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Playing with the Icicle 7th

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click on the pic to see it biggerclick on the pic to see it biggerAt the Telfordaires we recently spent a chunk of rehearsal exploring the sonority of the Icicle 7th. And since I had in the process ended up with a nice picture of it, I thought I’d share it with you as well. The original picture I drew of this on our flipchart in rehearsal wasn’t either as neat or as colourful as this, but since I forgot to take a photo of it for our weekly notes, I had to recreate it at home, and took the opportunity to spiffy it up a bit.

So, we started out by singing a normal barbershop 7th. (That’s a dominant-type 7th for normal musicians; we let you use them, because we like to share, but know that they’re ours.) Basses on root, baris on the 3rd, leads on the 5th, tenors on the 7th.

We then had the leads and basses swap notes. First thing to note about harmony: you can change the personnel on each notes but it’s still the same chord.

From there, we took the basses down an octave and the leads up an octave, while leaving baris and tenors in the same place. This is the process articulated by the purple arrows. So, it’s still the same chord, but by moving notes into different octaves we have a much more dramatic voicing – and it is this voicing that makes it the Icicle 7th.

While our normal barbershop 7th, like most chords, is built up from the bass, the Icicle 7th is cantilevered so that it hangs down from the top note. We explored this using my standard exercise for this chord: blossoming it down.

First, we have everyone sing each note in turn from the top – turning the chord into a tune. This can take a couple or three goes to achieve as the intervals between the notes get significantly larger as you go down. But it demonstrates very vividly the drama of the voicing. Then we blossom it down, with the basses singing all four notes each time, and the other three parts peeling off to hold their respective notes as we go.

The point of this exercise is get all the singers feeling connected with the root of the chord up there at the top. It’s actually like how icicles are made: all the drips start up at the top, and the ones that trickle right down to form the tip have been in contact with the whole length of the icicle by the time they get there.

And, referring back to the first thing we noted earlier about harmony – that you can have different parts singing each note but it still being the same chord – we switched about to work through the three permutations of this voicing you find in actual music.

The basses always go all the way to the lowest note, to hang there sounding nice and pointy. The upper three parts can come in three different possible combinations (reading from the top):

Lead – Tenor – Baritone
Tenor – Lead – Baritone
Tenor – Baritone - Lead

Whoever sings which note, we always need the top two parts to rattle together vibrantly in their phnert. In standard barbershop balancing rules, the root of the chord up there at the top would want to be predominant overall, but the 7th tucked up closely to it needs to live as a constant challenge to that dominance.

The energy generated by this clash is what holds the other two parts connected to the chord. So they need to listen out for it. If you’re dangling in the lower half of an icicle 7th and you take your ears away from that phnert above you, you risk dropping off the bottom and getting lost in the snow.

So, all that just because I wanted to get more mileage out of the picture I’d drawn.

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