An Extensive Encyclopedic Music Dictionary

An Extensive
Traditional and Folk Music
Encyclopedic Dictionary

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(Section O)


O Lochlainn, Colm (1892-?) Irish collector and performer, author of "Irish Street Ballads" and "More Irish Street Ballads".

O’Carolan, Turlough see Carolan, Turlough

O’Neill, Francis (1849-?) police chief of Chicago in the early 1900s. He was a fan of Irish fiddle tunes and made a huge collection of them, published as "O’Neill’s Music of Ireland". It’s still available today Oak Publications, and folkies refer to it as simply "O’Neill’s". He is also the author of several books on Irish folk music and musicians.

Oak Publications a series of softcover and hardcover books covering just about every topic in American and British folk music. See also Asch, Moses and Silber, Irwin.

Obbligato-Obbligato (Italian: obligatory) is often used virtually as a noun in English, in spite of its derivation. It is used to indicate an additional instrumental part that cannot be omitted, particularly when a solo instrument adds an accompanying melody in some baroque vocal forms. There is, for example, a well known violin obbligato to the mezzo-soprano aria Laudamus te, in the B minor Mass of Bach.

oblique-motion. a type of voice-leading in which one voice moves against another that is stationary, or repeats.

Oboe-The oboe is a double-reed instrument, an important part of the woodwind section of the modern orchestra. The mechanism of its keys underwent considerable development in the 19th century. In earlier times it formed an important part of the outdoor military band, but the Western symphony orchestra normally uses a pair of instruments. The oboe d'amore is the alto of the oboe family, used in the baroque period, and the tenor is found in the cor anglais or, in the mid-18th century, in the oboe da caccia. The tone of the instrument, much affected by different methods of cutting the reeds, can impart a characteristic sound to a whole orchestra.

ocarina an egg-shaped relative of the whistle. The larger body gives it a slightly mellower tone. It tends to be sold more as a toy. 2. A small and very simple wind instrument which is shaped like a sweet potato and is usually shaped like a sweet potato and usally made of terra cotta, with finger holes and a mouthpiece. The tones it produces are soft and hollow.

Ochs, Phil (1940-1976) a singer-songwriter who specialised in writing topical songs in the 60s that were clever, occasionally acidic, and nearly always singable. His non-protest songs were finely crafted and very inventive. Best-known songs: "I Ain’t Marching Anymore", "Draft Dodger Rag", "Here’s to the State of Mississippi", "Santo Domingo", "Changes", "There But For Fortune", "Cops of the World", "When I’m Gone" and "Flower Lady". Sadly, he took his own life in April, 1976, depriving the folk world of one of its very best talents.

octatonic scale. a scale having eight pcs. The most commonly known octatonic scale is the alternating-octatonic, or diminished-octatonic. This scale alternates semitones and tones, as in F#, G, A, A#, B#, C#, D#, E#, F#. There are two alternating-octatonic modes. One begins with a semitone, the other with a whole-tone. All the triads built in this scale are diminished.

octave equivalence if a note is one octave from another, it’s regarded as a duplication for the purposes of chord or scale theory. For instance, the pentatonic scale C D E G A can also include the octave note (C D E G A C) without disturbing the "penta" definition. The octave, with its frequency ratio of 2:1, is said to be the easiest interval to recognize, but the equivalence of the octaves is as much psychoacoustic as it is theoretical. Diana Deutsch, in her "Psychology of Music", pointed out that octave equivalence "appears to be a function of musical training". She also noted that listeners in psychoacoustic tests picked intervals slightly sharper than the octave as the "best octave". The common wisdom that we’re good at detecting doublings (octaves) or half-agains ( fifths) seems to be open to question.

octave if one note is exactly half or twice the pitch of another, you have an octave. In between the two (counting inclusively) will be eight notes, the familiar major scale, so the term can refer to either the interval of two notes, or all the included notes. There’s an oddity - when you get to the octave note, it has the same name as the note you started from (see octave equivalence), which often makes it difficult to explain to the non- paper-trained how it’s the same note, only different. There are systems for octave notation, such as using apostrophes and upper/lower case - C c c’ - or by adding numbers - C3, C4 - but they’ve never caught on in folk music. The beginner just has to bear with it until the meaning percolates in.

octave notation there are a number of different systems using apostrophes, or sub/superscripts, but they’re not used much in folk. In fact, considering the number of confusing different notations used throughout books about music, it’s a wonder anyone uses them at all. However, a system widely used in tutorial books is shown below, with c’ representing middle C: C1 C c c’ c" c"" c""" The above is a European system (Helmholtz); the American system uses octave numbering for seven octaves, with C4 representing middle C.

octave stretching see perfect pitch.

