Can you identify a sequence?
A: Listening and thinking exercises:
Here are five pieces of music from a variety of composers who make use of sequence: the Baroque masters Vivaldi and Handel; the jazz composers Gershwin and Jobim; Lennon & McCartney, composers of the Beatles’ songs.
As you listen to their music, see if you can identify when sequences are being used. You will probably soon realize that sequences help to make the music really “catchy”. The reason for this is that the pattern used in the sequence stays in our mind, as it repeats so often. But, it never becomes boring, because it’s always different! What stays in your mind after you have heard the music listed? Was it a sequence?
Handel’s “Entry of the Queen of Sheba”: Can you hear the differences between any musical ideas which are simply repeated directly and any musical ideas which are repeated in sequence (N.B. repeats occur when the full orchestra plays most frequently and sequences can be often heard when the oboes are most prominent.)
Vivaldi’s Bassooon Concerto RV497 in A minor: Listen out for repeats and sequences again. The bass is made very clear here by using a bassoon as the solo instrument. Are the sequences in the bassoon part harmonic sequences as well as melodic ones?
Gershwin’s “An American in Paris”: This piece lasts nearly 20 minutes. Just listen to the first 3 1/2 minutes – the lively opening section. Notice how when sequence is used, it is frequently modified sequence which we hear.
The “Girl from Ipanema” (by dc) (‘Garota de Ipanema’ – one of Brazil’s most famous popular songs – by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes). Listen carefully for repeats as well as sequences (sometimes modified sequences) in the melody. Don’t be put off by the shifting harmonies at the beginning into thinking that repetitions of melodic ideas are sequences! If you listen to this version, you can indicate which words are used for the sequences. First the text is in Portugese, then after about one minute they come in in English. After 2’20” an instrumental version of the song is heard. This uses the technique of improvisation (freely changing the melody). You will still be able to pick out your sequences, but what changes do you hear in the sequences in the instrumental sections?
1.5 “Eleanor Rigby“: In this arrangement of the Beatles song for piano, listen to how, just after the beginning of each verse, a sequence is built out of an idea containing only 3 notes!
In pairs, try to think through two of your favourite songs together. Can you find any sequences in the songs? Does your partner agree with you? Be prepared to sing or play together the sequences you have found.
B: Reading and thinking exercises:
Mark on the following musical excerpts where sequences appear:
Check for all types of sequence: melodic, harmonic and modulating?
And both ascending and descending forms too? Can you hear/see any ‘modification‘ of any sequences?
Listen to the music in this midi-file Catch a Falling Star to help you with your answer.
When you have done this, listen and compare the midi-version with the 1950’s ‘heartthrob’ singer Perry Como singing the song. What other musical techniques can you hear in Perry Como’s version? Can you apply some of these if you work together with a partner?
Listen to a MIDI-file of Ne me quitte pas to help you identify the sequences.
When you have completed this, listen and compare Jacques Brel himself singing in this video? A translation of the famous Belgian singer-songwriter’s text is shown in the clip. What tag lines, such a ‘don’t leave me’ (‘ne me quitte pas’) can you think of that might become a sequence in a song which you compose?
3.3 “For unto us a child is born” from ‘Messiah’ by Handel
For unto us a Child is Born
In this famous piece of Christmas music for choir and orchestra there are many different sequences in use, but they ‘migrate’ between the voices and the instruments, as one group of musicians imitates other groups of musicians. The combination of sequence and imitation helps to make this such a popular and well-loved classic. Identify at least three sequences; give each a short name (perhaps using the words sung or a description of the instrumental playing); then write down order in which the voices (soprano, alto tenor, bass) or instruments take the music of each sequence.