Latin diction
  • AngelaRAngelaR
    Posts: 309
    My scholae sing in a cathedral with an incredible acoustic perfectly suited to chant, but unfortunately the acoustic also drowns out most of the consonants of the words in the process. I understand that diction in Latin is much more subtle than diction in English. Because of this I have not been stressing diction with my scholae. However, yesterday one of our musicians commented that from the front of the church the words were not distinguishable at all. I have heard this complaint before.

    How does one determine how much diction to use, and are there any particular consonants I should be especially focusing on? I want to be faithful to the integrity of the Latin language, but at the same time I want the congregation to have a sense of what we are actually singing, especially since we sometimes print translations in our programs, and we have a few Latin buffs in the congregation.
  • Angela,

    Chanting of the Mass, including the readings, came about to make the word heard throughout the church. The spoken voice does not carry as well as the sustained vowels that we sing.

    In a live building, chant becomes part of the aura of the building, along with the candles and incense. No one complains because they cannot read from the light of the altar candles, as the candles are there for a ceremonial reason and it is understood that they are not intended to be used for reading in a modern building. Their practical purpose has become a ceremonial one.

    During the Mass, chanting fulfills the obligation of singing the words that are required for a valid Mass, words that otherwise would be spoken. It is not necessary for the singing of the words to be understood. It's that simple.

    And easy answer that may not be palatable to some...

    Chant is watercolors. Chant is church windows. Not Kodachrome photographs.
  • AngelaRAngelaR
    Posts: 309
    An eloquent description, Frogman. I think part of the issue here is the different emphases on the importance of hearing the words in the EF and the OF. In the EF, the priest often speaks inaudibly. In the OF, there is a greater stress placed on the need to understand and follow all the prayers. I come from an OF background, and my scholae sing for the OF. If I were listening to a chant, I would want to be able to distinguish the words; I have studied enough Latin to know just by listening what the general sense of the scripture is that is being chanted.

    The question comes to mind: If chanting fulfills the obligation of singing the words that are required for a valid Mass, why are those words obligated in the first place? Obviously, the first reason is so that the sacrament is made present. But beyond that, why are different prayers chosen for the Mass, different readings, if all it really takes is the words of consecration? There is a twofold purpose: 1) to offer a sacrifice pleasing to God, and 2) for the edification of the faithful. Perhaps it is my OF background, but I do believe that part of this 2) edification comes from an articulation of the words, so that they know what is being prayed, and can personally enter into it.

    I mean this with no disrespect to the EF. I have been having conversations with friends who prefer the EF, and am coming to appreciate it more and more. I do like the fact that I can pray in a way that is not paced by someone else in the EF. In fact, I am preparing my scholae to sing for the Ash Wednesday Mass of the EF next year. It is important to me that the Cathedral Chant School have an appreciation for and understanding of both.
  • Not at's the chicken and the egg.

    The OF when not said in Latin, has created all sorts of havoc. Can a German attend an OF English Mass and fulfill the Sunday obligation without understanding a word?

    How many words of the OF form Mass need to be understood to make it a valid Mass? 5 out of 10?

    Music adds to the Liturgy and, as in the case of polyphony, it can obscure the understanding of the words, yet the music can convey the emotion of the words in ways that are impossible with speech.

    Any syllabic chanting should be sung at a pace that makes it possible to understand the words, I agree wholeheartedly. But the moment melismas enter, then melody is more important than words.

    You are working really hard there and are very committed to what you are doing, you deserve many blessings.
  • I don't care what language you are singing in, if the words cannot be distinguished, and that includes the consonants, there is no point at all to doing it. Even if the words are Latin. It is necessary to be able to say I heard the word 'summo' or 'sacrum' or 'alma'. not understanding what they mean is a different matter.

    A general rule- vowels 90% consonants 5%

  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    Hi, Angela. I'm not expert on this, but do you practice in a room different accousitcs from the place on Sunday? I found it's very hard to understand homilies in big cathedrals with lots of echos. It might be ackward to slow the speaking so much, but you can adjust the tempo of your singing? I would also somehow record the schola singing in the cathedral (these days the digital recorder is so small, nobody has to notice it.) and actually listen to it myself. Then I can figure out which vowels and consonants specifically I can work on during vocal excercises with the schola. (because I'm not a native English speaker, I hear more English dipthongs, and not so clear vowels, also English 'r's that my schola members are so accustomed to from speaking English so long. (I joke saying that they've been speaking Enlgish too long!)
    And you can also record during the practice and have them listen to it. It can be very helpful.
    As Noel says it's not possible to have every word understtod, but we can try as much as we can and also make it beautiful ..
  • AngelaRAngelaR
    Posts: 309
    My problem is not so much the difference in acoustic, but simply the fact that it sounds very different on the other side of the church than it does where we are singing. I've been amazed as a cantor at what the choir sounds like from down below in comparison with what it sounds like when I'm singing in the soprano section. I have been doing some recording, but I've been seeking a good placement for quality recording, which means it will be a little closer to the schola than what people on the other side of the church would be.

