Thursday, September 13, 2012

The process of learning the te'amim

I have now transcribed seven psalms. It is too early to say what the patterns are but some stand out (see below). The tunes are ear-worms. Once in your head, they repeat - I found myself singing them as I planted  kale this morning.

These are the pdf's available so far from me - in Hebrew Psalm 123, 4120150. In English 1, 4.

These are in an evolving state - each one manually constructed as I decide how they might be best designed. I sang Psalm 1 at lunch for a former choirmaster of mine (now aged 95). He was polite - a bit intrigued I expect.

This is my process:
1. compare the Letteris edition of the Hebrew text to available text in other online editions.
2. create an edition with corrections - convert to extended html and insert / delete / correct the text to conform to Letteris (or whatever other source might be uncovered?).
3. transcribe (see cheat sheet here).
4. copy corrected text from database to music program (Musescore - free).
5. check this against an existing performance if available - otherwise check by hand and by sight and by sound. (I have Vantoura's book on inter-library-loan-request - Amazon refused my order! If anyone has a copy they don't want, leave me a comment - maybe we can come to a deal.)

I would also like to put together a program that would produce XML from the text so that standards for musical presentation could be established and the scores produced with automation as changes and corrections accumulate.

I hope to become able to sing the Hebrew at sight. It is possible, but it will take quite a bit more memorization and practice --- maybe after 20 or 30 transcriptions.

The default mode is E minor. The mid verse resting point (atnach) an A, sub-dominant.  One frequently finds a rising fifth and a dominant to tonic full close at the end of each verse. 2525 full closes, verse by verse... this would not make for very interesting music.  But the music I have heard performed (Esther Lamandier, Chanticler, and from colleagues of Suzanne Haik Vantoura - lots on u-tube - see The Music of the Bible Revealed) has been uniformly of a very high quality - and definitely interesting / striking / and beautiful.  Nevertheless, performance is a personal and subjective process, and textual criticism is a detailed work -to 'prove' that the score we have is ... um ... accurate (maybe). (The te'amim of the Aleppo codex are readable - e.g. here.)

I have marked some of the common patterns I have seen so far on this image of Psalm 3.
1 the rest mid-verse on the sub dominant A - atnach
2 an unusual cadence, effectively c-major after an a-minor motif
3 a common combination of two ornaments - geresh+revia. How often does this occur in the image? Look for it.
4 a full close (cadence) in E.

I do not see all the 'rules' clearly. Eventually, placement of an ornament over a syllable or to its left or right may be more evident to me. There is no control on the copying process once the music is lost. There is no redundancy in the system.  So how does one judge the result? Also this does not mean that David 'composed' the Psalter - what it testifies to is a liturgical practice with many potential contributors. As I have written from my close reading of the Psalter, it seems likely that the choir got to write the final liturgical history. That deserves a smiley.

Anyone interested in this project? My aim is to produce a singable text in English for the ordinary choir and congregation -  Musicians - accompaniment? Orchestration? Musicology? Textual criticism? Automation? Lots of skills required. Imagining an ancient practice - and learning the Psalms at the same time. (You can link to an intro from NPR as noted from the Oxford Psalms conference here.)

I have annotated a possible theology of a psalm given the music of Psalm 4 here.

Online resources, Wheeler, John. The Accentuation of Psalm 2:7: A Comparative Study.
Esther Lamandier, Genesis 1,


These works are directly relevant
1.       Vantoura, Suzanne Haik-. 1976. The Music of the Bible Revealed: The Deciphering of a Millenary
2.       Wheeler, John. Paper 2005. The “Tiberian Accents” as Analyzed by the Masoretes and by Suzanne Haik-Vantoura. 
Online articles ignoring or supporting Haik-Vantoura:
3.       The Music of the Bible Revealed,, interpretation of the te’amim.
4.       Emanuel Rubin, Rhythmic and Structural Aspects of the Masoretic Cantillation of the Pentateuch[1] (no mention)
Resinging the Temple Psalmody, David C. Mitchell[2] (brief summary)