Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The process for creating a full musical score for the psalms

I am readying the production line for the next project: creating an English underlay for the Hebrew melodies of the Psalms implicit in the te'amim. This is the process:

First, I need to see several examples before I quite know how to approach even any one psalm. So I produce several drafts of several psalms based on the Electronic edition of the Westminster Leningrad codex. I can vary the mode of the draft for each psalm and the number of beats in a bar using the computer. I have completed now about 20 drafts and I have and will likely vary the mode depending on the nature of the psalm - What is the nature of a psalm? you ask. Good question.

Once I produce and modify the draft, I am finished with what the computer generation can do for me. I then look at the transcription for errors and also to fix things that may differ from the Aleppo codex. (Example here.) I will not be fixing the source data and I will not be retrofitting English underlay in the database. I will compare my decisions with what Suzanne Haik Vantoura decided for mode and pulse. I am not bound either by her decisions or by her favorite edition (Letteris). I have now become as used to the more ancient witnesses as I became of her first interpretations.  And I do not have either her training or her experience in manual transcription - so I may change my mind several times.

I am curious again about syllable counts - these are equivalent to the number of beats in the whole psalm and there may be some interesting or even surprising results. (My results are now quite accurate and my trace produces gematria as well as syllables and word counts ... but beware distractions). To remind you, the modes available are these and I may experiment with a few more.

Here is a little of what I have done so far (very preliminary) with modes numbered 1 to 4 left to right.
Psalm  SHV
My mode Rationale
11 default E-1 seems to fit OK
21 should match 1 since the psalms are a pair. Psalm 2 could be rhythmic with timpani or equivalent
31 seems to fit OK
44 raised 4th, and 12 - E major psalmist is getting more confident. SHV uses the pronounced chromatic mode but only for one phrase - 
52 psalmist is nearly over-confident
61 appropriately penitential
74 fits the anguish of this psalm
82 fits the joy of this psalm - how will we compare psalm 144?
9-103, 1, 4 3 first acrostic - again SHV varies the mode within each poem

I wonder if the strings could be tuned in the middle of a psalm?

After making a preliminary mode decision, I will work out an underlay for the English, trying as best I can to put the emphasis and word painting of the Hebrew on corresponding notes in the English. I just discovered how to add notes to the measure easily - nice feature. Must learn these features now so I don't change the style too much half way through the project. I then assign voices to cantor(s) and chorus (male and female and tutti).

Then (or earlier) I send the score to my consulting composer and arranger for instrumental options, accompaniments, critical feedback on vocal line, revoicing, movement of ornaments, mode alternatives and so on. I want us to guess as well as we can at the character of the word painting and see what styles emerge for this body of music that we do not know. We are recreating what may have been sung in temple or synagogue 2000 years ago (without a tape recorder - to reference another archaic device).