A Sweet Briar College Learning Resource
MUSIC and WATER
Professor Jonathan Green
Water has had surprising prominence in the musical world. It has served as a tool, as inspiration, and even as a performing venue.
Water as a Musical Tool
Water Drums exist in various cultures. The native populations of the Americas constructed a drum within a drum, with the inner instrument being filled with various amounts of water to affect the timbre of the sound. In some areas in Africa and New Guinea, hollow gourds were placed in larger vessels and struck.
Water Gong is the name attached to a modern use of traditional gongs and tam-tams. the instrument was struck and then lowered into a tub of water which lowered the pitch. Likewise, it could be struck while suspended in water, and then removed to raise the pitch.
Water has served composers as musical inspiration for a number of reasons: as the backdrop for opera and musical theater, as an image to be represented in musical sound, as a source of natural sound to be imitated in music, and as a cultural icon.
Musical Theater and Opera connected to Water
Musical Imagery of Water
Music that Imitates the Sounds of Water
Water as Cultural Icon in Music
Water as Musical Venue
Throughout history, composers have been asked to write music to be "played upon the water." Venetian musicians composed much brass music for barges.
The most celebrated piece of such music was composed in England, by Handel, for a 1717 party for George I upon the Thames.
H20 - The Mystery, Art, and Science of Water
Chris Witcombe and Sang Hwang
Sweet Briar College