Wednesday, 22 January 2014

The Hebrew te'amim expressed in music with an English underlay

I have been thinking about this project for a year and a half. And I have now begun. I have some questions - as I had at the beginning of my last project. Consider the following draft of Psalm 3.  Please help me out with some comments, here or on Facebook or via Tweets.
  1. How should I handle the tetragrammeton?
  2. How will people read this. I note that the 8th notes and quarter notes are not to be sung at their rhythmic value but as plainsong (in this case). There will be some that are set rhythmically, like 114 to the precursor of Tonus Peregrinus. 
  3. I will be working with a composer. He will critique underlay and suggest accompaniment, mode, and other compositional things.
  4. Is punctuation necessary? In my translation, it is very minimal.
  5. Should I completely refrain from comments in the music (there are a couple below - e.g. on the lifting up of the head, and I sleep, I awake).
  6. This song has remarkable form - linking verse 1, the face of Absalom, to the Holy hill - that is remarkable from a theological point of view. Absalom as God's presence! [dependent on which edition or codex you look at - to be further analysed]
  7. Also note how 'arise' is painted, showing that the composer was aware of repeated words.
  8. Would one recommend a pause on the atnah? (As in traditional plainsong.)


  1. As someone who is (sadly) almost tone deaf I should not comment on the musical aspects, on the name of God it seems to me usually there are three criteria I think important:
    - the rendering should sound like a name
    - the rendering should not offend hearers
    - the rendering should be familiar and communicate who is intended

    Lord (and "Eternal") fails the first, Yahweh fails the second, Hashem fails the third (except for Jewish hearers), therefore by a small margin I still prefer Adonai (which is somewhat familiar to some Christians). But for your use is too many sylables. So it (for me) comes down to do you prefer to risk offending Jewish hearers or to have a "name" that is unfamiliar to Christian ones ("Hashem").

  2. Tim - thank you. I guess you are now near home after your sojourn in the Philippines. Your comment is well timed. I am working out what I should do based almost as you have suggested.

    For the draft output of my automated transcription, I am using adonai (everything in the draft transcription is lower case) and just allowing 2 syllables for the first note. For my translations into English for Christian liturgical use, I am using Yahweh which has the lovely property of being all vowels ee-aa-oo-eh when sung well. And it too fits the typical two syllable character of the underlay.

    For fun I have just transcribed Amos chapter 1 - and I recall that is your specialty - the PDF is here. I would be happy for any feedback especially if you can get a musical friend to sing it to you.

    It is the direct output of my automated routine. I have not even yet fully read it to see if the new data has uncovered any errors in my program. I had produced it just as your comment came in. It is also possible to copy the music XML to a site or program like Musescore or Sibelius or Finale that supports it.

    I am wondering just what the significance is of the supralineal accents that translate into ornaments. In Jonah, there is some suggestion that the character of the ornament highlights and connects similar parts of the overall presentation.

  3. This combination in Psalm 73:28 for example presents a special problem בַּאדֹנָ֣י יְהֹוִ֣ה

    I think I will use Adonai HaShem - (unless you have a better suggestion) but difficult to time from a programming point of view since I have to insert a special case. And who knows how many others there are...

  4. If adonay is usually rendered lord, why not "the lord HaShem"?

  5. Thanks Tim - I wasn't clear to meself here- my initial problem is with the Hebrew transcription where I substitute Adonai for the name but can't do this when Adon as a word appears in the same verse - I will deal with these as they occur. In English I don't have a problem since as you point out, Adon will be translated as Lord - so the Lord Yahweh will work fine. The draft transcriptions work quite well now. I wonder how many I will make available to the public. I had a conversation with Robert Holmstedt at Ancient Hebrew Grammar (his recent posts on the grammar of Esther in great detail). He is not convinced of the thesis that these marks are primarily music. My first forays into the English in detail seem workable at present - but I have too little information to judge until I have read at least 50 of the psalms in transcription. Will this cantorial method run out of colour or variety? We'll see.