Thursday, May 03, 2007

In Need of a Descant

We set the ipod to shuffle on our trip home from Ventura along the 101 with the setting sun and ocean to our left. Shuffle is a great setting from which to launch music out of an ipod. We had German techno, Sufjan Stevens, Mighty Mouse, Halloween Alaska, then the Minnehaha singers singing choral arrangements of old hymns. During one hymn, the sopranos launched into one of those high-altitude descants of perfect pitch and aerie lightness. Out of nowhere my eyes teared up and a lump went into my throat. It was not missing the great Salem choir (which I often admit I do) nor the marvelous pipe organ at Cindy Reents' touch (which I also often admit I do), but it was the descant.
A part of music that perfectly compliments the other four parts and stretches the boundary of sound. A descant is never a solo. A descant is not making up harmony as you go. A descant needs a foundational sound off of which to launch and soar and color. A descant knows the tune intimately but leaves it for someplace higher, elevating the entire sound.
Descant is different than the beat and the rhythm. It's different than the accompaniment or instrumentation. Tonight the descant was the blessing, the grace-notes that added beauty.
With whom do you sing? Who provides your life with harmony? rhythm? tempo? melody? foundational bass? And who brings you the descant? Who sings all the notes well, and then launches your music higher and brighter? In a unison world, oh how we need descants!


At 9:01 AM , Blogger Hymn Descants said...

I just loved your description of a descant! I have linked to your post from my blog http://hymndescants.blogspot.com/


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