Mismatched accents

Catalan original

One of the most difficult tasks when writing a song is the lyrics. And it is for several reasons. Firstly, it should say something interesting. At least, I am unable to write a letter (just like music) without a minimum of transcendence. No need to talk about big issues but not necessarily despise the opportunity to write a good text arguing that what matters is the music. Whenever I find myself facing the task of having to write the lyrics of a song comes to mind the Beatles song Drive My Car, a song that I like very much but the lyrics of which I find very poor. The lyrics released in the summer as in the style of Georgie Dann or King Africa or so many others don't like.

However, they have some merit because to write a letter, good or bad, it involves having to deal with a particularly complex task such as having to match the accents of words with accents of music. Next I will tell some examples of well-known Catalan songs in which the word accents don't coincide with the music accents.

Before that, however, and now I will turn to those who have not studied music, I will mention the phenomenon of the existence of accents in the melodies of the songs. All musical phrases always conform to what is called times. A time is impulses or blows of a fixed length that repeat making what are called bars. Sometimes, time repeat twice, sometimes three times, sometimes four times... For this reason, we must always know how much times there are in a bar. The expression “4/4” (four-four time) means there is four times (numerator) with a length of a crotchet (quarter note) (denominator).

The problem is that the duration of a crotchet (quarter note), which is usually taken as a reference to define the duration of the remaining notes, is not predefined anywhere, and we must warn the interpreter about this length (or tempo) in each song through specific information (for example, saying that crotchet lasts a certain amount of seconds or that there is a certain amount of crotchets per minute) or an approximate information (using expressions such andante , allegro, etc.)

In a 4/4 beat, the accents are always that way: strong, weak, half strong and weak. In a 3/4 beat, strong, weak and weak. We all recognize the strong accent of the first time in a classical waltz. Usually written in a 3/4 beat, in the first time the dancers move a leg diagonally and. In the other two times of the same beat, weak times, the dancers join the feet.

Baby you can drive my car, Yes I'm gonna be a star and maybe I love you

The words, as the musical phrases, also have accents. So we speak about words stressed on the last, the second-to-last or the third-to-last syllables. The word avió (plain) is stressed on the last syllable, casa (home) is stressed on the second-to-last syllable, gramàtica (grammar) is stressed on the third-to-last syllable. Firstly, if we want a song does not sound stumbling and we could understand his message clearly, it would seem reasonable to believe that the accents of words should match the accents of the melody but experience shows that this is, if not impossible, very difficult to achieve.

I will refer to this fact the expression mismatched or unbalanced accents. Thus, for example, in the lyrics of the Catalonia hymn we find: “Bon cop de falç, bon cop de falç, defensors de la terra...” (“good blow with the sickle, Defenders of the Earth”). We all pronounce defenSORS with accent on the last syllable but the song melody places the accent on the central syllable: deFENsors.

The mismatched accents in question make that the text sounds rare. As an experiment, replace the words “defensors de la” (“defenders of the”) for the sentences “som màrtirs de la” (“we are martyrs of the”) o “som fills d’aquesta” (“we are sons of this”) and we will see then the lyrics, just now, correctly adjust themselves to the music.

If we were very purists might say that mismatched accents are mistakes committed by the author of the lyrics, but, given its abundance so great, maybe they are in fact inevitable. It is practically impossible to prevent that the melody accents sweep along the texts accents. I don’t know if, properly, we can call them mistakes but rather, maybe... imperfections? curiosities?. Curiosities, of course, that, as far as possible, we must avoid in favour of comprehensibility of the texts.

We can find mismatched accents in many other compositions. Lax’n’Busto sing a precious song, Tornarem (We come back), that I like very much and that the singer's powerful voice helps make very emotional. However, in the sentence “quan sortim d’aquesta tempesta” (“when we leave this storm”), the melody accent falls on the syllable TA but the word aQUESta (this) is stressed on the second syllable. Or in the sentence “... tenim futur” (“...we have future”) the melody accent falls on the syllable TE but the word teNIM is stressed on the last syllable.

Bon cop de falç, deFENsors de la terra

Other significant mismatched accents are found for example in the Gossos song Corren (The run) when they sing “Corren, corren pels carrers, corren” (“They run, they run through the streets, the run”). The melody accents the word carrers (streets) on the first syllables (CAR-) but in the spoken language we pronounce with accent on the second syllable (-RERS).

Llach is a specialist moving accents. A Venim del nord venim del sud (We come from the north we come from the south) we listen: "I caminem per POder ser..." (We walk to can be..." where the word poder is stressed on the last syllable but Llach pronounces stressed on the second-to-last syllable.

We find the same at L’estaca (The stake). The melody of the sentence “Siset, que no veus l’estaca” accents the word Siset in the first syllable (SI-) but the word Siset is stressed on the penultimate syllable (-SET). We don’t pronounceSiset stressed in the letter i but Siset with accent on the letter e. In the sentence “Si estirem tots, ella caurà” (“If we all pull, it will fall”), the melody accent falls on the second syllable (esTIrem) but we pronounce the word with accent on the third syllable (estiREM). At the same phrase, the word ella (she) is stressed in the penultimate syllable over the letter e (Ella) but Llach move the accent to the last syllable and hi sings eLLA. In the case of Siset and Estirem, the imbalances are hardly noticeable because in the mentioned phrases Llach lengthens the words Siset and estirem, but they are there.

