I really like vocal music. I don’t know how varied/developed my taste actually is, since I don’t know many people with this in common to share new things with. I like a cappella, madrigals, sea chanties and folk music. According to Pandora, these are some elements I like:
folk roots/influences, acoustic sonority, intricate melodic phrasing, minor key tonality, interweaving vocal harmony, heavy use of vocal harmonies, and a good dose of acoustic guitar pickin’.
As you may be able to guess, when rolled together, this makes a sound that is apparently pretty unpopular with anyone who asks me for recommendations of what they play next. Of course, I have other kinds of music I like, but the style I’m talking about here is definitely one of my favorites. Unfortunately that and the sea chanties suggestions has gotten me banned from recommending things in most circles.
Here is one of my top favorite musicians (and inspiration :), Cindy Mangsen, playing a song in the same vein as my favorites from her:
Although these types of minor-key songs certainly get a bit gloomy after a while, I really like the ballad style and the lonesome sound. According to my reading, I think this is the “intricate melodic phrasing,” where the musician tweaks the music slightly to make it more expressive. Very minimal accompaniment and soulful singing that tells a story. A similar song by a different artist:
I guess one of the reasons I like these is because listening to these transports me (like a good book does) to the place the story is about, or at the very least to a drafty stone hall in a castle while a lone minstrel captivates the audience. With most other kinds of music it’s “some music” to listen to and enjoy, where I think these reach a different level of storytelling. They don’t have to be ballads.
I just discovered a trio of men whose sound I quite like: Coope, Boyes & Simpson: The Cuckoo and John Barleycorn. I like accordion (in this kind of application) and acoustic guitar (probably a result of my dad playing things like John Barleycorn and Greensleeves when I was little), but apparently I can do completely without percussion, because most pieces I like most don’t have any.
I really like harmony like on that rendition of John Barleycorn, everyone moving separately to make an awesome sound. I would guess that’s the “interweaving vocal harmony” listed on Pandora’s analysis. I love hearing the bass line of an arrangement emerge at points under the rest of the harmony like that. Most of the songs on the album Never Grow Old I love, but Evening Shade and Richmond on the James have the highest play counts in my entire iTunes library by a pretty good margin. Evening Shade has that same sort of bass harmony that sort of emerges underneath – sadly I don’t have the music vocabulary to describe it better. I guess Richmond on the James is sort of in-between, mostly just Cindy singing, but with some harmony too. Two of my favorite pieces that I’ve sung in choir have been Turtle Dove and I Love My Love by Ralph Vaughan-Williams and Gustav Holst respectively.
The fact that these songs deal primarily with love and violence/death probably does not encourage my friends to let me play them in company. ^_^;
Since joining the little choir (~8 people) for the early service at church, I’ve been learning to sing alto because we don’t have any real altos. I like the challenge, although sometimes I feel like there is something to the joke about sopranos being too dumb to sing anything other than the melody. :/ I’ve always admired the harmony parts for doing their own things while still matching the melody though, so I feel like I’m learning quite a lot and being forced to pay more attention to what I’m doing. Plus the altos (such as we are) have to sing out more purposely and listen better, which is helping me get stronger. It’s so cool that they can sing a completely different set of notes from the sopranos but it still combines beautifully!
If you like any of this kind of music, or have helpful comments, please share them with me so I can learn and expand my horizons and vocabulary in this area. I’d really like to get better with this!
Edit: Kitty has pointed out that some of these may be modal rather than minor: “The modal sound may be part of what gives the piece the strong feeling of belonging to another time and place, since there is very little popular modern music that is not major or minor.” I don’t know how to identify that by ear and tend to forget that anybody actually uses the other options, but that’s cool to know.