By Sally K. Albrecht
Composer/Arranger, Clinician, and Choreographer
“Two or more independent melodies are combined or juxtaposed, creating the ultimate mastery of counterpoint.”
Back in the fifteenth century, this combination of melodies was known as a “quodlibet” (Latin for “what pleases”). The popular TV show Glee recently renamed it as a “mash-up.” But I personally prefer this simple yet descriptive title: “partner song.”
There’s nothing more fun than a partner song, plus there’s no better way to develop independent two-part singing or to introduce harmony and polyphonic texture to your young and developing performers.
Traditionally, we hear one melody in its entirety followed by another melody. Then the two melodies are performed simultaneously, creating a challenge for singers and testing the ears of the listener to identify each melody, yet hear new harmonies as they unfold.
As the arranger of several collections of partner songs, the joy is in finding appropriate melodies to which a strong counterline or countermelody can be written. Then, the challenge is to create a text that will overlap well, even sharing the same vowels or syllables on long-held notes. I try to weave the two melodies in and around each other so that no collisions occur, but rather they play nicely with each other!
Teachers may chose to have all singers learn both parts, then divide the ensemble in two to sing together the final time through. Other directors may chose to teach half of the students Part I only and the other half Part II only. I’ve seen occasions where one entire grade/classroom learns Part I and another entire grade/classroom learns Part II—and they sing together for the first time just before the performance!
The other great plus to these publications lies in the fact that all offer reproducible student vocal pages, either in the publication or as PDF files on an enhanced CD. These books give you a way to “bridge the gap” between unison singing and dealing with 2-part choral octavos. Consider highlighting Part I in yellow and Part II in green. Your students can start learning how to read vocal lines!
Further challenge your singers by pairing them up in couples or smaller groups as they sing together, or organizing them in two circles. Your students will enjoy finding new partners and making new friends as they sing!