    The musician yesterday recommended more "t" and "c". I realize that some consonants can be pronounced more easily without interfering with vowel production than other sounds (voiced and unvoiced, consonants, for example). I'm wondering if there are particular consonants in Latin that can afford to be articulated more clearly without jeopardizing the sound quality or the sound of the language. (E.g. I would NOT recommend a louder "g", as it too easily interferes with the pitch.)
  • Most consonants can be better articulated towards the front of the mouth, except of course for the sub vocals like g and b, and of course, since p t and K are explosives and therefore have no pitch they have to be articulated twice as much as others. I find Americans are pretty lazy about 'L' for instance. Must show them how to speak like Italians! LOL Nothing worse than those swallowed 'L' s for lowering pitch. nd lots of time,the choir thinks they are really overpronouncing, but in reality, it's not getting past the loft rail!!!
  • Maureen
    Posts: 675
    You may have to play with timing a bit, as well as pronunciation. Without slowing down entirely, there may be certain tempos and rhythms that work better for your church, or there may be a certain direction to sing in, or a corner or pillar or curve to sing at, that works better than others. Every church's echo and sound is different, which is part of why scholas that have been singing in the same place for centuries (like the Heiligenkreuz monks) have an advantage! You might even want to see if there are old pictures of the choir, to see where they stood, or maybe you can ask some older folks how they used to handle the acoustic problems.

    If you can do it, maybe you can devote a good chunk of a practice night to doing acoustic sound checks. Maybe you can also let individual choir members walk around, so that they know what you're talking about with the consonant problem.

    Good luck!
  • Here are a couple more specific tips for approaching consonants, culled from my own experience under other choir directors, tossed out there for approbation :¬)

    - To bring out the "g", a choir director under whom I sang recommended 1/3 of his singers to produce a hard "c". (This was a choir of 60 singing the Vivaldi Gloria in a very resonant space). Won't work for a soloist, admittedly.
    - For words like "Gloria", treat the "gl" as a sort of "upbeat" or "pickup" — that is, when the schola hits the "downbeat" they will voice "o" instead of initiate (and probably rush) "glo". (This won't work so well with "Gaudium", etc., but will with "Laudate", etc.)
    - Also, in a live space, you may want to experiment with pronouncing "Gloria" as "Gə-lo-ri-a", "Christe" as "Chə-ri-ste", "Plebis" as "Pə-le-bis", etc. Also experiment with lengthening these consonants

    These tips would work for languages other than Latin, I think.
  • It's a challenge getting english-speaking people to use the consonants to start the vowels, that adds a lot of clarity.
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,577

    timestamp = 1:10
    What was that language?
  • Lots of good suggestions--I remind my schola all the time about vowels--especially on Latin words that look like English ones--for example: consubstantialem (from the Credo) and Absolve (from the Requiem tract). Those English vowels and diphthongs keep sneaking in--not to mention the many American variations.

    The pronunciation of the Latin is important. Remember (I'm paraphrasing) that Vatican II gave chant primacy of place because it is integral to the liturgy--integral because the chant encompasses both the music and the text of the liturgy, so the text is important--not merely a decoration. Recall the stories that the council of Trent came close to banning polyphony because it 'obscured' the text. Deo gratias, they didn't ban polyphony, but also note the concern about intelligibility of the text.

    Watercolors and stained glass windows are good metaphors for the chant, but I hope they're representational versions, not abstractions. Dom Hourlier and Fr Kirby both wrote about chants as aural icons of their texts. The texts ought to be there.
  • Actually, my biggest gripe is the pronunciation of the vowel 'e'. Even at the Colloquium I rarely heard it pronounced without making a diphthong out of it, and even in the People's Mass Book it clearly states 'e' should be pronounced as 'eh'. EVERYONE sang it as EHee, especially at the ends of words. My choir has grown to fear my wrath of I hear anything else except the 'e' as in eggs or yeah. LOL

  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    I disagree with you, Frogman (concerning your first post). Chant is chant because it grew naturally out of the text, and chanting was the best (and most heavenly) way to sing the text in such a way everyone could hear and understand. I think it's amazing to go to Orthodox churches (I'm sure reverent OF Masses would also apply) and hear the chant in English and understand it immediately, and be steeped both in the beauty of the musical line and also the beauty of the texts. It is good for my soul, I think, to walk around after church with scriptural snatches of music echoing in my head. Also, I study Latin and really appreciate when I can understand what is being sung in Latin without having to read along a little printout of the Latin words because I can't distinguish one from another. I can understand many simple songs right off. My goal is to completely understand the Gospel at a Latin Mass someday with no translation, but the priest here doesn't read loud enough for me to hear him.

