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  • You might offer this person a few private coaching sessions focusing on his or her diction. The purpose of this would not be to alter the way the person speaks, but to help the person blend with his or her fellow choristers. I'm sure that you could approach this person in a spirit of friendly helpfulness that would not be interpreted as critical of his or her normal speech. Blend, of course, is a fundamental necessity for good choral sound. With this in mind, and with assurances that this is a gracious and helpful opportunity, the person should want to take advantage of it. Who knows, the person him or herself might be aware of this and not know what to do about it.
  • doneill
    Posts: 203
    Yes, private diction lessons would be constructive. Also, most English-speaking choir members hardly have great diction, so she should know she isn't a minority here. If you ever do things in Latin or Spanish, she could probably model it better than anybody else, so you could take advantage of that. English is challenging for non-native speakers, because it is terribly inconsistent. I once worked with a terrific grade-school girl who was a fine musician and very smart. Her Latin and Spanish diction was flawless, but she had to be coached to let go of her rolled r's in English psalm singing. She can do it - it will just take some time and good instruction.
  • Thank you both! I've only noticed it when we sing in English, so I'm thinking if we sing in Latin it won't be a problem.
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,864
    I once sang in a schola with a Japanese fellow, who sang heavily-umlauted U vowels. I just figured he'd been listening to a lot of early-music, French-Latin recordings. But I finally felt compelled to bring it to the attention of the director, who said, "He can't help it; he's Japanese." I said, "Oh? The person who taught me to sing Italian U was named Noriko Fujii."

    Now, that only speaks to the possibilities, not the pastoral practice of dealing with volunteers. I'd be inclined to work on diction in general, without singling this singer out. If you do Latin, that rolled r might even be praiseworthy. Surely your choristers have other diction issues. Work on them all, in a positive manner, and he may come around.
  • That's a good idea, Jeffrey. If I worked on it with everyone, I wouldn't risk making this person feel bad. I have some kids in the schola as well and they also need some help with diction sometimes, so it would be beneficial to work on it with everyone.
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,481
    I have similar problems b/c I'm in a church with various ethnicities. I just work with sections and try to be conscious of the vowel sounds in generalworking on a specific sound or tone, as Jeffrey mentioned. Occasionally, once someone has been with me for a while, I might single a person out. If it is done with a good nature and with love, people know you mean well and are happy for the help.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,089
    I regularly hear a wonderful 'Ag-nus De-i, Kvee tol-lees' from the Polish people in my choir. To be honest, I've learnt to live with it. Compared to things like 'Arf Ather, who art in heaven' from the native English speakers, it doesn't bother me.
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  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,193
    I have discovered, while teaching Polish seminarians and at the same time working in a Polish-American parish where I was required to learn how to properly pronounce the language for the Polish Masses, that it is far easier to figure out ways to teach those whose primary language is something other than English if you learn the vagaries of pronunciation in their language first.

    For example, in Polish there is no vocalized "th", as in "the". It always comes out as a soft "d", because that's the way they've learned how to deal with a sound that doesn't exist in their own language.

    What I have done with the seminarians is take them through the rudiments of consonant formations common to both languages first, so that they can get used to the idea of physically sensing what is going on inside their mouths and throats when they make certain sounds. For example, we deal with the hard "k" sound for the letter "c" (which in Polish is pronounced other ways), then the hard "g" sound (with it's slight shadow vowel, which I present as either "ih" or "uh") which they tend to "swallow" so it becomes rather gutteral. After they've started listening to the sounds and relating them to the sensations in the mouth and throat, I move onto the consonants and vowels that are not common to their language.

    Also, try using a hand mirror so that the singer can watch their own mouth.

    Salieri - try giving them a phonetic spelling of the word. When I worked at a Polish parish I quickly discovered that they always pronounce the "g" hard regardless the vowel that follows, because this is the only way a "g" is pronounced in the Polish language. I had to live with a hard "g" in "Asperges" and at the time I resigned myself to it. But as I write this, I realized that if I spelled it out for them as "an jus" (in two syllables), they would naturally pronounce it correctly (as nonsense words) because the Polish eye sees a "j" and pronounces it as an English "y".


    Meanwhile, keep your stick on the ice. We're all in this together.
  • All this is a very good commentary on how Latin has always been pronounced since the evaporation of the western Roman imperium. Exactly as one's own language. We have broached this matter before elsewhere, but this makes it rather a relevant subject. Pronouncing Latin as if it were Italian is a highly artificial convention. And, why Italian? Because Italians in the Vatican said to? Because it is spoken in Italy, the land of the erstwhile Romans? But Italian doesn't sound like Latin any more than Polish does! In fact, Polish (and German [and English]) Ag-nus is quite more like Latin than Italian An-yus!

    Further, if all of 'us' had not been carefully taught to say 'an-yus' because that is 'eccelesiatical Latin', we, too, as Anglophones, would very naturally say 'ag-nus', as did Cicero and Vergil, et al., and as is yet done in British academia.

    In fact (tongue only half in cheek), you might consider letting your unique Polish commnunity sing Latin their way, taking comfort in the fact that there is far more historical precedent for doing that than making Italian out of it. As for the rest of us, we Italianise it because in the popular mind that is Latin. Singing Latin as Latin (or pre-vowel shift English) in a Taverner motet would be highly distracting and perceived as ignorant and 'unmusical', if not as downright ugly.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,674
    Will never forget the wonderful visiting Asian singer doing "The Holy City." You guessed it. "Jelusarem, Jelusarem, rift up ...."
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  • Yes, and I suppose everyone knows about how the Nipponese sing the 'Arrerura chorus'.
    Actually, there is a Nipponese Bach society who sing Bach better than the Germans, and do so with an impeccable German accent! If one didn't know better one would doubtless think that he were listening to the very finest of German choirs and orchestras. Bach Society Japan, I believe it is. They are superb!
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