Welcome to the 2nd article in my Musical Maturity series. Vocal Harmony. Oh. My. God! You could write a 500 page book on harmony (many have, by the way), and still not cover everything there is to say about the subject! I've restricted myself to vocal harmony, and even then, I'm still wondering how I can condense all this information! Well, in this article, I plan to simply introduce you to the topic in general.
The reason I chose this topic is because harmony is the most important technique that draws the line between carnatic and western music. Carnatic is a purely melodic form of music, and lacks any form of harmony whatsoever. Vocal Harmony is used extensively in so many forms of western music, and for good reason! My friend Isaac and I (visit him here) always add vocal harmony to our songs. Whether we are composing or performing, there's at least one phrase where we harmonise. Why? Because it just sounds so good! Anyways, lets talk about where this originated.
Musical History: Organum
Lets be honest; most people hate this topic, so I'll try to keep it short. The origin of harmony dates back to devotional chants at the roman catholic church around 800 AD. At first, they were chanted by a choir of men, all singing the same notes at the same time (unison). Eventually, someone decided to add a group of boys to the choir. They were still singing the same thing, but the boys' voices were an octave higher. Suddenly, someone had the idea of using a section of the choir as a drone; saying the words while holding just a single note throughout the song. In carnatic music, the tamboura provides the drone.
If you'd like more information, the internet is at your disposal. I recommend these youtube sources:
Here are just a couple of unique examples of modern applications of vocal harmony.
Simon & Garfunkel: Sound of Silence
Death Note: Kyrie
If you've seen Death Note, then this iconic music is not new to you. However, you may not know that this has a very interesting story behind it. Kyrie is actually a type of Gregorian Chant! These chants always have the same words set to different music.
I hope you enjoyed this article as much as I did. Until next time, take care, and keep learning.