Octave-The octave is an interval of an eighth, as for example from the note C to C or D to D. The first note can have a sharp or flat providing the last note has the corresponding sharp or flat (i. e. C sharp to C sharp). 2. two frequencies, or pitches, in the ratio of 2:1.

octave-displacement. the displacement of tones into octave registers that are not their referent position.

Octet-An octet is a composition for eight performers.

ode a lengthy poem, usually formal in style, with either a public subject (commemorating a victory, say), or a private subject, in which case it would be intense and introspective.

Odetta (1930- ) born Odetta Holmes in Alabama, she made her mark in the 50s and 60s NYC folk revival with her enormously powerful voice and style. Her repertoire covered all types of songs, from blues to spirituals to the contemporary songs of people like Bob Dylan. She has appeared at the Newport Folk Festival and has made over a dozen albums.

offbeat often used synonymously and incorrectly with upbeat - see rhythm, backbeat. It refers to the weaker beats - for example, beats 2 and 4 in 4/4 time in folk and some pop music. In much pop and rock music, stress is put on these beats to create a unique rhythm.

Okun, Milt musical director for Peter, Paul & Mary; he has also recorded a number of albums of traditional music on labels such as Stinson.

Old Town School of Folk Music see Stracke, Win.

old-timey older rural music of the American south and mountain districts, usually played by a string band (some or all of guitars, fiddles, banjos, dulcimers, autoharps, etc.). Country music of the 20s and 30s might be called old-timey. The New Lost City Ramblers are among the better-known old-timey revival bands. It’s an imprecise term, as you might have noticed by the "y" on the end.

Ondes Martenot- The ondes Martenot, an electronic instrument invented by the French musician Maurice Martenot, produces single sounds by means of a keyboard that controls the frequencies from an oscillator. It has a wide range and offers the possibility of glissando. It became popular among French composers, including Milhaud, Honegger, Koechlin, Schmitt, Ibert, Jolivet, Messiaen and Boulez. Varèse also wrote for it, as he did for the less versatile electronic instrument, the theremin.

open in stringed instrument playing, an un fretted or un stopped string is said to be open. See also open tuning.

open mike the same as an open stage.

open sing see open stage.

open stage a singaround or jam session that’s held in a club, restaurant, etc. Anyone can play and/or sing in this night (or day) of guest sets. There are some beginners, but there is usually a lineup of dazzling virtuosos. Also, "open sing", even though there are lots of instruments, and hootenanny or "hoot night", though the latter is rarely used nowadays, and "open mike".

open tuning tuning a guitar (usually) to some other tuning than the usual E A D G B E (which is also known as Spanish tuning). Sometimes the notes of a major chord are used, with D A D F# A D (open D), C G C G C E (open C), and D G D G B D (open G) being popular. Open tuning permits rapid chord changes with a full, rich sound. It is usually necessary for bottleneck style guitar, at least if you want to sound like the country blues artists who popularized it. Sometimes the tuning is only part of a major chord, as in D A D G A D. See also modal tuning. These sound particularly good with a fingerpicking style, since the lowered bass strings have a deeper, richer sound and the treble strings still ring brightly. They also allow a drone similar to a dulcimer and often simplify the lefthand fingering for difficult passages. Sing Out! reports that Dick Gaughan uses the tuning D G D D A E for special effects. The disadvantage to open tunings is that overuse produces a sameness in all arrangements, aside from the guitarist’s difficulty in getting in and out of them. It also limits the possible keys. Other instruments use different tunings. There are many for the banjo and fiddle, for instance, although in these cases the purpose is usually to simplify a particular style of playing rather than to obtain the full, rich chords of guitar open tuning. Sometimes called slack tuning, although this term can also mean tuning an E A D G B E guitar down in pitch by a tone or more to give a richer bass; this tuning is common with the 12-string.


open-position. voicing where there is at least an octave between the soprano and tenor voices.

Opéra bouffe-Opéra bouffe is the French term for comic operetta of composers such as Offenbach in 19th century France.

Opera buffa-Opera buffa is Italian comic opera, particularly in the form it took in early 18th century Italy.

Opéra comique- French opéra comique originally purely comic and later more sentimental in mood, included spoken dialogue, interspersed with songs.

Opera seria-Opera seria was the form of Italian serious opera that held sway from the reforms of the early 18th century for a hundred years. It came to be governed by strict rules as to subject and structure, and underwent reform in the interests of greater realism in the second half of the 18th century with the composer Gluck.

