Pronouncing the Latin "E"
  • ChaedatylChaedatyl
    Posts: 45
    I would like some input from forum members on how to sing Latin e's.
    The pronunciation guide in the Liber Usalis says to pronounce the "e" as in red, or men, i.e., a very short e sound.
    This is fine for spoken Latin, but not quite as good for singing! That e sound is a closed-throat sound, and does not sound good when singing, especially for long melismas.
    I have grown up pronouncing all Latin e's as a long "a" sound, as in ray.
    Is this "kosher"? What do you do with your scholas?
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,115
    When I asked this at a Baltimore-Washington chapter meeting, people said various things along the spectrum you mentioned. Most were closer to the long a sound.

    When singing Latin I usually sing a very long a on ending e's. Adoro tae devotae, but shorten the vowel for interior e's, especially when followed by more than one consonant: latehns Daeitas.

    I may be entirely wrong about this; it's probably very anglo-saxon of me. But I wouldn't know how to make an e before two consonants completely long, for example, the second e in recumbens.
  • OlbashOlbash
    Posts: 310
    Though there are many, many legitimate ways to pronounce Latin, my preference is for a forward, closed "e" sound, a sound that does not exist in English but is familiar to French speakers (words like "c'est" or "été"). Using a long "a" as in ray is actually two vowels (a diphthong, "eh"plus "ee"), which doesn't get the purity of sound that I want. So, telling a choir to use "e" as in "red" is a good first step to eliminating the diphthong. But, you're right, it's a bit of a stale sound -- more advanced choirs can usually brighten it up a bit without crossing the line into Dreaded Diphthong Land.
  • RagueneauRagueneau
    Posts: 2,592
    I've known many, many people who desire an "eh" for the E in Latin, but I always noticed that these people said "chay-lee" (not "cheh-lee") for the word CAELI.
  • I noticed at SD Chant Intensive, and then again at Loyala Colloquium that Scott Turkington consistently enunciated the "e" in the manner Olbash describes, and asked Turk whether his usage was inadvertent or, duh, on purpose. Dumb Charles. But after being excoriated by an undergrad choral teacher decades ago, I'd stuck to the closed "Dead Fred" and drilled that into my curricular/church choirs. Now, if I'm chanting a verse I can use Olbash's forward, closed and brighter sound. Trying to nuance the choir, that's another story...
  • I prefer a closed Italianate [e], especially in the lower and mid range. But too much can sound too affected or migrate toward an [i]. Its about tongue position.

    I do not use French as a model because it has 17 vowel sounds, too different from Latin.

    The word should be heard clearly. Whichever you choose, an open or closed 'e', I concur that avoiding a diphthong- especially for Americans- is important.
  • Chris AllenChris Allen
    Posts: 150
    I've always thought it was more like what stereotypical Canadians say, eh? (Oh, if only people had stuck with the classical, "waynee weedee weekee" pronunciation that distinguishes between long and short vowels--hey, it was good enough for "Kysar" and "Kickero....")
  • dvalerio
    Posts: 341
    Around here I've heard it most often pronounced as /ε/, and that's how I learned it in the Chant Weeks; however last Easter Sunday I sang in a choir directed by a learned priest who strongly insisted (annoying some choir members) that it be pronounced /e/.
  • Donnaswan
    Posts: 585
    Jeff, I pronounce it cheh-li always, always always. And I insist on my choir doing same. And I prefer, unlike a lot of people on this Forum the eh sound most everywhere. Esp here in East TN, the other when combined with the local accent is unbearable to me. At Westminster Choir College 'eh' is preferred, and if you listen to their recordings that's what you'll hear for Church Latin things. Not saying this is the way opera should be pronounced. I just think it's easier to get a consistent sound from multi-voices.
    Also, every Latin pronunciation book I've ever seen by vocal authorities ask for 'eh'. In England, though, you hear the long e much more frequently.
    I got chewed out rather thoroughly on this question not too long ago though. I'm sticking to my guns in this 'right-to-carry' state! LOLOL
    Donna
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    I think the American "ay" sounds wrong. I've yet to learn words in a foreign language that has it, or the American R sound.
  • RagueneauRagueneau
    Posts: 2,592
    Hi, Donna.

    Again, in all the manuals, this is a very common suggestion for "e"

    My grandma LITERALLY got her knuckles hit hard by a nun if she pronounced "e" as "ay" (not kidding)

    But, I'm just saying, I've heard Austrian priests, Australian priests, German priests, Canadian priests, French priests, American priests, and Hispanic priests say the 1962 Missal, and their "e" often becomes an "ay" (Laudamus te, Benedicimus te, etc.). I was not expecting this from Italian priests, but "usage rules."

    If you say "cheh-lee," more power to you!

    As you know, in medieval MSS, "coeli" was often written as "celi"
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,384
    Eh... Always.