    You know, I've been in churches lit by candles where the candles WERE used for the purpose of reading (an all-night vigil on Good Friday). How can we forget the intrinsic usefulness of the beautiful things in our churches? The reason we have them is because they were necessary at one point or another: candles for seeing, music for hearing, stained-glass windows and icons for educating the faithful and really instilling in us the knowledge of the communion of saints. Just because we now have electric lights, printed worship guides, and catechism classes doesn't negate the usefulness of those things; doesn't turn them into mere ornamentation--"atmospheric" decorations. If you don't need to hear and understand the words of the music, then why do you need the music at all? Why can't you just have organ solos creating the atmosphere or human voices singing nonsense syllables like "aaah"? There's a reason the texts are there besides just "fulfilling the necessity" of having the words there. I can't separate the "necessary" and the "ceremonial" in the way you do. I think all the ceremonial things at Liturgy are just as necessary as they always were. If it were a choice between only candles or only electric lights I'd pick candles.

    I guess people feel at liberty to ignore the words because they are in Latin, and "no one understands Latin anyway." First of all, that's not even true--! Perhaps we are few and far between, but there are many people who study Latin. And, in fact, there are some people so dedicated to the Catholic Church that they study Latin so that they might become fluent in it, and able to understand the texts at Latin Masses by ear, and able to read Papal documents and historical church documents in the original language. How could anyone overlook these people, who study Latin in piety and dedication to the Catholic Church? I guess the Catholic Church lost the idea of understanding the Mass when they refused to use the new vernaculars after the fall of the Roman Empire. I understand people's arguments about needing a universal, changeless language for the Church, but I think that Roman elitist Latin-only position has directly or at least partially caused clericalism, the "bad catechesis" that gave rise to so current much liturgical abuse, and polyphonic and orchestral Masses where the words are subordinated to the music so much that they're practically lost (to name a few things).

    Frogman, you said that "chanting fulfills the obligation of singing the words that are required for a valid Mass." I see that as a very impoverished way to see the Mass. It's that view, that the only important thing is the validity of the Mass, that led to iconoclastic churches, 45 minute Sunday Masses, the concept of a "low" recited Mass, priests taking liberty with the rest of the Mass as long as the "required words" are still there--even women standing up at the altar saying the Eucharistic prayers WITH the priest because as long as the real priest says them too, it's "valid". If the only important thing is a "valid Mass," why not just have the priest say the words of consecration and then give people communion? Roman Catholic canon law (IIRC) says the only necessity for a valid Eucharist is the right matter, the words of consecration, and the intention of the priest to do as the church does (I take that to mean transubstantiate the host). Mass could take 15 minutes! Wouldn't that make Sunday-morning churchgoers happy?

    Please excuse my hyperbole... I just see these things as the natural conclusion of that kind of thinking. The words are the important thing--the words came first, and then the chant from the words, not the other way around. It's not about validating or invalidating the Mass. It's about instructing the faithful.
  • There is no excuse needed for hyperbole in for such a power, insightful post as yours, Jam. I now knight you as Sir Jam! Wonderful post. Thank you, thank you.
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    Er, Lady Jam, perhaps? ;-)
  • but of course, your Jamness...
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    I love that daring and genuine, and not erogant, passion of the young people for what they believe !! I think I was once young... I only hope I traded my youth for some wisdom.
  • AngelaRAngelaR
    Posts: 309
    Excellent suggestions, all. Thanks so much for your help!
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 993
    Make your choir aware of the need for good diction. If the space is very lively, slow down a little. Be selective about trying to improve a particular vowel or final consonant. However, don't end up with a choir obsessed with consonants.

    All the musicality can disappear while singers fret over plosives and stew about sibilants. I've been there on this one, both as a singer and as a conductor - and obviously, you won't do this. There is nothing that drove me out of a choir quicker than a director who harangued the group endlessly about mouth shape or the perfect [fill in the blank with the letter of your choice].

    If knowing every word is critical for the listeners, then they will need to be supplied with the text on music that lies outside the Ordinary of the Mass.
  • These are all very, very good points. But it is absolutely essential for you and the people to realize that you are not singing to them.

