Opinions on certain word divisions in English
  • We have been doing some experimenting with the way we are pronouncing words for the Vernacular Divine Office. There are pros and cons- making it easier to respects accents when its one way or the other, sometimes too much slurring of syllables makes the word sound really strange, but the music run smoother... I would like to know opinions...

    Here are some examples:
    O-IL or OIL likewise TO-IL or TOIL likewise SO-IL or SOIL
    DE-SI-RE or DE-SIRE likewise FI-RE or FIRE
    LI-ON or LION likewise ZI-ON or ZION
    LY-RE or LYRE
  • davido
    Posts: 695
    I would try to follow standard syllabification.
    There are several words on that list that are often spoken without one of the vowels. Used to be when the vowel was meant to be dropped, they were written that way with an apostrophe.

    Glo ri ous
    Sanc tu a ry
    De sire
    Mys ter y (alternative would need to be spelled mys t’ry)
    Li on
    Zi on
    Je ru sa lem
    Lyre (the “e” is silent)
    Vic to ry
    Pow er (or pow’r)
    Suf fer ing (alt. Should be spelled suf f’ring)

    Toward vs to ward is a regional dialect thing, no simple answer.

    Victorious is tough because the second “i” can be seen as a stand alone “i” or as a “j” glide.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,689
    I definitely support using apostrophes to mark elided non-terminal vowels. As for blessed: I prefer it being written as blest (or bless'd if one considers the words to be somewhat different) if it's being sung in one syllable, as that's one -ed that enough people may pronounce out of relative familiarity with it - it's not fully archaic.

    Basically, don't make it an unnecessary myst'ry for singers, whether choral or congregational. If you imagine everyone ought to know - your imagination is insufficient.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,144
    Dividing words into syllables is the property of a (spelling) dictionary, and not the prescription of how to sing the same words (especially in English chant). I often coach my students how to sing two syllable words as one syllable, a number of which are in your example above. This also is true for Latin and perhaps other languages where word division is more a grammatical tool than a “performance” tool. It’s akin to the difference between musical notation and musical performance. Often what’s on the paper is not what is to be its literal performance. I find that this subtlety is the property of artistry and common sense (taking dialect, inflection, rhythmic accent, etc.) into the equation and at times needs to override simple mechanics. Rule number one... text is king, and especially in the delivery.

    However, I never alter the syllabification of common word division as straying from grammatical rules and customs can cause confusion. (I have seen bastardized divisions in Latin that aim to reflect performance norms rather than grammatical conventions. As Captain Hook says, “bad form!”.) In my mind the dictionary is the rule and the artist is the interpreter. In other words, I don’t change the way a word is spelled but train my singers how to fluidly perform what is on the page. (Usually I have them underline the two syllable word to be sung as a single, but sometimes an artistic decision dictates the use of two syllables after all).

    That all being said, a vast amount of music (hymns, for example) are composed with archaic English pronunciation locking syllables to notes (as Liam mentions above).

    Another question in my mind is, are the Office hymn texts well suited to the music employed? I only ask this because some of the modern translations are horrendously unpoetic and laughably baneful and the music arrangement can also be terrible too.
    Thanked by 1Elmar
  • Though choral scores of yore used word divisions that were considered logical for singers, I am a firm believer in literacy, even in choir. Thus, my experience has brought me to the following conclusions:

    - whether elided or not, "glorious", like "glory" receives the hyphen after the "o", not the "r"
    - "oil", et al., are always one syllable (as is "lyre" further down the list); "chrism" is another matter, and I've decided the word should be dropped from the English language, at least when sung
    - "desire" (like "fire", "mire", "entire", "conspire", etc.) is never divided in the "ire"
    - "toward", unless you are a true archaic, is one syllable
    - the two syllables of "lion" could probably take one note, but certainly not "Zion"
    - "Jerusalem" is always and forever four syllables
    - I've gone back and forth on "power", so good luck

    Just, whatever you do, please don't divide "every" into three syllables, even elided ("ev-'ry"). It should be hyphenated "eve-ry": a stumbling block for singers, perhaps, but at least a nod toward literacy.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Monastery Liturgist,

    [loving diatribe against mid-Western speech patterns smilingly deleted]

    If there is some risk of confusion, it is the duty of the choirmistress to bring the confusion to the attention of the singers, and declare how such is to be sung.