    My choir is always fighting me on this, but I think that it is because then they have to think about purposely remembering to do so everytime and the AY sound usually happens when singers get lazy about their pronunciation.
  • RobertRobert
    Posts: 343
    It seems to me that since ecclesiastical Latin pronunciation is italianate, the ideal is to say everything the way a native Italian speaker would naturally speak. The problem is that Italians don't have a consistent way of pronouncing e - they alternate between a more open and a more closed sound depending on context. It makes sense to simplify and just pronounce it one way consistently. The important thing is to avoid dipthongs at all costs. So if you live in the part of the world where "ay" gets a heavy dipthong, sure, make them say "eh". I live in Canada and I find we don't have this problem; I encourage something a little closer to "ay"
  • WGS
    Posts: 233
    For me (unless directed otherwise - and then I still tend to forget), it's always "e" as in "red" as in the Liber. Fortunately, in the traditional rites, the choir and/or congregation never get to intone the Cre(h)do. Invariably people will pronounce it more like "Craydo" whenever they say the Latin word for the Creed.
  • Donnaswan
    Posts: 585
    Well, let's not get into how the European pronunciations- they do not use the ch sound for ce or ci or cae or coe- it's all a sibilant 's'
    Donna
  • I'm with Robert. Diphthong bad.
  • BachLover2BachLover2
    Posts: 331
    these are the kind of conversations that it's safer to sit back and observe!
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 986
    Sitting back - and deciding that what I like is actually "a local use."
  • If I may add something, if you're going for Church Latin, then I believe it is never appropriate to pronounce the 'e' like a diphthong. Actually, based on what I hear, the 'e' in "red" may not actually be strong enough because typical English is a little looser with the sound. If it helps any, look up what the "e accent grave" sounds like in French. But the way to make up for the closed syllable is to pull back your lips while singing like you're making a smile. I don't know if this is "standard", but it's what I was taught.
    I hope this helps. God bless!
  • Claire H
    Posts: 342
    I'm another who always stresses "eh" versus "ay", because the latter comes out with a very American, dipthong-y sound (almost as bad as the American r). :)
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,384
    Claire

    We have a spanish congregation and they pronounce the R very well. I am constantly talking to the choir about flipping the r. Tough thing to change 'out herrrrrre in the wayest!'
  • BachLover2BachLover2
    Posts: 331
    i think any singer worth his salt will roll the R's lightly
  • This reminds me of a cantor I used to know who really worked hard at making the "e" in Alleluia sound like the "e" in "red". Very strange, indeed. When I am working with good singers I simply ask for brighter "e"s when I think they are needed. I have a shelf of books that talk about how Latin was sung in different regions. I don't feel any compunction to be dogmatic about this.
  • JDE
    Posts: 584
    The open e works well with a German pronunciation - almost towards ee - because it helps focus the sound. The 'eh' gets very flat very fast. Besides, with my choir, if I try to get them to do something alien to the local speech, they do it better than if I say "like red or fred" because *then* it becomes RAY-ud.
  • BachLover2BachLover2
    Posts: 331
    yurodivi: sounds like you're down south (sooth)
  • JDE
    Posts: 584
    Also I keep having to ask them, "Who's Ian? It's supposed to be eeeeenn."
  • Claire H
    Posts: 342
    Yes, Spanish-speakers can pronounce the r much nicer! (I speak Spanish, too -- as a second language -- although I'm not Hispanic). I was just explaining to my Dad last night when practicing the Hallelujah chorus that he must sing "Foreveh", NOT "ForeveR"!
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,384
    Claire

    Nastalgia moment.

    You are jogging memories of my singing the HC when I was in the IC boys choir in Columbus, Ohio.
  • JDE
    Posts: 584
    I also love hearing the opening phrase of the Verdi pronounced "Reh - kwee - AYum."

    Heh.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,956
    Sometimes you hear different effects from one singer to the next: today, one sang "[ε]" as in "red, men, pet"; another was on the edge of an "[æ]" sound as in "rad, man, pat", another was toward the "[e]" sound. We should have negotiated this before Mass. :-)
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,384
    Hint

    unless your schola is comprised of all pros the eh always winds up sounding in between unless everyone is strictly tutored to get a true eh sound
  • Felicity
    Posts: 77
    Much-ado-about-nothing

    No matter how much effort and success is had in practice, at Mass the nerves rise up and the Schola Members return to their usual (local English) pronunciation.

    Te Deum laudamus!
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,792
    more advanced choirs

    Of course, they could also simply sing the bright AY and in their heads, place the letter "H" after the vowel. This eliminates the dipthong, except for the singers who cannot both think and sing at the same time.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,325
    except for the singers who cannot both think and sing at the same time


    Are there enough who can that this is a worthwhile distinction?
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 986
    My experience is the same as Felicity's. I often hear myself singing the most remarkably awful vowels when I'm doing that multi-tasking directing/singing/wondering what is the guy in the third row doing and why is there no air in this room? thing.

    So we keep working at rehearsal and I always hope for the best.
  • OlbashOlbash
    Posts: 310
    I'm really looking forward to hearing Ceciilia Nam speak about vowels at the colloquium this year -- she was brilliant last year!