UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Hearing meter from different angles : interactive vocal meter and hypermeter in selected songs and their covers Hardman, Kristi Dawn


A vocal melody is a setting of poetry to musical rhythms and pitches. The poetry and the musical melody have distinct accentuation patterns, yet as musicians we too often only analyse the musical events of a vocal melody in order to determine its rhythmic structure and meter, while ignoring the meter of the poetic text. This thesis examines how the meter of the poetic text interacts with the meter of the musical melody to inform our overall perception of the vocal melody’s meter. Through comparison of popular songs with cover versions that adopt a different meter, it investigates how the same poetic meter interacts with different musical meters, and studies the resulting effects on vocal meter and hypermeter. The methodology can be applied to a wide range of popular music genres, so each chapter examines an original song and cover versions representing different genres. The first chapter establishes the new methodology developed in this thesis. The concepts of poetic meter, melodic meter, and the resulting “interactive vocal meter” are introduced and applied in the analysis of three versions of Hank Williams’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” This chapter also explores some novel ways in which we can interpret syncopations and hypermeter. Interactive vocal meter is further explored in chapter 2 through the analysis of two versions of the Beatles’ “I’ll Be Back.” The change in meter, from the 6/8 of the demo to the 4/4 of the single, offers a fascinating opportunity to study the rhetorical and musical impact of subtle changes in accentuation. The complex phrase structure of “I’ll Be Back” also introduces interesting issues and questions regarding our perception of hypermeter. The third chapter focuses on Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.” Holiday’s transformations of the poem’s unusual metric contours provide a vivid demonstration of her uniquely eloquent idiom. The vocal metric interpretation of “Strange Fruit” challenges the view that beats 1 and 3 are always strongly accentuated beats in 4/4 measures. This chapter also explores issues of rhythmic and metric transcription in connection with Lori Burn’s recent study of Tori Amos’s cover of the song.

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