When the tonic is not the first degree of the scale, the relationship of note to note is quite different from what we take for granted when we sing a major or a minor scale (in or out of tune). We are so used to the tonic and the first degree being identified and we are so used to equal temperament that we think of learning notes in a rising or falling scale in sequence. So how do we learn a different tune?
I have now scanned most of Suzanne-Haik Vantoura's book (in obedience to Bayard - How to talk about books you haven't read) and am about ready to explore some of the details of the discovery process. One could easily be put off by the very conservative approach to historical criticism that is explicit in some of her conclusions about the origin of the music. I am equally unconvinced of the high praise that she elaborates about the music discovered. This may merely be a matter of style.
I am convinced and intrigued by her description of her process of discovery. This begins about page 200 (!) That's a lot of introductory material to get through. This section from pp 200 to 212 is delightful. She explores combinations of signs below the text and what they might possibly represent. She 'discovers' the tonic and then by frequency and positional analysis finds sub-dominant, dominant, and so on. Eventually the whole just seems to fall into place, each decision being confirmed by more and more experimentation.
I give her high praise for the process and the discovery. For I think she has discovered something of great beauty.
Enough - what are the signs saying? There are many that can be expressed with simple typing: forward slash / backslash \ and raised period forward slash - for this post: ./ She surmises that / and ./ are opposites, the / one note above the tonic, the ./ one note below. The ./ does not occur in the Psalms but is replaced by a little v or a combination of back and forward slashes \/
Where the silluq was a vertical line | these others are comprised of slanted lines (or slight curves) and can be represented without resorting to Unicode.
So / is F (or F#) depending on the mode. At last I have a way of remembering this sign. The confusion between / and \ has been one of the more difficult aspects of learning to read this notation for me. The back-slash, \ is G (or G#) - more on modes in a later post. The dot-forward-slash is identified as the seventh degree of the scale (D or D#) - one note below the tonic.
I think you can see that these signs could be made by hands - a kind of sign-language for early music. As noted previously, this is the practice of chironomy.
/ and \ also occur above the letters. What do they mean here? I would have thought by interval and got the result exactly backwards. These signs rather 'leave the word in the same direction' (p.234) - concentrate on that 'leave the word' and the resulting arrow-head --> so the backslash above the word is an appoggiatura of the interval of a second. The reverse arrow-head <-- shows that the forward slash above the word is an appoggiatura of a third.
Enough again - this section of the book is quite remarkable - and worth the price of wading through all the conclusions stated in advance.
/ below the text is called merka which SHV gives as 'extension'. I cannot confirm this gloss since the transcriptions are too variable and my Aramaic too limited
\ below the text is called tipha rendered as 'palm'.
./ below the text is called tevir rendered as 'broken'
I can see that the names are more obscure than I am able to research at this time... I thought I might explore the names of the 'notes' but it is too confused and all my dictionaries and even wikipedia are beyond helping me. So the te'amim, these marks of taste betray the slight madness of David noted in the inscription of Psalm 34 and its Hebrew verse 9. It might be enough for the king to send us away in our confusion.