Recently I contacted a remote mentor, Graham Pratt, seeking advice on a particular melody he used to accompany an ancient ballad, Patrick Spens.
Graham generously sent me some dots-and-lines.
He wrote, “It’s in the Phrygian Mode.”
“Ah … all makes sense now,” I replied.
My ancient copy of The Oxford Companion to Music was undecipherable on the subject of modes.
Wikipedia was slightly more understandable regarding the Phrygian Mode ...
Try playing a scale, root E, on the piano on all the white notes:
E F G A B C D E ...
The intervals are: Semitone, Tone, Tone, Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone.
It’s sort of E-minor-ish but, importantly, without any troublesome accidentals.
(Why are sharps and flats called 'accidentals'?)
On Friday I sang Patrick Spens to the melody that Graham sent me.
(First time out is always a bit ris-key!)
As a competition I invited club participants to identify the composer of the original theme.
I must have got something right because Roger promptly exclaimed, “Tallis!”
Roger won the Mars Bar.
“It sounds a bit like Monteverdi’s Vespa and Lambretta,” said Ken.
Ken won second prize for humour.
Tony sensitively and correctly observed that I was straining a little in the higher notes.
"Yes, but that's the friggin' mode!" I defensively responded.
Later I tried, (in the privacy of my bathroom,) transposing things down two tones.
Now the scale looks thus:
C Db Eb F G Ab Bb C ...
Ouch ... don’t you just hate those black notes?!
(No, I did not play the concertina in the shower.)
For a truly astounding rendition of Patrick Spens in four-part harmony you must purchase Graham and Eileen Pratt's CD, The Greek King's Daughter, available at £11.99 by clicking here.
With my personal thanks to Graham Pratt who has been so very generous in sharing and explaining his and Eileen's material.