A Feminine Touch

It should come as no shock that I’m a stickler for rhyme. Whether it be “cat” and “hat” or “two fish” and “blue fish,” I appreciate people who take the time to make their lines…line up.

But there’s a difference between these two examples, so it’s time for a short crash course in poetic…stuff. “Cat” and “hat” have parts of one syllable in common. Of course, they’re only one syllable long. So consider “surprise” and “disguise”–although they’re two syllables long, the stress is on the last syllable in both of them, and so we look at the stressed syllable. Since “ise” matches with “ise,” there’s the same kind of one-syllable rhyme going on here. This is, for some reason, called “masculine rhyme.”

But sometimes the stress is on the second-to-last syllable of a word (or a line). An example I wrote is “Wieters” and (for instance) “heaters.” The last syllables are exactly the same, and the previous syllables rhyme as well. This is called “feminine rhyme”. Personally, I’m particularly pleased with myself if I can come up with rhymes like that–often, they’re rarer then the masculine kind. (There are a few three-syllable combinations, like “clarity” and “parity,” which as far as I know don’t have a special name.)

Although these two-syllable rhymes can be hard to come up with, if you work for it it’s not that difficult. Given two rhyming verbs, you can always thrown an unstressed “ing” onto the back of both of them. Voila–feminine rhyme! (I am no means above this trick myself.) Last night, listening to “Good King Wenceslas,” I realized how many ways there are to do this. You can add a verb ending (“telling” and “dwelling”), stretch out some arguably monosyllabic words (“cruel” and “fuel”), use archaic words (“hither” and “thither” when “here” and “there” mean the same thing),  or even find two distinct rhyming words (“mountain” and “fountain”).

So, I got to wondering what other Christmas carols did…

Here, “suffix” denotes some other suffix than “ing” (dinted/printed), and “word” means there’s an unstressed word coming after two rhyming words (“own him”/”enthrone him”). “Weak” is just a rhyme I’m skeptical of (“deliver”/”forever”?)

A special shoutout to “Ding Dong Merrily on High,” which takes boring old “swing” and “sing” and conjugates them into “swungen” and “sungen.” Keeping it old school.

The keys

…of four albums I have sheet music versions of.

For non-musicians, pretty much all (well, Western) sheet music is written in a particular “key”–basically the set of notes that you’ll most likely be using in a song. All things being equal (and all things are never equal), the fewer “accidentals” piano music has, the easier it is to play–so zero accidentals are relatively easiest, one and two are decent, three and four are getting trickier, and nobody wants to deal with five or six.

This is a graph of four sets of piano songs, from beginning to end. Songs that change keys in the middle of the piece are marked accordingly, but this is not to scale at all–if I show a key change halfway through a piece, it might not actually be halfway–it’s just that the song’s in two different keys.

There are a couple spots when the graph goes horizontal in the middle of a song. That’s because there was a change from (say) one flat to one sharp (they’re equally difficult on average, but it’s still a change worth marking).

Yes, the fourth songs in each of these books all begin with four accidentals.

Click once or twice for larger size, I uploaded a big version.

Scatterplot (line graph)

mp3 player update

Since the last time I reported on the contents of my mp3 player, I’ve added more songs and fleshed out my spreadsheet detailing the location of their titles, so now I can sort by artist and album. There are a few striking results…

Klein Four (the a capella math grad students at Northwestern whose “Finite Simple Group (Of Order 2)” was an internet sensation a few years back) have released one album, and fully eleven of its fourteen songs first contain their titles in the chorus. And of the two with their titles in the first verse, one also appears in the chorus. The other is Finite Simple Group itself, which is a case of Dylan Syndrome;  it’s part of a line repeated (with minor variations) after every verse so if you squint you could call it a chorus–but in my judgment it’s just too attached, musically, to the verse to count as anything but part of the verse.

Not quite so skewed, but still impressive, is Stephen Schwartz’s “Wicked”. Ten of its nineteen song titles appear in the first verse, but not the first line, of their respective songs (“A Sentimental Man” is in the first line, bringing the total to eleven, and that’s not counting “One Short Day”…not quite sure how to deal with that one.)

Then there’s one of my new acquisitions, and a fitting one for the blog–“Damn Yankees”. This throws off the data firstly by including lots of “Scene”s together with the songs, so a lot of tracks are just categorized as “yes they never sing their title, but there’s a reason for that”. Of the twelve songs that do include a title, however, seven include it as their very first words, three more include it in the first line, and “A Little Brains, A Little Talent” waits until later in the first verse. “Those Were The Good Old Days” is a case of Dylan Syndrome, and “Shoeless Joe (Reprise)” shows up in the second snippet of its song (the contents of parentheses are excluded, and the “reprise” is actually the second half of a track that begins with the words “Shoeless Joe”).

Interestingly, another class of songs I have always begins (at least the ones I have do) with their titles–religious hymns. Is this a case of old-time musicals being more grounded in religious traditions before Modernism(TM) came along and deconstructed things? Let’s see, “Damn Yankees” had seven such songs. The next highest for any of my albums is three, reached by, um, “Jesus Christ Superstar”. Make of that what you will…

Anyway, here are pie graphs for three different sources (between them, they amount for about half of my music collection). Let’s just say that maybe I’m not the only one out there who isn’t great at coming up with relevant titles…

The contents of my mp3 player

…sorted by the first appearance of their titles.
Pie chart

There were a lot of judgment calls.

“Never, but that’s okay” consists of instrumentals and non-songs.

“Dylan syndrome” occurs when the title of the song first occurs in a musical phrase that, arguably, functions as a chorus by being repeated after different verses–however, it’s too much a part of the verses to stand on its own. Think “The Times They Are A-Changin'” or “Blowin’ in the Wind”. (“Like a Rolling Stone” cuts it close, but I think it has enough of a chorus to qualify for “last words of chorus”.)

The opposite condition, “Schwartzitis”, happens when the title appears in a part of the song that is musically independent from verses, reappears between them like a chorus should, and has repeated words, but so few repeated words that it barely counts as a chorus, and I call it a chorus anyway. This is not big enough a category to deserve its own piece of the pie graph.