The stratospheric note

I learned a new word this week.

Apogee: n. 1 the point in a celestial body’s orbit where it is furthest from the earth. 2 the most distant or highest point. apogean adj… away from earth. (Oxford)

“…she had herself learned to sing by listening to thunderstorms and hail, the power of the wind in the towering forests near her home. That and Celine Dion, she said. But mostly nature. And with her mouth open full aperture, lungs in full release (“The Power of Love,” 1984), it became clear she was beyond the standard herself… And when she hit the apogean note – so many registers above them all, lordly in its duration and clarity – the crowd was at once buzzing…”

~Timothy Taylor, The Blue Light Project

The highest note remains in the ear after it has fallen back to earth. The highest pitch in a phrase offers a clue to its shaping – it can seem obvious to build towards it, and that does work many times – it can also work to decrease the sound at the top, letting it just float away.

In teaching students how to write a good melody, a rule of thumb is to have a unique highest pitch in every phrase; repetition will diminish its impact. The highest and lowest pitches in a piece give directions about the structure. And nothing is quite as sensational as hearing a good singer belt it out in the stratosphere. I just didn’t know I could apply such a great word as “apogean” to it.

So in a bit of a departure from the videos I normally post – here is not Celine Dion, but Jennifer Rush singing “The Power of Love” in 1984, pre-Dion. This is the version that was getting lots of airtime (radio) when I met the man who became my husband. You have to love the massive shoulder pads – yes, we wore them. And I love that there is a brief moment in the video that shows someone playing an old walkman – the kind that just played cassette tapes. $100 back in the early 80s – I got a lot of mileage out of mine.

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About LaDona's Music Studio

Musician, pianist, teacher, blogger.
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