could certainly lead to accidents.)

I'm not sure why I chose "Amazing Grace," but I suppose I was drawn both to its familiarity and the challenge it presents as a fairly simple, pentatonic tune (which means there aren't so many different pitches to harmonize). It's easy to add one or two secondary dominants to any harmonization, but as they start to pile up, each accidental pointing to a different key, the center of gravity gets wonky. The familiarity of the "Amazing Grace" tune helps in that regard, but it was fun to work on balancing these excesses in such a way that there still seems to be some direction. I especially like the bass line from m.4-8, but I find that all of it hangs together...ish. The voice-leading has some issues, but this is where I say, "hey, this was only a rainy day diversion."

Of course, there are tons of chromatic harmonizations of Amazing Grace that use various extended jazz harmonies (see here, for example**), but those are not necessarily conceived with the idea of strict four-part harmony in mind, and anyway, my inspiration for doing this was to stick to secondary dominants, so mostly that's what I did. With the exception of m.7, there are diversionary accidentals in every measure, mostly doing secondary dominant kinds of things.

Oh, and as follow-up to my previous post, the final cadence gets lost in a Tristan haze....

AND, this harmonization sparked a comment which sparked another, very different creative concept which I will a day or two!


* And here's a Facebook-inspired digression: I think Facebook is fantastic, and though it's certainly caused its share of problems, I tend to blame users at least as much as the company. I have wonderful interactions and conversations there and don't find it all that difficult to avoid the negativity. The secret trick is to avoid the negativity. And to seek out interesting conversations. Because of the far-flung connections it enables, there are topics I might otherwise never get to engage were it not for Facebook. (This is not a defense of its policies or motivations, just a suggestion that one doesn't have to get sucked into its darker aspects.)

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