    In the text, "Glorious things of Thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God", the first word has two syllables.

  • I often use the following for English text: https://juiciobrennan.com/hyphenator/

    and this one for Latin text: http://gregorio-project.github.io/hyphen-la/

    These are accurate 98% of the times that I use it. There are occasions when certain words need an elision.
  • How many syllables a word receives in our common, sloppy English pronunciation and how many it receives in singing dialect can be wildly different. The ICEL English Chant Mass is particularly egregious in this, especially the Pater noster.

    For a composer or poet, I would modify the divisions as necessary to ensure euphony and the maintenance of a proper meter.

    For singers, every sound of importance should be audible even if it does not receive a "syllable". Thus, while desire should properly receive two syllables, both [aɪ] and [ə] should be clearly audible, and the [i] of glorious should be audible as a "bridge" into the final [əs]. Our goal is to clearly illuminate the text as English language so that it can have an effect on the listener on its own terms, rather than merely relying on musical expression.
  • Thanks to all- its good food for thought. Its been a discernment for us because we are trying to use Monastic Tones with the English Language- which can sound strange with certain accented words. Then put a community with Sisters from North South East West of the USA, Philippines, Mexico, Dominican Republic... et alia.... and not all of them sing, but all sing (if you know what I mean), then unity can tend to be problematic in the Divine Office... but these are all helpful insights.

    In the Beatific Vision we will have the perfect liturgy!
  • @francis
    For the office hymns we typically use either Fr. Webers Edition or the LIber Hymnarius in Latin.
    Thanked by 1francis
  • Treat English like a beautiful language, and chant like chant, and all will be well.

    Do you know, Sister, about a recording called The Highway Code, or one called Pigorian Chant?
  • Chris Garton-Zavesky
    No, not sure what that is. But Im interested in any resources you have.
  • Maybe that how I should teach Chant to the Sisters... if anything it shall be amusing and Ill have their attention
  • Here is a website that applies standard syllabification to English words that I use all the time: https://juiciobrennan.com/hyphenator/

    It's actually rather important to use standard syllabification, whenever possible, as these are standard conventions that extend beyond liturgical music. Problems arise when deviating from the norm; it makes reading the music more difficult, and as we've discussed previously here on the forum, when you break from expected syllabification, this can cause singers to make mistakes that are otherwise easily avoided.

    The exception to this rule is where composers / arrangers may use discretion with deliberate elisions. Ky-ri-e e-le-i-son vs. Ky-rie_e-lei-son. Both versions may be perfectly licit depending on how the text is set to music, but you'd still want to keep the syllabification as standard as possible.

    As for "blessed", this is a word that is fraught with difficulties.

    I employ the convention that changes it to "blest" when it is one syllable, as this prevents any confusion. As suggested above, "bless'd" works well also. That said, I prefer the older form, so I mark this with an accent to make it doubly clear as well: bless-èd (drawing from the French accent grave). I've never had any difficulties with blessèd when marked as such.

    Now to the OP: your questions seem more about the composer/arranger side of things, so here's where I land on these:

    OIL / TOIL / SOIL (notoriously difficult, but better with an English accent than making them two syllables with a hard mid-western / southern accent!)
    LI-ON / ZI-ON
    VIC-TO-RY (VIC-T'RY is also common)
    POW-ER & POWER (context)

    Some things are just context dependent and work in more than one way like the aforementioned Kyrie Eleison.

    And NB: a few examples needed a letter shift like suff-er-ing to suf-fer-ing. The lyric hyphenator link at the top of this post will help with double checking stuff like this.
    Thanked by 1monasteryliturgist
  • I didn't finish my thought yesterday.

    As long as the members of the choir (an organized group of singers dedicated to the singing of the Liturgy of the Church, after all) are uniform in their practice, and as long as that practice is not deviant from right doctrine, all sorts of practices can be tolerated in the singing of vernacular chant.

    To wit: some places sing the prophet "Isaiah" as if it is i -ZIGH-a, and others sing i-ZAY-a. Don't sing both at the same time. Some places (Americans, take the bow here) sing AY-men, others sing ay-MEH-yen, others sing ah-MEH-yen, and still others sing ah-men. Don't sing all of these at the same time.

    Thanked by 1monasteryliturgist