A Piano Piece I call “Debbie Downer”

A Piano Piece I call “Debbie Downer”

I LOVE browsing The International Music Score Library Project !! It’s like rummaging through music at an antiques shop, but without the dust (well, hopefully).

This little piece  (<- click for the PDF) by Finnish composer Erkki Melartin had me laughing by the second phrase. I’m not sure what he had in mind, but it reminded me of Debbie Downer (who even has her own Wiki page now)! This DebbieDSNL character, portrayed by Rachel Dratch, is bent on bringing down other people’s happy moods by interjecting bad news. The cast could hardly hold it together during the character’s premiere skit, perhaps because they hadn’t rehearsed with the muted trombone and camera zoom-? That’s my theory.

Melartin’s “Melody” seems to tell the same tale. It opens with two measures in C Major, followed by a two-measure cadence in the parallel minor. The major-key melody could have continued to create a longer phrase, so the cadence feels like that moment when an interruption stops a conversation. This occurs twice.

The optimistic voice then seems to sympathize, beginning in A minor and taking four measures to return to an iteration of the opening measures, now broadened (poco meno mosso), expanded with octaves in both hands and building to a sforzando  followed with an expectant fermata –(“Well?”)– but the cadence is the same, now with a resigned ritard. The whole phrase is restated, concluding even more softly and slowly than before.

It’s short and simple, yet it addresses many subjects worth exploring with young students. For example:

  • What factors make “Debbie Downer” sound so different in mood? (What would it sound like if the dynamics or the keys were reversed?)
  • How does the rhythmic structure contribute to the sense of insistence in the B section?
  • Given the form AABB, how might you perform each phrase differently so that the “repeats” are actually continuations?

Of course, choreographing the piece is great fun for groups of students. (Depending on their experience and group dynamic, I’d suggest this idea for mid-elementary through early high school levels.) The students’ goal is to reflect, depict or “show” the music in some way. (Dalcroze teachers call this plastique animée.)

Divide the class into small groups and give them time to work out their choreography, with reference to the score and many opportunities to hear the music. After an “Everybody rehearse!” run-through (or two), they may perform for each other.

(By the way, to form small groups without best friends grabbing onto each other like buoys at sea, you could break up cliques by having the class form a circle and count around. As an example, if you want to divide the class into three groups, the first student is “1,” the next person “2,” then “3,” next “1,” etc. They then hold up fingers to represent their number, and match up to form groups.)

Find more “Ideas to Try!”

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By | 2015-12-04T01:39:04+00:00 September 14, 2015|0 Comments

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