Thursday, January 15, 2015

Reading 1000 pages alone

Joshua R. Jacobson, Chanting the Hebrew Bible, The Complete Guide to the Art of Cantillation is on my desk. Also there are a host of reference books open in various positions and a computer with 12 pages on the web open, a dozen other programs running including a remote link to my office computer a few kilometers away with more programs running. Such a state that when the computers get updated, it takes 5 to 10 minutes to recover where I was.

How will I read these 1000 pages alone with so many bookmarks being kept for me. Well maybe one at a time and maybe not. I am both impatient and grumpy, a resistant learner, I suppose.

When it comes to the music, it seems to me that there is both a preserving and a scattering of knowledge over the last 2000 or more years in the Jewish traditions of cantillation.

On the one hand, the text has been lovingly preserved and we are all grateful, but the music has been elaborated in all sorts of ways - and perhaps this is as it should be, for music is above all creative and an expression of beauty, though I think I have heard the odd cantor in a hurry at times.

Suzanne Haik-Vantoura's scheme was foreign to me when it was introduced to me in 2010 at the Oxford conference on the Psalms, but it had an immense appeal to me because of the inferences she had made based on the data she discovered. And they were the inferences of one who designs from a simple principle, like the four letters of the DNA alphabet. One could grasp immediately that learning was possible. And I heard the results. There is a scale, modal for the Psalms, Proverbs, and the speeches of Job, and a full octave scale (not exactly diatonic but familiar) for the remaining '21' books. You may remember I described it here and have explored it in many posts. Others have also written about it.
Here is the first set of marks, the scale for the prose books as deciphered by Suzanne Haik-Vantoura (SHV).
ב֧ ב֤ ב֣ ב֑ ב֖ ב֥ בֽ ב֛
These she sets to correspond (reading left to right) exactly to a tonic sol-fa scale with a raised fifth. C D E F, G# A B C. Notice how close the poetry scale is: D# E F# G A B C.
ב֤ ב֣ ב֑ ב֖ ב֥ בֽ ב֢
All these pitches are relative to the tonic, the third note of the prose scale and the second note of the poetry scale.
There it is in a very few words, the germ, the design document. Of course the names are foreign, and I haven't mentioned the ornaments (see the link and my next post). And the tonic, the second note of the modal scale or the third note of the prose scale, can be any note that is comfortable for the singer, and so on. The names are difficult to get into my head. I now have a few. If they were sung as part of a piece, one could remember them as one remembers language. And with SHV's scheme, one starts with the music. The names are not as important as the impact of the sound. And the sound accomplishes the disjunctive and conjunctive aspects of punctuation without one having to remember a 1000 rules. One can, in fact, probably derive the rules from the usage.

Breakfast anyone? It is food for the love of Scripture. In a period when the ear and the tone was known, perhaps as long ago as 700 BCE, it was taught by rote from the then known abstraction of the design. And there were variations, depending on how you tuned your lyre. Perhaps it was passed from generation to generation in this way for years. When the temple was destroyed the first time, and the song was no longer being taught in the temple schools, to preserve the sound, it was reduced to a set of little squiggles representing hand signals. This is a common way of documenting music in the ancient world before the advent of neumes in the late first millennium CE.

But the design document, the rationale behind the squiggles, has been lost, and now there are a myriad of aural interpretations. Torah manuscripts for chanting even today are written without vowels or music. The cantillation must be memorized. When the temple was destroyed again in 70 CE, the design disappeared and an oral tradition was forced upon the scattered community. The question is - did SHV uncover the original design or something close to it?

How can I get away from these 1000 pages? I'm through the punctuation bit. Now I have many pages of music to see - but it seems No written out examples from the text of the Bible. One good example would teach so much, or even one text with the dozens of settings. Instead I am faced with a host of fragments to integrate with libretto being the name of the sign to see if there is an overall principle. Ah - I've remembered there is a CD - I am going back to aural learning mode - yea! But the first of the 87 aural examples made me laugh - it has the underlay 'siluq' illustrating a few seconds of exercise. But there some examples that are real text sung - this will give me what I need since I can reduce them to music for comparison's sake. (It will also train my ear in Hebrew. Tov.)

And I did find one short example on paper (page 849) from Lamentations 3:1-6. It is a special melody but set with underlying text rather than a libretto consisting of the names of the signs. And I think I see a few verses of Esther. This will give me at least a few direct comparisons from Jacobson's hand which I can compare with examples from Vantoura (whom he mentions in the Bibliography but only there!). So what I will do, as HaShem has patience with me, is to construct examples based on the CD and compare the systems against the inferred design of Vantoura's that I have. It will take several posts - I think I already told you (and me) that.

This site is very good for the technical stuff. Let's take that as a given. My article referenced above is OK for SHV's scheme, and I have produced hundreds of examples and can produce any part of the Bible on a few minutes notice. But patience! Where is the germ of the music? My next post will have a summary table of sign and musical expression to support reading the text for 'meaning'. And let meaning be open-ended and shrewd, not superficial or demeaning. And let me, us, not be impatient and grumpy, resistant learners.