Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Strategies for memorization of the psalms

We have just returned from a 7100 km book tour by car - really! Over the past month I have presented the ideas in the book, Seeing the Psalter, to high-school students, an adult education group, Hebrew professors, musicians, friends, and family. One comment on the book from the adult education group was - "this is the way that the Digital Humanities should be done". And we are about to go on another tour, this time to England. I will be presenting the book in the June 17th conference on Digital Media and Sacred Text at the Open University in London. I will also attend the SBL International conference in St Andrew's (after 10 days of touring Scotland - and hopefully a little golf on one of those remote links).

I continue to consider strategies for memorization of such a large corpus as the Psalms.  The first strategy is a series of posts which I have scheduled every two weeks or so. There are five posts so far. The next 5 are scheduled and the remaining 5 are drafted. They concern a first strategy - remembering and recognizing the first phrase of the Psalm after the inscription. I am considering at least 3 additional strategies: framing, themes and stories, and of course singing.

Framing is the focus of the book, Seeing the Psalter. As an easy example, the first time cymbals occurs as a repeated word in a psalm is Psalm 150. (And that's the only time it appears). Cymbal - tseltsel (צלצל) is an onomatopoeic word - it sounds like what it names.

הַלְלוּהוּ בְצִלְצְלֵי שָׁמַע
הַלְלוּהוּ בְּצִלְצְלֵי תְרוּעָה
Praise him on cymbals to be heard
Praise him on cymbals of jubilation

Themes and stories - that's complex. I have indexed over 80 themes in the book. And the coherence of the story in the Psalter will surprise those who think it is just a collection of poems. The frames and sequence are abundantly clear to the close reader.

I am still perplexed at how to approach the presentation of the music in the language of the people. While there are superb examples on the web with performers such as Chanticleer and Esther Lamandier and others, they are all in Hebrew. And the published and unpublished material of Suzanne Haik-Vantoura is in a non-standard musical notation in French and Hebrew. There is no underlay of the French words. It is possible with a close translation such as is in Seeing the Psalter, to do an underlay of the English words to the reconstructed ancient melody.  Here is Psalm 1 as an example.  But what I really need is a database rendition of these songs and an XML export, import feature to a printable and index-capable word processor - even one that can handle music. The reason for such a mechanism is that decisions made (on formatting, interpretation, underlay, etc) in earlier psalms may have to be changed when additional information becomes available from later psalms. (I know that music XML exists, but it is incomplete where I have seen it used.)

I hope to see more of these ideas make it into the memorization series of posts, without overlapping what I have already published and presented concerning the raw data, the poetry, election, and the words and their patterns, that are in the book.

I recommend buying the book of course, not, however, for my sake, but for the joy that the psalms create in the one who mutters and studies them.