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David Yeagley

Notating the Tear

March 30, 2009 at 10:09 PM

In "Romantic" music, there is a particular performance manoeuver in voice and in violin ( and perhaps in some other instruments) that immitates a human tear--in its natural, vocal, speaking action.  When some one has "a tear in the voice," it is a kind of breaking up of the tone.  Like, when you are trying to talk and cry at the same time.  It is difficult to describe, verbally, but everyone knows it when it happens, and recognizes it when it is heard.

It may have started in vocal music, in opera, possibly in Jewish cantorial.   Richard Tucker (Rubin Ticker) was quite good at it, of course. 

My question:  does anyone know how to NOTATE this little jewel of expression?   I can't recall seeing it in vocal or in violin music.  It is done, often, but, tastefully and only in certain kind of music.  (I know the old Budapest String Quartet used it in the Beethoven Op. 18 set.) 

In most instruments, including piano, there is something called a "grace note."  This could be an immitation of the vocal or violin "tear." 

If anyone has any idea of what I'm trying to get at, please direct me to some score or some source that tells me how to notate this tear for the violin (or the voice.)  I know it is a grand tradition.  Coutry Western vocal music, of course, in ghastly, criminal excess, aggrandized the tear beyond meaning.  But, still, it is a phenomenon, and sometimes I really want to use it in my music.  I simply do not know how to notate it.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on March 30, 2009 at 11:06 PM

Could it be when it is written "expressivo" under a few bars?  Maybe I am totally wrong here though... 


From Marianne Hansen
Posted on March 31, 2009 at 12:01 AM

Ilana Cravitz's "Klezmer Fiddle: A How-to Guide" notates the choked sounds called "krekhtsn" in Yiddish with a k and the number of the finger she suggests dropping suddenly just as the bow stops to produce the tone.  Eg: k superscript 2 over a 0 above the note a (open string) - the suggestion is to choke off the sound with a c.

From David Yeagley
Posted on March 31, 2009 at 3:13 AM

Well, thank you! 

But, that's really hard to follow!   This tear thing is between two different notes, obviously.  So, the occurence of the tear can happen different places, depending on the distance between the two notes, and it's probably a really sensitive, personal thing.  Like, the violinist does it when and where it feels right.

I'm going to have to get into this more deeply.  I'll have to read that text description another half dozen times!   But I really thank you, Marianne.  I think we're talking about the same thing. 

From David Yeagley
Posted on March 31, 2009 at 3:18 AM

We may end up having to scan something, make a jpeg, and post an illustration. 

From Laurie Niles
Posted on March 31, 2009 at 4:36 AM

Do you mean it to be a "sob" that is a bit like a "sigh," a descending two notes with a throb on the first and decay on the second?

From Marianne Hansen
Posted on March 31, 2009 at 2:05 PM

I have posted an image at  Don't seem to be able to get the picture to appear here.  The k means the choke and the superscript 2 means she suggests to drop the second finger as the note is cut off.

From David Yeagley
Posted on March 31, 2009 at 2:21 PM

Marianne, unless the tempo of your example is sufficiently slow, a "tear" would be quite inappropriate and impossible .  At least, what I'm thinking of would be.   A "grace note," yes, but not the tear thing.  The tear, also, is always higher than the final note it 'tears' to, if my ears are not mistaken. 

From David Yeagley
Posted on March 31, 2009 at 2:23 PM

Laurie,  I'm not talking about any kind of glissando manipulation, either, though there may be an illusion of sorts involved. 

The first I ever heard this "tear" thing on a violin was in Beethoven's Opus 18 No.2 quartet, in G major.  It is in the slow movement (C major).  I can hear it now.  I can't find the score online, but, the tear occurs between a descending perfect fifth, a G and a C, if I remember right.  It is a slow, melodic thing. 

I suppose it can be done in quicker movements, but, I've never heard it.  It is very expressive, pleading, with a tear.  The music must be appropriate for it.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on March 31, 2009 at 8:36 PM

I wasn't thinking of a glissando, really, just perhaps a vibrato accent on the first note with a decrescendo to the second, the second having little or no vibrato, or being perhaps even an open string.

From David Yeagley
Posted on April 1, 2009 at 3:45 AM

We'll figure this out!   I know that, in singing (I have had some training, and I sing publicly in liturgical circumstances), it it has to do with starting a note with a high pitch preparation, the, hitting the lower, actual note.  Like, over-kill, followed immedately--before the kill, in fact, by the real, lower note.  That creates the "tear." 

But, it involves considerable interval distance between the two pitches, the first, "false" pitch, and then the actual note.

I do the voice thing.  But, I don't know how to notate that either!   I've made up some notation, over a note I want the tear on.  My music printed doesn't know the notation for either the voice or the violin.  And he's a trained violinist, retired, and extremely knowlegable. 

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