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Usage in history::Refrain

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Refrain::music    Chorus::which    Verse::refrains    Section::popular    Dynamics::often    Ballad::bonny

Usage in history Renaissance period in music: Thomas Morley (Ballett ca.1595): "My bonny lass she smileth." Fa la la refrain in bar five.

In music, a refrain has two parts: the lyrics of the song, and the melody. Sometimes refrains vary their words slightly when repeated; recognisability is given to the refrain by the fact that it is always sung to the same tune, and the rhymes, if present, are preserved despite the variations of the words. Such a refrain is featured in "The Star-Spangled Banner," which contains a refrain which is introduced by a different phrase in each verse, but which always ends:

O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

A similar refrain is found in the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," which affirms in successive verses that "Our God," or "His Truth," is "marching on."

Refrains usually, but not always, come at the end of the verse. Some songs, especially ballads, incorporate refrains into each verse. For example, one version of the traditional ballad "The Cruel Sister" includes a refrain mid-verse:

There lived a lady by the North Sea shore,
Lay the bent to the bonny broom
Two daughters were the babes she bore.
Fa la la la la la la la la.
As one grew bright as is the sun,
Lay the bent to the bonny broom
So coal black grew the other one.
Fa la la la la la la la.
. . .

(Note: the refrain of 'Lay the Bent to the Bonny Broom' is not traditionally associated with the ballad of The Cruel Sister (Child #10). This was the work of 'pop-folk' group Pentangle on their 1970 LP 'Cruel Sister' which has subsequently been picked up by many folk singers as being traditional. Both the melody and the refrain come from the ballad known as Riddles Wisely Expounded (Child #1).{{ safesubst:#invoke:Unsubst||date=__DATE__ |$B= {{#invoke:Category handler|main}}{{#invoke:Category handler|main}}[citation needed] }})

Here, the refrain is syntactically independent of the narrative poem in the song, and has no obvious relationship to its subject, and indeed little inherent meaning at all. The device can also convey material which relates to the subject of the poem. Such a refrain is found in Dante Gabriel Rossetti's "Troy Town":<ref>Poems of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, inc. "Troy Town" at the Wayback Machine (archived February 25, 2004)</ref>

Heavenborn Helen, Sparta's queen,
O Troy Town!
Had two breasts of heavenly sheen,
The sun and moon of the heart's desire:
All Love's lordship lay between,
A sheen on the breasts I Love.
O Troy's down,
Tall Troy's on fire!
. . .

Phrases of apparent nonsense in refrains (Lay the bent to the bonny broom?), and solfege syllables such as fa la la, familiar from the Christmas carol "Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly", have given rise to much speculation. Some believe that the traditional refrain Hob a derry down O encountered in some English folksongs is in fact an ancient Celtic phrase meaning "dance around the oak tree." These suggestions remain controversial.


Refrain sections
Intro  Usage in history   In popular music    Arranger's chorus    Shout chorus    See also    References   

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