A blend of voices.
Two. Three. Or four or more voices.
The female timbres.
Soprano. Mezzo soprano. Alto. Even tenor.
The male voices.
Bass, baritone, tenor, and sometimes even counter-tenor.
When I first became aware of how sublime harmony singing could be,
it was not from listening to recordings, or even listening closely at various concerts.
That realization came slowly...
I always sang along to the morning hymn at school, where everyone sang, even though I knew I really shouldn’t, because I am not Christian. But, the allure of some of the Anglican hymns we sang attracted me, so I sang. No one really minded.
It all really started when I sang together with my fellow schoolboys
at the rugby games we attended, and where we were encouraged to sing all sorts of outdated melodies with lyrics that had been changed to relate to the game we were cheering for.
Not knowing how to sing harmony I just sang along to the melody line, which we all sang in unison. Soon becoming painfully aware that others of my schoolmates couldn’t sing at all. Well, to be fair, they could sing, but not in tune, or else they couldn’t follow the tune we were so valiantly attempting to sing.
The awareness of quality of voice. Mine and a few others of my friends.
It was a lot of fun, and all that mattered was that our team won, and the stronger we sang to encourage them, then all the better.
I was at boarding school for the last three years of High School, so that when I matriculated, knowing I would soon enter university in Cape Town, it did not occur to me that a vital part of my early years had come to an end… i.e singing at school.
Even though I picked up guitar and sang for myself, and even though I occasionally earned the applause of a young girl sitting on her balcony opposite our block of flats where I lived with my mother and two younger brothers, I was essentially singing solo.
That year I went to see “Wait A Minim” a musical/theatrical/comedy revue, which was playing to packed houses, and which included in it’s multi-talented cast, one Jeremy Taylor, a Brit, with a song-writing flair, whose songs satirized the mores and certain groups of South Africans. I was entranced. This only made me want to play and sing all the more.
Something was missing.
Jump forward two years. I have left university, transferring to the Johannesburg School of Art to continue a more rigorous course of Graphic Design. I lived with my father, and because most of my courses were of a practical nature, I had very little to actually study. By this time I had purchased my first guitar and I had discovered the Troubadour where all the folkies would gather, fervently taking part in that current “folk scare”. It was wonderful. Now I got to actually hear a few talented contemporaries sing together, usually duos. I was encouraged and totally involved with this relatively new music form. To always be present, I got a job there as a waiter, just so that I could see and hear everybody on the scene.
The duos who were particularly good were Des Lindberg and Keith Blundell. An amazing pair! Keith’s harmonies in particular were sublime. Two voices, two guitars, masterfully played. And then there was Leon & Mike (Leon Rabinowitz & Mike Sonnenberg.) Another great duo. Two voices, one guitar.
But, I was still singing for myself. Never in public. I had joined the Johannesburg folk song society whose members all sang solo… no one there piqued my interest, or had showed their talent. So I felt that I was in good company.
Then during lunch hour one day at art school, I was sitting in my classroom quietly playing and singing, while a few of my classmates listened politely… out of nowhere another voice joined in with my song, singing behind me from over my shoulder. It was the first time I actually encountered Mel Miller. Our song together came to it’s end, and I started chatting with him, after we introduced ourselves to each other. He had asked whether I minded him singing along, and of course I did not mind at all… in fact I told him that it would be nice to do it again. Soon.
For your information, at this point it is necessary to explain a sort of evolution of sorts, one which occurred rapidly.
One of my classmates revealed to me that he and Mel were in a rock band and that Mel was the lead singer. They even had played at socials and dances.
So eventually it became clear that Mel would sing lead, to which I had no objection, because his voice was strong and confident, while mine was not… as confident.
By listening to various recordings and by demonstration, that is, not by reading music, Mel soon showed me how to sing basic third harmony by ear. And within a short period of time we knew a few songs and had often sung at lunch hour for our fellow art students.
Here’s the point :
Mel and I soon got a gig at the Troubadour after I coaxed him to audition for Keith Blundell, who was the manager at the time.
Being in the right place at the right time.
We were informed by Keith that the Wednesday night slot would soon become vacated by John Seeliger and were we interested in taking over that slot for the foreseeable future? We were and our personal life histories were changed, but, I digress…
While Mel and I were learning new songs and increasing our repertoire, it soon became apparent that our pairing was truly “meant to be”… how else can one explain the goosebumps we got when we sang together, our voices blended very well indeed. Whether we sang on the way to gigs in his car, or in his or my living room. One just knows when the perfect harmony occurs. It takes a lot of singing, a lot of practice, a lot of concentration.
We were expressing two vocal parts which combined very well to make our unique whole.
Listen please: www.melmeland julian.com