Meet Class Notes Artist: Lumina
Traditional Norwegian -- Sautrall
"Round and round the Earth is turning / Turning always round 'til morning / And from morning round to night." And indeed "round and round the Earth" Lumina went throughout their program, sharing songs from Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America. Singing in eight different languages from Japanese to South African to Georgian as well as English, Lumina taught that an unknown language is not necessarily a barrier to understanding the meaning behind the song. There are other methods including body language and singing style that can communicate that to the audience. With a variety of light-hearted and more serious repertoire, the Lumina ladies showed that there are many reasons why one can raise his or her voice in song.
On the light-hearted side of topics, animals are featured quite prominently in Lumina's musical selections. From Norway, came the Sautrall or "sheep call" and the Baettirlokken or "cow call". In the Norwegian countryside, the women are responsible for taking care of the herds of sheep and cows. The animals roam freely across the fjords and mountains until they hear the women's special calls indicating that they should come home. To illustrate the situation, alto, Clara Oswoski, sang the solo part of the woman herder, whilst the rest of the members of Lumina echoed her as the animals. In real life, the animals actually do respond to the women with calls of their own that can be heard across the landscape as they make their way home!
Another sheep-related song in the program comes from Scotland. In the highlands and northern islands, there used to be a long tradition of singing whilst waulking. Waulking is a process in which newly woven tweed is beaten against a table in a rhythmic motion to make it smooth. Women would sit around one big table and sing songs in Scots Gaelic to pass the time. The songs would be slower at the beginning of the process, but gradually as the tweed got smoother, the songs would become faster. Typically one woman would sing the verses and the rest would join in on the chorus. It is considered bad luck to repeat a song, so there tend to be many verses in each song. The strong rhythmic motion of waulking lent itself easily to music. Sadly, waulking ceased as a regular practice in the 1950s and can now only occasionally be seen in the Outer Hebrides or in Nova Scotia (under the name milling) as a celebration of heritage.
Sheep are not a part of music making in the far northern hemisphere alone. The instrument that Ginna Watson used on Hâfez — a Persian language song — is called a rebec. A 1000-year-old Middle Eastern ancestor of the violin, the strings are made of sheep gut. These strings can number from one to five, but most often there are three. The body of the instrument is carved from a single piece of wood and was often covered in goatskin. It is typically held lower down than the violin (closer to the crook of the elbow than the chin), and the bow is shorter. The sound is less round and warm than that of a violin, more sharp and twangy perhaps. These instruments can be seen depicted in medieval and Renaissance paintings of musicians, as they were introduced to Europe at the start of the medieval era.
Lumina were not restricted to farm animals, however. They sang a terribly clever Japanese round about a dragonfly helped to illustrate the complex echo effects that can be produced by a round. A later duet from Brazil between Watson on a lap harp (popular in South America) and soprano, Kim Sueoka, about a hopping frog was altogether adorable. Even without any knowledge of Portuguese, one could discern the gist of the song from the style of the harp playing and the high staccato voice part. The harp and the voice combined sounded like hopping, and as the song got faster and faster one got the impression that it is really hard to catch a little frog!
So animals are really prominent in the musical world, whether as an inspiration for music making or as part of an instrument. But Lumina did take a break from them to dig deep into how music can express a wide range of emotions through both vocal and physical expressions.
Take two contrasting songs made by African slaves in America. I Know My Time Ain't Long is an arrangement combining the spirituals "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" and "I Don't Feel Like I'se Anyways Tired." The first song tells of a slave's sadness at having no home to go to and the loneliness of it all. But the second one sings of the hope that they will all go home [to heaven] one day in glory despite the sorrow of their earthly life. The contrast between the mournful to the hopeful is characterised by the change in tempo and singing style from slow and legato to upbeat and jaunty. Those two English-language songs of course made it easier to understand the meaning behind the lyrics, but not knowing the language isn't necessarily a barrier to getting into the emotion of the song. The song Asikatali sounds like the most joyful song, but a better descriptive word would actually be "hopeful." It was used by South Africans fighting for freedom from apartheid and is about how nothing, not even the threat of jail, is going to get in the way. The protesters lifted their voices hopeful that their goal would be achieved eventually because of their persistence. Lumina brought along a drum to keep rhythm and taught the students some simple dance motions to get them up and participating in the middle of the performance. It's certainly an energetic catchy tune that would get anyone fired up even without knowing for what purpose the song was created.
The students were invited to participate again at the close of the program when Lumina returned to England for another rendition of "Round and Round." Effectively coming back to where they started (just like a round!), this lovely song was beautiful in its simplicity. Students could easily remember it and bring it home to teach their families or sing it with their friends outside of the classroom. A voice is an instrument that everyone has and it can be used for lots of different purposes whether it's calling sheep or protesting injustice. If it's a good song with the emotion and meaning is communicated well through vocal and physical expression than anyone can enjoy listening no matter what language they speak.