Opera-An opera is a drama in which most of the actors sing all or most of their parts. The form developed at the end of the 16th century in Italy, from where it spread to other regions of Europe, although it never became a regular part of London musical life until the early 18th century. Internationally Italian opera has proved immensely important and popular, while opera in France underwent independent development in the later 17th century under the Italian-born composer Lully. The 19th century brought particular developments in German romantic opera and in the innovative music-dramas of Wagner. The word opera covers a wide variety of musico-dramatic forms, from the Orfeo of Monteverdi to The Threepenny Opera (Dreigroschenoper) of Kurt Weill and Berthold Brecht of 1928, derived from the English anti-heroic Beggar's Opera two centuries earlier.

Operetta-Operetta is light opera, a development largely of the 19th century, exemplified in the work of Offenbach in France and Johann Strauss the younger in Vienna.

opposite chord see parallel, sense 2.

Opus-Opus (= Latin: work) is generally used in the listing of a composer's works by opus numbers, usually abbreviated to Op. Since the Latin plural opera would lead to unnecessary confusion it is best avoided, although the alternative opuses remains an unsatisfactory substitute. Opus numbers are not always a guide to the date of composition or even to the date of publication.

oral tradition in general, the transmission of a culture without an assist from the printed page. It consists of songs and stories that detail the traits of the culture. Historical accuracy is generally less important than getting across the idea of what constitutes a particular people. In this lexicon, folk process tends to be used instead, since the topic is mostly folksong and how it finds its way around. There is always debate whether the audio recording process has frozen oral tradition and ruined the folk process, and the same things have been said about collectors and their publications. Still, folk songs do go their merry way, and even if some performers insist on exact reproductions of a recorded version, the better ones add their own stylings. From "The Ballad as Song" by Bronson, Bertrand: "Throughout history, folksong, in spite of continual contamination, has proven almost incorruptible..." See also communal origin, historical accuracy, song family.

oral transmission see oral tradition.

Oratorio-Oratorio has its origin in the musical performances used by the followers of St. Philip Neri, the Oratorians, a religious order founded in 1575, although it has a possible remoter origin in the liturgical drama of the Middle Ages. Forms of oratorio change, but it remains primarily a work in which religious texts often with a narrative content are set for performance by singers and instruments. The oratorio underwent various developments throughout Europe, with the 17th century composer Carissimi and his successors in Italy, Charpentier in France, and later with Telemann and others in Germany and, above all, Handel in the English oratorio of the early 18th century.

Orchestra-The orchestra, the dancing-place of the ancient Greek theatre, came, in the early 18th century, to have its modern meaning as a group of instrumental performers of varied number, although this meaning still met with objections at the time. The size and composition of the orchestra has differed from century to century, but during the course of the 17th century the string section developed as a five-part and later as a four-part section, with first and second violins, violas and cellos and double basses, the last two playing the same part, although the double basses would sound an octave lower. In the later 18th century it became usual to have in the orchestra an additional pair of French horns and a pair of oboes, doubling flute as necessary, with a bassoon doubling the bass. By the end of the 18th century a larger ensemble that included when necessary a pair of trumpets and drums was usual. In the 19th century clarinets, already used by Mozart and Haydn, became a regular part of the woodwind section, in addition to flutes, oboes and bassoons. The brass section came to include trombones, instruments earlier used for special purposes only, as well as trumpets, to be extended to instruments of lower range during the century. The 20th century has brought an extension of the percussion section. The number of players involved in a full symphony orchestra has grown very considerably, with over sixty string players, and a possible forty or more wind and percussion players. This compares with Mozart's Salzburg orchestra of 23 string players and a dozen or so wind-players and the orchestras of less prosperous princedoms, which might employ much smaller forces, a dozen or less string players and four or five wind players.

Orchestration- Orchestration is the art of arranging music for the orchestra or the way in which this is done.

ordered-set. 1. (set-theory, linear) a pc-set arranged in a linear order. 2. a set, normally a pc-set, that is arranged in an array. Note that an ordered-set by definition #2 may be arranged in a non-temporal dimension, e.g. an alphabetical pitch order (e.g. A#,B,C#,D), and, therefore, it is not the same as a linear-set (see ordering), although it is sometimes used this way by modern scholars. Also, an ordered-set is not necessarily a pitch-set, e.g. it may be a set of durational values, hence rhythm. Because of the confusion of the meanings, it is here recommended that the term linear-set be used for pcs.

ordering. (set-theory) a set placed into some logical order; e.g., the set played as D,B,G,F may be placed into different logical orderings: 1. alphabetically as B,D,F,G, 2. temporally as it is played, D,B,G,F, 3. tertially as G,B,D,F, or in normal-order as 0,3,6,8.

order-inversion. (set-theory, linear) a property of two given sets such that both contain the elements A and B; in one set A occurs before B (not necessarily consecutively), but in the other set, B comes before A.

order-number. (set-theory, linear) a number assigned to a pc in a linear-set to indicate its position in the series; e.g. in D,F,G, the pc D is order-number 0, the pc F is order-number 1 and G is order-number 2.

order-number-pitch-number-couple. (set-theory, linear) two numbers that identify a pitch class in a series. the first indicates the order, starting with zero, and the second indicates the directed-interval above the first pc of the prime set, e.g. c,d#,b,g would be (0,0) (1,3) (2,11) (3,7). in c,d#,b,g: (0,0)=c ((1,3)=d# (2,11)=b (3,7)=g.

