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austin1
03-28-2012, 02:08 PM
Hey all!

I'm curious as to whether anyone has ever tried blending classical voice repertoire with the ukulele. I'm a classical soprano (or will be, once I stop being godawful), and lately I've been trying to blend classical voice with the uke, but I'm having a hard time. The accompaniment always seems to be piano or classical guitar, and I'm having trouble re-arranging those. The closest I've gotten is bumping up Ave Maria from the John King Classical Ukulele book up a few keys, but it's hard to sing, hard to play, and way too hard to do both at the same time. Also, in the John King version, the very last line of that song as it's sung is missing, and I'm trying to figure it out, but Mr. King's genius is going way over my head.

Most of the classical music I see on the uke tends to be instrumental arrangements. Anyone know of any classical voice/uke combos? Videos or personal experience? I guess I'm looking for some indication that it a) exists, and b) is possible--or else a sign from the gods that this will never work and I should go spend my silliness on some other crackpot plan.

JamieFromOntario
03-28-2012, 02:43 PM
Hey Austin1
I'm a classical singer also, and I understand what you're asking about. I have not heard or seen really any music that blends classical voice and ukulele. I think that it's a function of the fact that most classical music for voice (when I say classical music, I'm thinking: Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Debussy, Weber, Webern...etc; artsong, opera, oratorio) uses a relative rich and more densely textured accompaniment, particularly in the lower range, that the ukulele cannot produce. Plus, the uke just can't produce the volume of sound needed to match most classical voices.

I think there's also something to the fact that most composers who are regarded as "classical" simply never wrote for guitar and voice. Their works were primary for orchestra, smaller instrumental ensemble or piano and voice. I suppose that if you go back to before Bach, to the early Baroque, there will be lots of music for voice and lute (or renaissance guitar). So, perhaps you could find some music by composers like Dowland and other late Renaissance lutenists and adapt that. I've been picking away at an arrangement of 'Flow my tears' by Dowland.

It's tough to get the bass notes that you need out of a uke. Low g helps, but is still nowhere near the bass notes that you'd get out of pretty much any ensemble.

I'd be really interested to hear, though, if anyone has heard any successful classical voice and uke music.

Gwynedd
03-28-2012, 03:00 PM
I haven't--but there is an aria (baritone or bass, not soprano) from Don Giovanni "Deh,Vieni Alla Finestra" which is accompanied by a mandolin being plucked. If you listen to it you may be inspired by similar arias. There is also the Bachianas Braslieras no. 5 (http://amzn.to/GZcXQL) by Villa-Lobos. While the original is cellos and soprano (with a lot of pizzicato from the cellos) you can see how the pizzicato part could be a uke accompaniment. I think you could do Rachmaninoff's Vocalise this way, though don't ask ME to tab it!

The guitar (and by extension the ukulele which can be compared to a baroque guitar in a way) really had more "airtime" in the Baroque and Renaissance era, so looking to Dowland, Sor and the Spanish composers will provide more songs for uke and voice.

I see Jamie and I posted almost simultaneously about Baroque music and how guitar was more popular in earlier music.

nix
03-28-2012, 03:16 PM
This isn't strictly classical but I performed "Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms" and "Ash Grove" for my voice class last semester. I did ukulele accompaniments for both of them for myself using very light chords as a background to my voice. I found that for my voice (soprano) it was very pleasant to have the chords almost as an accent more than an accompaniment. I've never tried doing anything baroque.

Nix

JamieFromOntario
03-29-2012, 04:44 AM
"The Ash Grove" is such a wonderful song. What arrangement were you singing, Nix? One of your own devising? or maybe the Benjamin Britten version adapted for uke? That one would probably work since the piano accompaniment part is pretty sparse.


Gwynedd, it's good to know that there are several of us with them same point of view on this topic. I'm not familiar with the mandolin and voice aria from Don G. I think that the mandolin is probably better suited to accompany voice by virtue of the fact that it is much, much louder than any uke.
About the guitar and voice combo in early music: I think that there are several reasons why it was such a popular accompaniment instrument c.1500-1650. The rise of block-chord harmonies in the Renaissance (rather than individual melodic lines weaving around one another as in, say Dufay in the 1400s or Machaut post-plague in the 1300s) and then the increasingly swift move towards a single voice with accompaniment in the late 1500s and early 1600s are the key reasons for the guitar's popularity during this period. However, I feel like the guitar and lute got quickly displaced as the accompaniment instrument of choice with the interest in the Bel Canto style of singing, which is just louder than the older singing styles, and with the invention of more equally tempered keyboard instruments, harpsichord and clavichord, in the first part of the 1600s. Keyboards instruments offer a much wider range than guitar/lute, plus they can emulate a group of instruments, with several melodic lines, much more easily.

austin1
03-29-2012, 06:53 AM
I haven't--but there is an aria (baritone or bass, not soprano) from Don Giovanni "Deh,Vieni Alla Finestra" which is accompanied by a mandolin being plucked. If you listen to it you may be inspired by similar arias. There is also the Bachianas Braslieras no. 5 (http://amzn.to/GZcXQL) by Villa-Lobos. While the original is cellos and soprano (with a lot of pizzicato from the cellos) you can see how the pizzicato part could be a uke accompaniment. I think you could do Rachmaninoff's Vocalise this way, though don't ask ME to tab it!

