I began to compose rounds because of a desire to have more sophisticated vocal experiences with friends who have had little musical training. Round singing is one of the many ways
that a relatively inexperienced group can entertain itself. I strive to create pieces with a good singable melody that are harmonically well thought out and satisfying to perform.
What is a round?
A round is a type of canon. A canon is a contrapuntal work in which two or more voices present the same melody in overlapping succession. If the successive entrances are in the same key as the first voice, it is called a canon at the unison. If the second voice presents the same melodic material but begins on a different note, it is called a canon at the interval distance of the melodies. A round is a canon at the unison.
What is a Catch?
During the seventeenth century a style of round singing became popular in which the participants were expected to sing as they heard the piece for the first time by "catching" a line while it was sung by the preceding singer. The term "catch singing" soon led to calling these pieces catches. Catches have certain stylistic traits. The emphasis is often more on the overall effect of the harmony and lyrics than on the melody. Many catches have frequent and oddly placed rests which allow certain words of each line to stick out. When all lines are heard together these words may form phrases. Since Catch clubs were largely male social institutions, the content of these phrases were at times satiric or even vulgar.
Many of these pieces are notated in the key in which they were composed rather than the optimal singing range. Feel free to transpose. Rounds tend to have moderately wide ranges. Don't be scared by a starting note that is a stretch. Judge the whole piece. Fair highest and lowest notes
for community singing are:
The comfortable singing range of men and women are rarely an octave apart, so a compromise on the most comfortable key for all must be made. Notes below comfortable range are often close to inaudible, while notes above are often audible but uncomfortable. Inexperienced singers may push the group to avoid higher notes, but you should be careful to determine which is worse: a periodic dropping out of sound when lower stretches are made, or the discomfort of individuals whose poorer tone quality may be masked by the group when higher stretches are made.
If you want to learn more about composing rounds, order my Book of Rounds, which includes a workshop on writing rounds as well as many of my original rounds.