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Liz Lambson

A Brief History of the Serenade

February 12, 2013 at 9:20 PM

Photo by Elin B
Photo by Elin B

With Valentine's Day less than 48 hours away, you might be sweating bullets trying to come up with some way--any way--to impress that special someone.

Well, I'm going let you in on a little secret. There is nothing that wins someone over like MUSIC. Sure, you could always gift your sweetheart a violin. But it's also prime time for serenading and the singing telegram. And this strange tradition of awkwardly showing up at someones door to sing songs (think Christmas carolers) is nothing new. It all began with the serenade.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SERENADE

Going back to prehistoric times, there is evidence of music. Like verbal language itself, music is similarly a natural and essential form of communication. The oldest known musical instruments include a collection from China even dating between 6,600 and 7,000 BC. Now those are some serious oldies.

If you think about it, almost any piece of music could be considered a serenade in the sense that all music is intended to be performed for an audience, whether it be a hall of concertgoers or simple an individual.

But when it comes to the traditional serenade, this form developed in Medieval times as a way for an eager gentleman to serenade his lady love of choice. This was typically done in the evening through a window (Romeo-and-Juliet style) with self-accompaniment on a lute or guitar.

These medieval serenades developed into an art form of its own kind. During the Baroque era the serenade evolved into a lyrical piece still sung and played outdoors, but for an an audience rather than a courted lady. By the Classical and Romantic eras the serenade further evolved into a form in concert literature for string ensembles and orchestras, like a light symphonic work with multiple movements and varying tempos, but free of heavy, dramatic orchestration. The serenade kept it's lyrical, evening-song character.

AND IT'S STILL HAPPENING

Going back to the original serenade with that young man singing at the window, this form of the serenade is still performed today. There is no shortage of young men wooing girls on the guitar. One of my old roommates was even proposed to via song. Singing telegrams, caroling, Italian men singing from gondolas, mariachi band specials, and even Elvis impersonators serenading couples down the aisles of Vegas wedding chapels are today's popular way to send messages of love.

Now, you can even serenade your loved ones online. For example, my friend Fresh Big Mouf will send his original song, "Secret Crush" to your very own secret crush as a digital message of love. There's modern serenading at its finest.

Serenade your secret sweetheart with a virtual valentine.
Serenade your secret sweetheart with a virtual valentine.

(Photo by Marcello Ambriz)

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So if you really want to win over the one you love, you may find that harmony is the key (signature) to the heart. Ditch the chocolates and warm up your vocal chords because now is the time to confess how you really feel. And while you're ditching your chocolates, send them to me. I can help you out with that.

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