Sorrow, Comfort, & Joy
It appears that what cuts across regional borders is determined not by formal structural features of melody and text, but by what we call intoning – that is, the total process of producing the sound utterances and the general sonic procedures by which a performance is conducted. In addition to regular singing, intoning in laments incorporates sobs, excited exclamations, speech interruptions, sighs, and voiced breathing (both inhalations and exhalatory gasps (Mazo, et al, pg. 173).
In Russian lament, the melodic contour descends to a final tone at which time "the vocal fry [pulse mode of vibration] invariably occurs at the end of the last vowel of the verbal line... more frequently when emotional tension intensifies" (Mazo, et al, pg. 178). That these similarities are found in different parts of the world is further support that human physiology underlies not only the expression of the emotion, but also the use of such expression for healing. "One can speculate that in the process of lamenting, as a result of emotional elevation, certain biological changes accompanying the cathartic outburst of emotion that make a lamenter ‘feel better’ after having lamented" (Mazo, et al, pg. 184).
One characteristic of the lament is a "sobbing" effect. In the Ecuadorian lament, "she sob-sings in short phrases that ultimately descend to the lowest pitch" (Schechter, pg. 473). In the Rumanian lament, "she breaks down and sobs regularly" (Slobin 1984, pg. 180).
Sobbing might also be experienced by the listener. Gurdjieff recalls an experience: "I... remember how all of us, sitting in some corner of the monastery [in Turkestan], had almost sobbed, listening to the monotonous music performed by the brethren during one of their ceremonies" (Gurdjieff).
In Rumania, the group lament follows similar melodic contours, but is done in a call and response form, and is more formally structured (the solo lament being improvised.) In Bosnia, there is a form of singing similar to the Rumanian group lament. The form is called ganga, and can be done either by a group of men or women. In Bosnian women’s ganga, "a respected leader sets the tone, literally, and the fellow singers, usually two, chip in an accompanying pattern called "cutting," "chopping," or "sobbing" that is vocally and emotionally powerful" (Slobin 1996, pg. 218-219). The patterns of melody follow the same intonational curve as the lament (Titon, cassette 2). The ganga is not always a lament: "When ganga is sung right, it has a powerful effect on its performers and listeners: ‘Good performances can move them to tears and "shudders," but with a sense of happiness; and they arouse feelings of love and sexual passion among younger people, as well as strong feelings of regional identity among both young and old alike’" (Slobin 1996, pp. 219, 221).
Although there are other themes (such as warnings to young girls about male advances), some of the song text of Bosnian women’s ganga succinctly expresses sorrow:
I will sing out of spite for my sorrow
So it won’t conquer me when it tortures me.
Oh god, what would happen if there were no singing?
In Indian music, emotions are expressed not only in the specific notes, but also in the ornaments, or gamaka. One way to express sadness is to use the gamaka called Gadgadita (which means sobbing). This is a succession of grace notes known as ‘struck’ notes, or Ahatas. This "succession of Ahatas makes a sort of sobbing trill... often used in Indian music" (Danielou, pg. 83).
It is not just in traditional world music that lamenting exists. For example, Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa "emphasized pathos in 16th century counterpoint by translating mournful sighs into music. Exclamations, chromaticism, repeated suspensions, and pauses are combined to give the intended effect of acute anguish" (Ostwald).
There is a commonality of intonation patterns and other vocalizations that suggests that the expression of sorrow or grief might not only be a result of the physiological effects of such emotions, but might also be expressed in order to find relief from these physiological effects. As the Russian women claim to "feel better," so do Jewish women who return year after year to the graveside: "In Jewish tradition, as well as for some Hungarian peasants, it was possible traditionally for a woman to ease her emotional burdens by addressing a long improvised song in lament style to a departed relative, often singing directly at grave-side, for years after the relative’s death" (Slobin 1984, pg. 182). Next Page
© Copyright 1997 Verlene Schermer
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