Thinner Air, Up There

In many a notated German Dance or Ländler (or in its second part), there are rocking passages in regular eighth-notes featuring the interval of the sixth.
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On the violin, such lines can involve back and forth string-crossing, bariolage. Often a low pitch in the passage (open string) remains constant. Such music resembles and may signify yodeling. Making music across the voice break is a recurring feature of instrumental music by Schubert, and Brahms.

There’s a sense of swinging the body up into relative weightlessness in these passages. After the instructing or narrating of the first section of some Ländler, comes the dancing itself. (After ten minutes of navigating through the relative calm of Newport harbor in a small boat, and raising the sail in more open water, I remember my friend John Davis shouting: “We’re sailing!”)

Perhaps less expected, is the appearance of yodeling, this registeral see-saw, in Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the A Train.” The high-up, Alpine lightness-of-being relocates — to the giddiness of being uptown in Harlem!
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In broadcasts of the space missions of the 1960s, surely the most poignant words spoken are: “We have liftoff.”

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