Is Choral Sheet Music still Essential to Sing in Harmony?
What is SATB sheet music and has four part harmony always been the way that choral music has been sung? Why is it so necessary to learn to read music to take part in a choir, anyway? Couldn’t we just pick it up as we go along?
It all comes down to the basic question of how you pass on music, which is an essentially aural form. We listen to music just as we listen to words. So we could equally say, why do we need books to pass on stories?
Musical notation is simply a language used to describe music. Its symbols are familiar to most people- they appear frequently on trademarks and all sorts of items, however many people are still unfamiliar with this language. Even worse than being simply ignorant in reading music, people may even develop a fear of it. So there are many groups who pride themselves on it not being necessary for them to be reading music.
Across the world there is a tremendous folk tradition, singing and playing, passed down through generations. Twice in the last hundred years there have been groups of people trying to record this music before it is lost. Our lives have moved into the age of technology and as it does our traditions change, particularly the aural music traditions. How are we to either revive or remember this music if we don't record them in some way.
Songs were passed from person to person aurally and were changed along the way to make them more relevant for a particular occasion or place. Sometimes today people are proud to credit a song with the person who shared it, which sometimes causes confusion over the origins of the song.
When working with choirs, whether the members read music or not, why not give out sheet music?
It's like learning a language. It's so important to de -mystify the language. It's possible to show people where to follow the music and, of course, initially, they generally just follow the words, but over time they make connections with the score. They can see that the notes they sing reflect the blobs on the page. They can see where their line fits with other parts.
SATB music can be written on four lines where each of the four parts can follow their own line, or it can be written on two lines with the Soprano and Alto lines on the top stave and the Tenor and Bass on the bottom stave. A stave is just the name for the five lines that music is written on.
Seeing the music means we have a reference constantly. We may learn a sound aurally but there's another kind of help in the words and music on the sheet in front of us. We all learn in different ways so it's good to have as much information to help people grasp a song. Everyone can get the basics in the same way that everyone can learn to ask for a cup of coffee in French..