The guitar (and by extension the ukulele which can be compared to a baroque guitar in a way) really had more "airtime" in the Baroque and Renaissance era, so looking to Dowland, Sor and the Spanish composers will provide more songs for uke and voice.

I see Jamie and I posted almost simultaneously about Baroque music and how guitar was more popular in earlier music.

thanks for this, I'll have to check it out. And go back through all my Dowland sheet music and see if I can't come up with anything.

1931jim
03-29-2012, 12:02 PM
Hello austin1,
I am not a singer but there are a few early pieces by Dowland, Mainerio, Milan, Gervaise, Arbeau, Neusiedler and Cutting in the book " from Lute to Uke " by Tony Mizen. There is a brief foreword Arranging for the Ukulele on page 5 for three paragraphs. Perhaps your local library might have a copy. It will not help in your quest for voice accompaniment but I have fun playing the early 1500's pieces. Amazon lets you see the table of contents before you commit your hard earned cash. HaHa!!
Regards
1931jim

Gwynedd
03-29-2012, 01:28 PM
Bel Canto style of singing, which is just louder than the older singing styles

Interesting. Venues got larger, instruments got louder. Singers, too. Pianos started as wispy little things barely audible in a small room (clavichord) and now we have big boomin' concert grands. I got to see Beethoven's actual piano (I skipped Mozart, what an idiot I was as a kid) and when I heard a similar Broadwood, it was so soft and tinny--yet for the time, it was huge. I didn't realize with Bel Canto that SINGERS also got lots louder.

I happen to have a phobia about mandolins (I tried to play one as a kid and my fingers hurt for a week.) So I tend to favor softer sounds like the uke and lute. The Tony Mizen book is excellent but there are no lyrics. I'd just go find various songs from the great English and Italian composers (Dowland, Purcell, Monteverdi, Palestrina) Here's some pretty duets and solos by Monteverdi (http://amzn.to/HpplcR), and he does use lute in his orchestra, so it could be reduced to one or two ukes, I imaagine.

Plainsong
03-29-2012, 01:47 PM
There's a great wealth of info in this thread, so instead of trying to compete with it, I'll add a simpler approach. Back in the day, a uke would have been really handy for sitting cross legged and practicing my rep. I'd simply write the chord names on top of each measure as a quick cheat, and simply strum or pick within the chord in the simplest possible way that required the least amount of thought, so that I could concentrate on singing. If that meant one down-strum then fine.

At university, the battle to find a piano accompanist was a tough one. Having something light to hold and sit there just using simple chords would have been a huge help... because you'd have the piano player eventually, you'd get used to hearing yourself with the chords at least, if not the actual melody. You could also use it to work out your own melody line problems of course... but that would be easier if someone put out a uke method book that matched playing uke with reading music, using simple exercises that build on each other. Since no one has, it might be slow going at first.

If you don't have access to, or don't have time to get to a sound proofed practice room kitted out with a piano, then the uke can offer that simple ability to practice whenever (within reason).

Good luck, and I'm sure that eureka voice placement moment in just around the corner! :)

austin1
03-29-2012, 02:01 PM
There's a great wealth of info in this thread, so instead of trying to compete with it, I'll add a simpler approach. Back in the day, a uke would have been really handy for sitting cross legged and practicing my rep. I'd simply write the chord names on top of each measure as a quick cheat, and simply strum or pick within the chord in the simplest possible way that required the least amount of thought, so that I could concentrate on singing. If that meant one down-strum then fine.

At university, the battle to find a piano accompanist was a tough one. Having something light to hold and sit there just using simple chords would have been a huge help... because you'd have the piano player eventually, you'd get used to hearing yourself with the chords at least, if not the actual melody. You could also use it to work out your own melody line problems of course... but that would be easier if someone put out a uke method book that matched playing uke with reading music, using simple exercises that build on each other. Since no one has, it might be slow going at first.

If you don't have access to, or don't have time to get to a sound proofed practice room kitted out with a piano, then the uke can offer that simple ability to practice whenever (within reason).

Good luck, and I'm sure that eureka voice placement moment in just around the corner! :)

this is a really good idea, thank you! I'll practice this while I work separately on tabbing out complicated things.

itsme
03-29-2012, 02:55 PM
I'd simply write the chord names on top of each measure as a quick cheat, and simply strum or pick within the chord in the simplest possible way that required the least amount of thought, so that I could concentrate on singing. If that meant one down-strum then fine.
Makes perfect sense to me! :)

austin1, you may be aware of these recordings already, but if not, they may provide some inspiration.

Sting "Songs from the Labyrinth" (all Dowland songs with lute)

Kathleen Battle/Christopher Parkening "Pleasures of Their Company"

Salli Terri/Laurindo Almeida "Duets with the Spanish Guitar" (her voice on Villa-Lobos' "Bachianas brasileiras No. 5 - Aria" just sends chills down my spine)

austin1
03-30-2012, 04:00 AM
thanks very much all for the resources and ideas!

Ondrej
03-30-2012, 04:27 AM
For more inspiration.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMLMsyR77XY
And why not sing Schubert, Schumann?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ii4T1332M7k