Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Music Appreciation Supplement- Columbia College St. Louis. What is melisma?

Melisma is a vocal technique that occurs when a singer sings many notes against a single syllable of text.  It has been in use since at least the Middle Ages in styles such as Gregorian Chant and continues through the music of Bach and Romantic Opera.

A 20th Century version emerged in the African-American church and was demonstrated to the world by singers such as Aretha Franklin.  When used correctly in this context melisma can convey the raw emotion of the text. 

Unfortunately it can also be abused as part of an attempt to create an effective and personal interpretation of a song.  The NPR article linked below discusses this concept further.

How 'American Idol' Uses (and Abuses) Melisma by Michael Katzif