This week I have had to try very hard to explain 'compound time' to a number of pupils. Without going into a boring epistle on theory, suffice to say it is initially a tricky rhythmical pattern which most pupils struggle with. I attempted to put it into words which my students would understand a couple of times, and whilst some understand, it does not really help with performing the song in 6/8 or 9/8 etc? Today I was working on a beautiful Mozart aria from The Magic Flute, that is Pamina's glorious lament Ach Ich Fuhls.
It is in the dreaded 6/8, but not only that, it is quite slow, and looks therefore quite wrong written in semi quavers and Demi-semi quavers ! It looks as if it is full,of quick runs and what should be fast coloratura. I can never understand why it was not written in simple time.........somebody somewhere will tell me why I am sure...... Anyhow, simple minded and honest to goodness sopranos just need to get off the score and sing it as they hear the beat, rather than seeing the beat!
I asked L who was singing this aria to tell me how she would dance this rhythm. It seems, and I have heard this before from a student many years ago who was a dancer before she became a singer, there is a 'dancers beat'. As far as I interpret that it means that you feel a universal beat which is always the strong beat - barless and uncomplicated - no worries about whether it is three, four or twenty beats in the bar, we just move to a repeating beat. If I have that wrong I apologise to all dancers !
Actually it seems perfect sense to me as a singer to just feel this ostinato, and not expend frustrated energy trying to understand the more complex time signatures. Singers are often wrongly considered not quite as bright or musically capable as instrumentalists, infact as a famous lady comedienne once said, ' we have resonance where our brains should be!' Well maybe this is true and maybe not, but we do most always perform from memory, so we have to leave the score behind, which many players never do, especially orchestral players.
Today the feet and body moves won out, the horribly complex looking compound time was ignored and L cracked it by making the muscles remember the beat - the universal, relentless and unchanging beat. To me this concept is just as musical, and equally as valid as being able to read the black dots at a rate of 25 knots !
Singers do it with the feet ! ( and thus it works.......)
The dreaded compound time signature...........