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Studio D • Saturday morning, 10:30–12:00

Words and Music

Jocelyn Neal (University of North Carolina Chapel Hill), Chair

John Y. Lawrence (University of Chicago)

Lyricist as Analyst: Rhyme Scheme as “Music-Setting” in the Great American Songbook

David Heetderks (Oberlin College Conservatory) and Aleksander Ferlazzo (Rutgers University)

Textual Norms and Deformations in Beatles’ Bridge Sections 1963–67

Abstracts

Lyricist as Analyst: Rhyme Scheme as “Music-Setting” in the Great American Songbook

John Y. Lawrence (University of Chicago)

Although most songwriting teams in the Great American Songbook wrote music first and lyrics second, most studies of music-text interaction in this repertoire still evince a lyrics-first mindset, in which the music is viewed as “text-setting.” In this paper, I propose the opposite approach: considering lyrics as a form of “music-setting,” in which the lyricist’s superimposition of a verbal form (the rhyme scheme) upon the composer’s pre-existing musical form counts as an act of analysis.

I examine songs written in the years 1924–1943 by teams who worked in a music-first fashion. From these, I generate a list of the standard 8-bar phrase forms that the lyricists “set.” These are classified as “open” or “closed,” depending on whether the phrase is constructed from motivically parallel halves. Each possible rhyme scheme is likewise open (e.g. abbc) or closed (e.g. abab).

My analyses focus on cases in which there is a contrast between open lyrics and closed music (or vice versa), and cases in which lyricists set the same musical phrase to multiple rhyme schemes across a song. I suggest that in the latter, widening or narrowing the space between rhymes contributes a sense of verbal “looseness” or “tightness,” affecting a sense of rhyme-rhythmic motion.

My conclusion affirms that lyricists’ rhyme schemes are more than just static arrangements of similar-sounding words. We cannot understand the forms of these songs without them, because they dynamically impart the essential formal properties of closure and motion at or above the musical level.

Textual Norms and Deformations in Beatles’ Bridge Sections 1963–67

David Heetderks (Oberlin College Conservatory) and Aleksander Ferlazzo (Rutgers University)

When defining verses, choruses, and bridges, scholars of form in rock have identified sectional layout, harmony, hypermeter, and melodic/harmonic divorce as key musical features. By contrast, little attention has been paid to textual features of these sections, such as scansion and rhyme frequency. Our presentation shows that recurring types of textual contrast occur in verse and bridge sections in Beatles songs from 1963 to 1967. Verse sections are more likely to have irregular scansion, more frequent rhyme, and internal hypermetric elisions, while bridge sections are more likely to have regular scansion, less frequent rhyme, and regular hypermeter. These contrasting features form a robust norm in the Beatles’ music, and they illuminate the differing relationships between vocal persona and musical environment that often occurs in these two sections. Some songs thwart these norms for expressive purposes. For example, the bridge of “Doctor Robert,” is normative in its scansion and hypermeter, but deviates in its texture, harmony, and text in order to suggest the grotesque and create unfulfilled expectation. The bridge of “Yes It Is” departs from its expected pattern of rhyme, scansion, and hypermeter at a crucial turning point in the text, highlighting the lead singer’s complex psychological state. Our study shows that, in Beatles music, textual patterns of scansion and rhyme play a significant role in defining formal functions of different sections and constructing songs’ vocal personae.