"Once more, with feeling!" - usually said by a conductor to an orchestra, or a music teacher to their student. How does one include "feeling" into a melody?
As mentioned in a previous blog, while studying piano, I listened to a lot of solo artists. Often, they were an older, seasoned performer who would be humming along during their studio recording, most likely without realizing it. They were expressing the melody in such a focused manner; they did what came most naturally for anybody: to sing it.
Taken from another angle, conducting teachers have said performing an opera (or substitute “musical” instead) is usually a very challenging type of concert because the orchestra is usually in the “pit” while the singers are on stage, and the conductor needs to lead the orchestra when collaborating with individual singers in “real time”.
“But the tune the singer sings is the same?”, one might argue. True, and hopefully the conductor is singing along in his/her mind with the singer. However, there are expressive options utilized by each soloist which allow for differences. Sometimes, a singer may modify their part from performance to performance! (Just think of jazz concerts which include an abundance of improvisation, or your favorite artist’s studio recording versus a recording of a live performance.)
Listen to this rendition or I should say several renditions of Baby Shark. How does the song change character when the style changes?
At the foundational level, there are three fundamental elements of musical expression that can make a melody sound totally different, thus, bringing out different emotions:
Sometimes a melody is played a one particular tempo (often specified by an Italian term or metronome marking, referring to beats per minute). Sometimes there is a contrasting tempo, and sometimes the music will gradually speed up or slow down. A good example of this is “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite.
Dynamics (volume). The music begins softly or loudly or any combination that you can think, most of the time, mirroring the increase in tempo.
Articulation (technique; i.e. how one is playing/singing the notes), the third element of expression is an umbrella term for various techniques used in executing the notes. A few basic techniques are:
-Legato: playing smoothly and connected
-Staccato: playing the notes short (but not increasing the tempo)
-Accent: playing a note with greater weight or emphasis
Now, let's try to listen to a more elaborate melody. As you can probably guess, the staccato and accent articulations are employed in the “Hall of the Mountain King” movement. A decent contrasting example using legato may be found in an earlier movement of the Suite, titled “Morning Mood”:
Specific symbols are used when notating music to represent the composer’s intentions, and often these marking are quite small in relationship to the size of the notes on the music staff. However, these markings can affect the sound the most! I leave you with a beautiful rendition of Dvorak’s Humoresque, arranged for solo violin, cello and orchestra. Can you hear the changes in tempo, dynamics and articulation? How much would the music suffer without them, played more or less in a robotic fashion?