Si esTIrem tots, ella caurà, i molt de temps no pot durar...

More displacements (in capital letters) but now of songs in Spanish language: “I el llanto amar­go de la SOledad completa”, “Si es que no encuentras la alegría aquí en la tierra busCAla hermano...” (Miguel Ríos, Himno de la alegría), “Cuando quiero decir rebelión, en nomBRE de mi generación” (Barón Rojo, Larga vida al Rock and Roll), “ROquero indomable”, “de la CAbeza a los pies” (Barón Rojo, Roquero indomable), “Porque enTRE los dedos” (Víctor Manuel, Sólo pienso en ti), “DEtrás de su manto de fría dama...” (Café Quijano, La Lola), “Una paloma blanca a los oJOS me miró” (Georgie Dann, Una paloma blanca), “Acalorado estoy, cuando tú EStás a mi lado” (Los Diablos, Acalorado), etc.

Sometimes the phrase of a song can give the feeling of having moved accents even beeing corrrect. For a long time I thought that the song Camins (Roads) of Sopa de Cabra accentuated the word Camins of the first verse on the first syllable but, when I decided to write this article and I analyzed more closely the compass, I found that really the displacement accents did not exist. Indeed, the song is written in a 4/4 beat and the word Camins does not attack the first time of the compass but the second time, so that the accent of the word (-MINS) suitably coincides with the semi-strong  acccent of the third time of the compass.

At other times, the displacement of accents is concealed through the linking of two words that we will join with corresponding initial and final vowels. I could make that the word sembla (it seems), a word stressed on the first syllable (SEM-), receives the musical accent on the last syllable (-BLA) and then correct the displacement of accents adding just next a word starting with a vowel: "sembla un..." (it seems a...). At Las flores del mal, a extraordinary song of Baron Rojo, Carlos de Castro sings: "el mundo cae sin remisión en un pozo infernal..." ("the world is falling in a infernal well...") . In this sentence, the word pozo, that in the spoken language we pronounce with accent on the first syllable (PO-), receives the musical accent on the second syllable (-ZO) because this second syllable is located in the semi-strong time of the compass. So there we see a displacement of accents. However, linking the word pozo with the word infernal, the displacement of accents is concealed. But there it is.

I'm not perfect and surely I also will make mismatches accents in my own songs. No matter the precautions that we want to dedicate, always we will fall because, sooner or later, the strength of the bars of the melody accents will move the accents of the spoken language towards altered pronunciations, and moreover, next, under the facade of the musicality, will hide the displacement of accents in question.

In my song Fot-li (Come on /Let’s go/ Fuck him) of the album A trenc d’alba (At dawn), initially the letter said "Ens han fet creure som púrria, no valem més que els nostres diners" (" They make us to believe we are scum, we are not worth more than our money”). Only after many months I fell in mind that the emphasis was falling on the syllable TRES of the word NOSTRES. For this reason, I modified the lyrics taking it to the final version: "Ens han fet creure som púrria, no valem més que per fer diners" ("They make us to believe we are scum, we only are useful to make money”), where now the accent falls on the word FER (make).

In the song La noia de la botiga de fruites (Fruits Shop Girl), a first version said "La vida sencera ha culminat, ja no cal buscar" ("Whole life has culminated, no longer need to look for"). The error was the fact that the emphasis of the melody fell in the syllable DA of the word vida (life). A person whom I allowed for listening to my song said that, at this point, had not understood the lyrics. That comment surprised me but, because of this fact, I discovered that accents had moved, and after much testing, on September 29, 2015, I wrote: "Tota l'existència ha culminat, ja no cal buscar" ("Whole existence has culminated, no longer need to look for". This solutions did not convince me. On 16 October 2015, at 11:49, and after doing it a thousand times, I choosed the final option: “He arribat al clímax, no cal més, ja no cal buscar”.

And cause I'm not perfect and I have written this article with educational and not destructive purpose, I will place myself at the side of everyone. So I consciously decided to maintain a mistake in one of my lyrics. The phrase "Llavors vaig veure aquella noia rere el taulell" (I saw that girl behind the counter) of the song La noia de la botiga de fruites (The fruit shop girl) has a displacement of accents in the word rere (behind), stressed on the first syllable, that I will pronounce stressed on the last syllable (-RE) on the semi-strong time of the compass. This mistake will be concealed because I link rere (behind) with another word started with a vowel. Surely there will be displacement of accent in unexpected places. I assume that it is impossible to detect them all and that, in the end, it is not because of mistakes but imperfections or curiosities. Imperfections that will hinder the understanding of the text and therefore should be avoided.

As I said, one of the most difficult tasks when writing a song is the lyrics.