Wednesday, November 27, 2013

You say potato and I say starchy tuberous crop

I'm currently in rehearsals to sing in the performance of Handel's Messiah at the Opera House in Sydney.  I wasn't quite sure how things were going to go but I definitely wasn't expecting what I've experienced so far.  First of all, for some reason I was shocked at how good we were at the first rehearsal.  Most of these ladies have sung here in Sydney for years so I guess they are prepared.  Way to go ladies.  Get your tickets now!

Then the conductor started saying, "crotch-it" and "dotted crotch-it" and "quaver".  At least that's what I heard.  What?  Okay, I just kinda went along with it and focused on the music.  But last week I couldn't take it anymore.  They are definitely saying, "crotch-it" repeatedly.  What is going on?  Thank goodness for Google because I felt stupid to ask as I seemed to be the only one that wasn't in on the joke. It has dropped me down a rabbit hole and led me, (finally!) to one of the only things that Americans do that is more logical than our European counterparts.

In America, we name musical notes in relation to the mathematical equivalent of the time signature. Stay with me non-musical folks and I'll try to break it down for you.  For example,  in a song that is 4/4, that means there are four beats to a measure.  This is what splits everything up and makes it easier to read and play.  This is when you hear people counting; 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4.   If a note fills all four beats it is called a 'whole' note.  2 beats is a 'half' note, 1 beat is a 'quarter' note and so on and so forth.  Likewise, if you want to display a rest, an absence of sound, it is measured accordingly and referred to as a quarter rest or an eighth rest, etc.   Music is math.  It makes sense to break it down and call it by the math equivalent. (Notice I am not pluralizing math into maths.  I find that maddening for some reason.  It's an abbreviation.)

But what do the British and therefore all of their Commonwealth states call them?  Hmmm, well, apparently they have a different name for each and every note and for the life of me I can't figure out why.

Here is a table to show the differences: (please note that each term is for notes and rests)

Octuple Whole Note/Rest Maxima
Quadruple Whole Note Longa
Double Whole Note Breve
Whole Note Semibreve
Half Note Minim
Quarter Note Crotchet
Eighth Note Quaver
Sixteenth Note Semiquaver
Thirty-second Note Demisemiquaver
Sixty-fourth Note Hemidemisemiquaver
Hundred Twenty-eighth Note Quasihemidemisemiquaver or Semihemidemisemiquaver
Two Hundred Fifty-Sixth Note Demisemihemidemisemiquaver

Okay, wow is all I have to say.  I have to learn an entirely new language to understand what's going on in rehearsals. That was unexpected!  Luckily, I basically already know what's going on so I just smile and nod and focus like all get out.  I vaguely remember seeing a chapter or two on this in one of my music books at some point.  But it's already hard enough trying to decipher the accent, which by the way varies from British to Australian week to week according to who is conducting us. When people start throwing around "crotch-its" left and right it's hard not to laugh.  Because it gets even better.  You see they call it a crotchet because most of these terms come from the English renaissance and they thought that a quarter note looked like it had a hook.  So naturally they took a French word, crochet, and pronounced it "crotch-it".  Another wow.  

I find this entire thing fascinating and have my mind blown every week now.  Can't wait to see what I learn in rehearsal tonight!