Repetition in Song
Updated: Sep 16, 2020
"The Waters of March" by Antônio Carlos Jobim: I absolutely love this song. Jobim’s lyric feels almost stream-of-consciousness, as if he is just listing any random thing that happens to catch his eye. The images are fast and fleeting, and if there is any meaning to be gleaned, it is building up slowly in the sediment of this river of imagery. The melody consists primarily of these repetitive falling figures that underscore the repetition in the lyric. Over and over, we hear “it’s the ___, it’s the ___” which is fine given how charmingly the blanks are filled. What passes for a chorus floats by in just a single line, over the same repetitive melodic figure we’ve heard dozens of times before; it would be easy to miss save for the fact that the lyrical pattern finally breaks here; instead of another “it’s the ___” we get this lovely line:
“And the riverbank sings of the waters of March.”
And just like that, the trance breaks and all those random images coalesce around this central idea of hibernation/waiting for spring. It’s such a sly and lovely trick and Jobim pulls it off perfectly.
My favorite moment in the song also relies on a repetition:
“It’s the mud. It’s the mud.”
This repeated line always struck me as the strange soul of this song. I especially love it when a performer sings those lines as rhythmic triplets, thereby emphasizing the feeling of stuck-ness as we wait for the waters of March to finally set us free.