    They happen to be there while you are singing. Your singing is just as important if no one is there.

    I have an Episcopal priest friend who, if no one shows up for the Eucharist, sees no reason to celebrate it.
  • One agrees fully with the bent of Noel's thesis.
    One could point out, however, that, indeed, if there is not at least one person
    other than the priest in attendance, the eucharist cannot be celebrated validly. This is certainly true in the Catholic Church,
    and would be as well for a Catholically oriented Anglican. Despite the perverse emphasis on 'community' these days, the mass is yet a communal act.
    Still, one does not wish to blunt the cogency of Noel's and Jam's assertions regarding the liturgical act and the true nature of participation in it.
  • I have to disagree, having witnessed many solitary Masses, and the presence of multiple side altars for just that purpose in monasteries?

    Though this may be a practice that is forbidden, I know of it only from having witnessed it....and older retired priest locking himself in the Chapel to say Mass late in the afternoon was a daily practice.

    Canon Law:

    Can. 904 Remembering always that in the mystery of the eucharistic sacrifice the work of redemption is exercised continually, priests are to celebrate frequently; indeed, daily celebration is recommended earnestly since, even if the faithful cannot be present, it is the act of Christ and the Church in which priests fulfill their principal function.

    Can. 905 §1. A priest is not permitted to celebrate the Eucharist more than once a day except in cases where the law permits him to celebrate or concelebrate more than once on the same day.

    §2. If there is a shortage of priests, the local ordinary can allow priests to celebrate twice a day for a just cause, or if pastoral necessity requires it, even three times on Sundays and holy days of obligation.

    Can. 906 Except for a just and reasonable cause, a priest is not to celebrate the eucharistic sacrifice without the participation of at least some member of the faithful.

    Yes, canon law does say not unless there is a participant of the faithful but leaves the wiggle room of a "just and reasonable cause" which, combined with "indeed, daily celebration is recommended earnestly since, even if the faithful cannot be present," would seem to off set "not to".
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636

    It is forbidden explicitly in the Orthodox Churches--a priest must have at least a reader in order to hold Divine Liturgy. But of course, Roman Catholicism has a long history of private Masses said by solitary priests... which are actually what gave rise to the concept of a "low" Mass, iirc.
  • I had thought that even a monastic (or otherwise) priest's 'private' celebration required the participation of at least an acolyte. Was I, indeed, mistaken?
    As for the 'low mass': spoken liturgy and worship is a perverse phenomenon peculiar to western Christianity. It came about due to the mediaeval custom of priests' solitary daily 'celebrations' and, later, as a Protestant custom in opposition to chanting Catholics.

    (And, Noel, if you witnessed them then they must not have been solitary???)
  • I witnessed them by seeing the retired pastor walking past the organ, entering the chapel, locking himself in, and then seeing him leaving after 20 minutes. He was rather violently opposed to the OF so I always assumed that he was celebrating Mass in Latin, but doing it privately so as not to excite scandal or havoc in the parish.

    I never put my ear to the door.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    I asked a priest this morning. Noel is right. He says it's encouraged for a priest celebrate the daily Mass whether there are others or not. Although it is better to have others participating and also concelebrate, if possible.
  • Donna,
    I brought up your concern regarding "e" during one of Scott's intermediate rehearsals, primarily because there was the slightest hint of the EHee in his demonstration usage. He was unequivocal that the pure vowel "eh" (that was hammered into me 40 years ago) was not sufficient, flat, (not in pitch) in terms of vowel coloration. So, I've somewhat modified my own treatment of the vowel since, without allowing myself or choristers to mindlessly revert to "Day oh, day ay ay oh."
  • Charles, I go for the more closed 'e' as well. My bad habit is to close it too much, but, with AOZ's and MJ's support still lingering from last winter's intensive, I am overcoming that tendency. :)
  • Well, OK, but I heard plenty of Day oh at the Colloquium last summer. There is a happy medium, and I certainly believe in a more closed E when singing Italian opera. But with the average church volunteer singer it's just too much, esp here in the South!!!!

    The Latin pronounciation page needs to be amended then in the PBC, and just about every other pronounciation guide I've ever seen.

  • Donna, I feel yer pain, believe me. Next time, o'er wine, I'll tell the story of my getting hammered as an undergrad about this one vowel. The "happy medium" will suffice.
  • LOL. I am always ready for a glass or two of the wine that maketh glad the hearts of men (and women)
    At Westminster Choir College, we just had it hammered into us also that there are only 5 vowel sounds in Latin, and Day oh is not one of them! HAHAHA!