Understanding the Words

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Leah Kruszewski
ModeratorInstructor
Understanding the Words

When you listen to music with lyrics, when do usually start to really hear the words and grasp their meaning?  Is it what attracts you to the song initially, or something that adds to your experience farther down the road?  If you write your own songs and lyrics, do you usually start with one or the other?

For me, the general mood and sound usually hit me first, along with any catchy musical phrases that stick in my ears.  Even when I listen to music in English, the lyrics and their full meaning often hit quite a bit later. This has been true to an even further extreme with flamenco music.  When first heard flamenco singing in the USA, not speaking any Spanish, I understood nothing. That didn’t stop me from loving the music and ultimately moving to Spain pursue it professionally.  Even so, while reaching a comfortable level of conversational Spanish came fairly quickly, understanding the lyrics of flamenco singing immediately and in context has been much slower. The last year or so has been full of epiphanies, as my Spanish has finally reached a level where I can grasp the meaning intuitively, without the painstaking effort of my first few years here.   

One album in particular, Mayte Martin’s ‘Al Cantar a Manuel’, has taken on a whole new life since hearing it with my ‘new’ ears.  I discovered it in the USA (6 or 7 years ago) along with her flamenco album ‘Muy Fragil’. When I first heard ‘Al Cantar a Manuel’, probably 6 or 7 years ago, I loved her voice and the general sound of the album, listened to it on heavy rotation for a period, and then forgot about it.  I rediscovered it a few months ago and, now that I can understand the lyrics in the moment, it has taken on a whole new life. It turns out that the lyrics are poems by Malaga-born poet Manuel Alcántara, and she was asked to put them to music for a flamenco festival in Malaga. Knowing the story of the disc and how the album only exists because of those poems and that particular request, it seems strange that I enjoyed the album so much without knowing any of that.

Have you had a similar experience or epiphany when you’ve suddenly understood the words to music you’ve known for a while?  Does understanding the words always improve your listening experience? Can the words sometimes detract, or perhaps not have any effect?  Have you ever liked a song’s music, but not its lyrics? If you write music and lyrics, is it a conscious effort make them fit and work together, or does it happen naturally?  

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