Leap Year

by John Riggio

In the tradition of our "sounds" series, we present "Leap Year." (Our "sounds" series are pieces that we have published that essentially combine vocal parts, usually in a manner that builds and unbuilds. Each part is sung over and over by the same group throughout the piece following a predetermined pattern or legend. Examples of this are "Christmas Sounds" from Music K-8, Vol. 2, No. 2, and "Friendly Sounds" from Vol. 11, No. 5.) "Leap Year" has four vocal parts, and where we might normally make extra parts optional, the sparse nature of this song (at least until the full band comes in) makes them rather necessary to achieve its sound. Plus, they sound spiffy when they're all in together!

This is an ideal piece to work on vocal quality, as each part is featured and exposed at different points. On the recording, it is sung ten times through. If you want to do it the way we have, you'll need to follow the legend at the bottom of page 35 to know when each part comes in and when it stops. While the recording is wonderful and we suggest its use for the best results, you could play this piece on piano or with your own instrumental rock group. In that case, you can adapt the form in any way you like.

Here is an idea that might be fun if your school has a stage with lighting. Start with the stage dark, or maybe just have a black light or two for a little illumination. Have a spotlight come on to highlight each group of singers upon their entrance (which means you'll need four spotlights). When a group stops singing, their spotlight goes out. When the band comes in the sixth time through, have colorful gel lights come on and strobe on and off, or if possible move about the stage. When everyone sings "Leap year" at measure 9, all spotlights and gels come on.

Topically, "Leap Year" is another song that will work well across the curriculum. Especially if your school is making note of the occurrence of leap years when they come around, you can have this piece at the ready to help with the celebration.

Here are some leap year "factoids":

  • A leap year is a year that has 366 days in it instead of the usual 365 days.
  • We call that additional 366th day Leap Day, and it occurs on February 29th.
  • A year is a leap year if it is divisible by 4, and must also be divisible by 400 if it is a centurial year. The year 2000 was a leap year, but 1900 was not.
  • The reason we have leap years is to keep our calendar in sync with the actual position of the earth around the sun. Our standard year is 365 days, but the actual time it takes the earth to make one complete orbit around the sun is 365.242 days. Having leap years helps to adjust for that extra .242 days we're missing in our year. This keeps the seasons from slowly drifting, which would happen by having a 365 day year all the time.

Note: The pronunciation of "February" on the recording is with a "yoo" sound on the second syllable. This is technically acceptable, though the first choice is usually different, using the "r" and a schwa sound. Our version is easier to sing, we think.

Text is taken from Music K-8 magazine.