Organ-The organ is a keyboard instrument in which the sound is produced by air passing through pipes of various size and construction to give a wide variety of pitches and timbres. The instrument has its probable Western origin in the Hellenistic period, with the water-organ of Alexandria. Varying in size and mechanical efficiency, the organ had by the later 17th century given rise to an important school of performance, leading directly to the achievement of Johann Sebastian Bach in the first half of the 18th century. Technical developments have taken place since then, giving still greater versatility to the king of instruments. 2. The organ is used occasionally in folk music, although its use obviously will be restricted by size. There are three main types of portable organs: the electric types (Hammond, etc.), the reed organ, and the synthesizer. The last is usually preferred because of its small size. It’s of interest that medieval portable organs in paintings had the bellows on one side and the keyboard on the other; the keyboard was at a right angle to the player’s chest. The only comfortable way to play was with two right-hand fingers; apparently this affected large organ design for some centuries - the black keys were often extended almost to the edge, making today’s fingering system difficult.

organgrinder see barrel organ.

organum only distantly related to organs. This is an old term for a type of early medieval harmony that favored parallel intervals, such as the fourth or fifth; see Gregorian chant. These are also favorite harmonies in folk music, but since parallel harmonies can drag if carried on too long, they’re generally used only on cadences. Organum in later medieval times became more adventuresome, and was the forerunner of independent polyphonic music - the harmony notes changed from simple parallels, which in effect produced another melody. In 1332, Pope John XXII (who also turns up under moldy figs) banned polyphony in church music, but decided to exempt organum. (He died two years later, and the ban must have been lifted.)

ornament 1. (n.) Any type of grace notes or other effects used to add interest to a melody. In some cases, the ornamentation defines the tune as belonging to a specific style - see Scots snap. Also called "decoration". 2. (v.) To add ornamentation to a melody.

Ostinato-Ostinato (Italian: obstinate) indicates a part that repeats the same rhythm or melodic element. The basso ostinato or ostinato bass occurs in the ground bass of baroque arias where a melody is set over a repeated bass pattern. Ostinato is used by the Bavarian composer Carl Orff in his instrumental teaching methods, where it may form a basis for improvisation by pupils. 2. a short, persistently repeated melodic phrase. Se also ground-bass.

oud (pron. "owd" or "ood") a member of the lute family from the Middle East. Being fretless, it’s capable of great expression, and has a powerful bass. Instrumentalist Bull, Sandy recorded some oud tracks on his albums in the mid-60s, which is probably its first appearance during the folk revival.

outlandish the older use of the word means "pertaining to the outlands". "The Outlandish Knight" (aka "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight", Child 4) came from far away, although there’s a certain ambiguity to the term in the context of this song. The word later came to mean bizarre.

outro the ending of a song or tune; the opposite of an intro.

outtake recorded material that was not used in an album, CD, etc. Sometimes the reason is that the performer(s) might feel that the quality isn’t right; in some cases the outtakes are just held for future use.

overblowing see whistle.

overdubbing see dubbing, multi-tracking.overlapping-voices. two adjacent voices move to a position in which the lower voice is higher than the previous note in the higher voice, or they move to a position where the higher voice is lower than the previous note in the lower voice.

overtone in general, a harmonic.overtone. any frequency sounding above the fundamental.

overtone-series. the order of overtones ascending from the fundamental.

Overture-The overture (= French: ouverture; German: Ouvertüre; Italian: sinfonia) is an introductory piece, often designed to initiate an opera or other dramatic work. The late 17th century French overture of Lully opens with a slow section in dotted (uneven) rhythm, followed by a fugal section, before the return of the slow opening. The Italian overture provides the origin of the symphony, with two fast movements framing a central slow movement. The word Ouvertüre or Ouverture is sometimes used to mean an orchestral suite, as in the four orchestral suites of Johann Sebastian Bach. In the 19th century the overture became also a possible independent composition, a concert movement, often with literary or geographical associations, or an occasional connotation. Early examples of these occur in Mendelssohn's Overture A Midsummer Night's Dream, originally intended as a concert overture, or in the programmatic overtures of Berlioz.