A study in hearing & deciphering the minor second interval in a classic pop song.
Personal note: I danced with my younger brother to this song at my wedding. My mother had thought since my birth that it would be a really lovely song for her daughter to dance to at her wedding, so it was kind of a given. It was also one of the first songs I played after the birth of my own daughter.
Intro: Stevie Wonder has had a tremendous career, spanning five decades. He was signed to Motown Records at age 11 as “Little Stevie Wonder” and released his debut album in 1962 at the age of 12 years old. “Isn’t She Lovely?” appears on the album Songs in the Key of Life, which won four Grammys in 1977, including Album of the Year, and is listed on the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry. Wonder has won 25 Grammys overall, more than any male solo artist in history, and an additional Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in 1996, as well as a Polar Music Prize. He is in the Rock and Roll as well as Songwriters' Hall of Fame (and won the Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award from the Songwriters' Hall), was only the second winner of the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song awarded by the Library of Congress, received a Kennedy Center Honor, was designated a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government in 2010, was named a Messenger of Peace by the United Nations in 2009, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014.
Analysis: In the opening vocal melody of the song, which features no choruses and solely verses, Wonder postulates the title question, “Isn't she lovely?” Over the course of the two syllables of “isn't”, the melody moves up a minor second, returning to the first sung note on the word “she.” This same melodic motif appears at the start of each of the first four lines of the first verse, changing in the fifth and sixth lines, and returning in the seventh line. This eight-line melodic pattern continues for each of the two other verses of the song. The up-a-half-step-and-returning pattern is later echoed in other instruments, both in the strings and notably in the harmonica, which imitates the melody of the verses.
Considerations for Teaching: The subject matter of the song is a father's joy at the birth of his daughter, and contains no inappropriate language, therefore making it a proper selection for classroom listening.