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Water in Music

When you think about water and sound, what comes to mind? The sea? Ocean waves crashing into the coast? A flowing river? Trickling sounds of fountains? The soft murmur of calm lakes? Muted underwater sounds? Raindrops? Or you may be thinking of stories, songs or poems related to water.

<a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Claude_Monet_%C3%89tretat,_la_Manneporte,_reflets_sur_l%27eau_15092012413.jpg">Claude Monet</a>, <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0">CC BY-SA 3.0</a>, via Wikimedia Commons

Claude Monet. Étretat, the Manneporte, Reflection on Water, 1885

On the one hand, water itself does not have a specific sound, but it carries and creates sounds in context. On the other hand, composers have a range of tools to work with when it comes to including extra-musical elements in their music. Composers may imitate sounds of water in a realistic manner, for example by using an undulating melodic line in moderate tempo to represent the flow of a river (Smetana), a descending melodic line with fast moving notes in a quick tempo to represent the falling rain during a storm (Beethoven, Vivaldi), or they may transform their impressions and experiences into music by, for example, avoiding clear major and minor modes and painting a mood with tone colors (Debussy), or they may try to capture a certain feeling or event through other choices of melody, harmony, dynamic, tempo and rhythm.

Given that the nature of music is almost as fluid as water, we never exactly know what music is precisely about, but we can get some good ideas from the titles the composers chose, their descriptions, the event the music was written for, and the texts they based their work on. Even with titles and descriptions available, the nice thing is that music always leaves room for personal interpretation.

Singing in the Rain. Poster (drawing) from 1952, showing Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds.. Public Domain

Singing in the Rain. 1952 Poster. Public Domain

Popular and secular music have equally used topics related to water. From inspiring spirituals like “Wade in the Water,” to entertaining songs of sailors and seamen, the description of waters entered many songs. And uplifting tunes such as “Singing in the Rain,” made iconic by the movie featuring Gene Kelly in 1952, and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” composed by Hal David and Burt Bacharach for the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, are always good for bringing smiles to our faces.

Here is a selection of water music available from the NLS Music Section:

The Sea, Lakes and Rivers

Asch, John. Sea Shanties and Loggers’ Songs. Audiobook. (DBM04142)

Coates, Eric. Sea Rapture. An Impression, with words by Emeric Hulme Beaman. For voice and piano in section by section and bar by bar formats.  (BRM11570)

Debussy, Claude. “Reflets dans l’eau” from Images. For piano in bar over bar format. (BRM00164)

Dougherty, Celisu. Five Sea Chanties (excerpts), arranged for voice and piano. Voice part only in line by line format (BRM23492)

“Down by the Riverside,” for harmonica. In: Instant Play Harmonica. A Complete Instruction Book. (BRM29894)

MacDowell, Edward. Sea Pieces, opus 55. For piano in bar over bar format. (BRM12830)

Mancini, Henri.

“Moon River,” for piano. Braille score in bar over bar format. (BRM20896)

“Moon River,” for piano. Part of Bill Brown’s series: Piano by ear. Audiobook. (DBM02413)

“Moon River,” for saxophone. Part of Bill Brown’s series: Saxophone by ear. Audiobook. (DBM02727)

“Moon River,” for piano. In: Standards and Showtunes, compiled by Dick Fieldhouse. Large Print format. (LPM00779)

Redding, Otis. “Dock of the Bay.” Arranged for saxophone. Part of Bill Brown’s series: Saxophone by ear. Audiobook.(DBM02713)

Schubert, Franz.

“Auf dem Wasser zu singen,” for voice and piano in line by line and bar over bar formats. (BRM00632)

“Auf dem Wasser zu singen,” transcription for piano by Franz Liszt, in section by section format. (BRM15271)

“Auf dem Strom,” (On the River), in: Fifty-nine favorite songs from Franz Schubert’s Werke. Serie 20, Lieder und Gesänge. Vol. 5 vocal part, vol. 12 piano, vol. 13 waldhorn. (BRM 34885)

“Die Forelle,” Quintet, (The Trout), for piano, violin, viola, cello, double bass, D.667. In bar over bar and section by section formats. (BRM21211)

“Die Forelle,” Song, (The Trout), for voice and piano, in bar over bar and line by line formats. (BRM00633)

“Die Forelle,” Song, (The Trout), for voice and piano, in large print format. (LPM00840)

Simon and Garfunkel.

“Bridge over Troubled Water,”  for voice and piano in line by line and bar over bar formats. (BRM27038)

“Bridge over Troubled Water,” for piano. Part of Bill Brown’s series: Piano by ear. Audiobook. (DBM03373)

Smetana, Bedrich. The Moldau. Orchestral excerpt, alto flute part only, in The Modern Flutist. Single line format. (BRM32593)

“Wade in the Water.” in: The Spirituals of Harry T. Burleigh for high voice. (BRM28522)

Rain and Storm

Beethoven, Ludwig van. Symphony no. 6, “Pastoral,” movement IV (Gewitter, Sturm). Braille score in open score format. (BRM35201)

Brown, Nacio Herb and Arthur Freed. “Singing in the Rain,” arranged for piano. Part of Bill Brown’s series: Piano by ear. Audiobook. (DBM03899)

David, Hal and Burt Bacharach.

“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” arranged for piano. In: 50 Popular Big Note Piano Teaching Pieces, book 1, edited by John Brimhall. In bar over bar and line by line formats. (BRM25428)

“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” for piano. In: Love and Blues Songs. In large print format. (LPM00377)

Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” for ukulele. In: The Daily Ukulele: 365 Songs for Better Living, volume 9. (BRM35979)

Miranda, Lin Manuel Miranda. “Hurricane,” from Hamilton. Vocal score and piano score in line by line and bar over bar formats. (BRM36785)

Vivaldi, Antonio. Last movement of Concerto No. 2 in G minor, op. 8, RV 315, “L’estate” (Summer), arranged for piano in bar over bar format.  (BRM35873)

Voice of the Storm, Recorded in the Rain, Thunder, Wind and Tempest, compiled by Emory Cook. Smithsonian Folkways Archival. Audiobook. (DBM04164)

Fountains and Jets d’eau

Cahn, Sammy. Three Coins in the Fountain. For voice and piano. In line by line and bar over bar formats. (BRM33854)

Debussy, Claude. “Le jet d’eau,” in: 43 Songs for voice and piano. Based on Charles Baudelaire’s poem. (BRM28360)

Handel, George Frideric. Water Music. Arranged for organ in bar over bar format. (BRM02519)

Suite from Water Music, arranged for piano in bar by bar format. (BRM01916)

Theme from Water Music, arranged for piano. Part of Bill Brown’s series: Piano by ear. Audiobook. (DBM03536)

Liszt, Franz. Années de pèlerinage, 1ère année. “Au bord d’une source.” For piano in bar over bar format. (BRM36322)

Années de pèlerinage, 3e année. “Les jeux d’eau à la Villa d’Este.” For piano in bar over bar format. (BRM36169)

Ravel, Maurice. “Jeux d’eau,” (The Fountain). For piano in bar over bar format. (BRM00383)

Contact Us for More

If you are new to BARD, or if you need some assistance, you may like to consult this link: Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) and BARD Access. All of the materials listed above are also available via mail.  To borrow hard copies of braille music or talking books on digital cartridge, and to find additional music books, please call us at 1-800-424-8567 (choose option 2), or e-mail us at [email protected].

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