Hello! Hope you’re well. This week, I decided to do an assignment I’d been eyeing for a while: Humming Away. Started by Elizabeth Byrd, the description is as follows: “I always have songs stuck in my head at the worst times and giving the song a little hum is always a good way to get it out of your head (or sometimes make it even more stuck!) For this assignment record yourself humming a song that is stuck in your head and upload it! For example I did FloRida’s Apple Bottom Jeans song because its been stuck in my head all week!” Do I have this song stuck in my head? Absolutely.
The song I chose to hum was “Beautiful Dreamer,” a parlor song created by Stephen Foster. Far from the 80s, it was released posthumously in 1864 (eighteen hundreds… still the ‘eighties’?). Since then, it has become a lullaby for children and has been covered by many popular artists like Sheryl Crowe. I was watching SyFy’s The Magicians – based on the book series by Lev Grossman – and the cast sang this song. I tend to get calmer songs stuck in my head since I’m often trying to reduce stress.
The cover that really drew me into this song, though, was Marty Robbins’ cover (which was also released posthumously in 1984). I ultimately modeled my ‘cover’ after his version. His is very somnolent and classic. I tried to replicate the timeless quality of his voice since I ended up singing part of the song. For me, when I idly voice a melody, I often shift between song and humming. It is done subconsciously because I’m not that good at remembering lyrics even though I hear them in my head. (Anyone else?) This song also sounds a lot like the covers by my grandfather in the Philippines. We have CDs of him that we put on the radio; I believe he still sings in airports.
This assignment was originally supposed to be B-flat, where one pitches the vocals a half-step down so that they are slightly off-key. I wanted to transpose Robbins’ version into a minor key and add creepy sound effects instead, but transposing seems very time-consuming, and would require that I use a program I am less familiar with (it has been a while since I tuned things on Melodyne). To record the Humming Away assignment, I reserved the HCC Vocal Booth. To be honest, I had originally planned on either singing or humming it: not both. No matter how much I tried, however, I found myself being unable to hit certain notes or my voice cracked.
It didn’t have to be perfect, so I just took the better parts of both and found it reflective as I had mentioned before. I used a part of my range that isn’t as comfortable physically, but works better mentally with my identity. One might be able to tell that after I cleaned up my vocals in Audacity with my Noise Reduction > Equalize (+ Bass Boost) > Compress > Normalize process, I changed the pitch of my vocals to make them lower. I find lower voices to often be slightly more soothing. To do this while staying in-tune with Fingerstyle Ukulele Uke Channel’s instrumental, I pitched it up by about 10%, therefore going up by one key. I recorded it that way before pitching my vocals and the track back down 10%. Lastly, I added a slight echo and reverb to amplify the quality.
I was also an inch away from adding ocean wave sounds to this track, though that might have defeated the simplistic purpose of this assignment. Regardless, this was a fulfilling experience. I certainly deviated from the original assignment – which was likely less stressful – though I wanted to show the subconscious processes that go into humming. When we sing, we hear music, and when we start to hum it’s like we’re still singing. Nothing has changed other than the fact that we’ve materialized the melodies in our minds. Humming is often a sign of contentment, and I believe that “Beautiful Dreamer” and my intentionally-imperfect recording displays what it means to make sound.
Beautiful dreamer,Stephen Foster
Wake unto me
Starlight and dewdrops
Are awaiting thee.
Sounds of the rude world
Heard in the day
Led by the moonlight
Have all passed away.
Queen of my song
List’ while I woo thee
With soft melody.
Gone are the cares of
Life’s busy throng
Awake unto me
Awake unto me.