Adapting psalm tones for the vernacular
  • urli
    Posts: 35
    Hello all,

    I'm working on setting the Dutch translations of the Mass propers for this coming weekend to psalm tones. Just something very simple as I'm not an expert. Whilst thinking about this and "playing around" I've come across a couple of articles about "adapting" psalm tones for English texts. Does anyone know of any ideas or principles that hold in general, for other vernaculars?

    Apologies if this is too vague: like I said, I'm a bit of a newbie when it comes to this type of thing, although I've been "involved" in music in church for years.

    Many thanks in advance for any tips and suggestions you could offer.
  • RagueneauRagueneau
    Posts: 2,592
    Hi, urli.

    You need to speak to Bruce Ford about this. And SACRED MUSIC should consider publishing his article on this. (in my opinion, at least)

    Also, rather than try to explain a bunch of "principles," you might also want to have a look at Chabanel Psalms, if you have not already, and see what others are doing. Just a thought.

    In Christ,

  • urli
    Posts: 35
    Dear Jeff,

    I'm reading (for about the third time :)) Dr. Ford's article on adapting the psalm tones for English (the exact title escapes me, but it as "theoretical considerations and practical tips" in it somewhere. It's very informative - the big challenge is to work something up for Dutch. Is that the article you're referring to?

    My main obstacle (thinking longer term) is that I'm less familiar with Dutch stress patterns than those of English, even though I speak and sing both every day. Will have to get my thinking cap on and start fiddling around.

    It would be wonderful to have something similar to Fr. Kelly's work in Dutch! There's a Solesmes house in this country which obviously has Latin, but I don't think any other monastic houses in the Netherlands uses the Gradual.
  • You might also consider the Simple English Psalm Tones, which are almost complete.

    Here's an EXAMPLE, for the coming Sunday.

    The complete set (almost complete) can be found for each feast HERE.
  • If you haven't already seen it, a previous discussion on this forum is very interesting.

    There's also this informative article by Fr. Anthony Ruff, O.S.B.
    Thanked by 1IanW
  • PeterJ
    Posts: 81
    You could always try these, which are based on the Office psalm tones (and others):

  • igneusigneus
    Posts: 271
    Do you know this ? There are Dutch psalm tones at the back. The book is full online, just find the link "complete preview" on the homepage of the web.
  • Thanks, igneus, for referring to the Klein Graduale. Here are the psalm tones as a separate pdf. I think they fit English texts as well.

    While the cadence of the second part of all psalm tones works with both oxytonic and paroxytonic texts, for the cadence of the first half of some of the psalm tones the comments made by Bruce Ford in another thread may apply:
    Following Pothier you would omit the final note when singing oxytonic texts. Following Mocquereau you would use the normal paroxytonic ending, placing the final accented syllable on the final (low) note.

    Both performances can be done well, but the latter takes a little more care, especially when the preparatory note is higher than the final note.
  • SkirpRSkirpR
    Posts: 854
    Hate to be the thorn here, but I happen to be in the camp that finds it overwhelmingly musically and textually acceptable to use the Latin Gregorian tones vs. newly composed ones.

    (Apologies to those that have read my thoughts on this before, but I feel like I need to be a missionary of sorts for this method, and I may possibly have refined my explanation.)

    I don't know Dutch, but I am (very possibly incorrectly) assuming its accent patterns are not terribly different from English, German, etc. If that's the case, there are accents that come in groups of two and three syllables, just like Latin. (For these purposes let's label groups of two as "trochees" and groups of three as "dactyls.")

    Here are the two main problems these languages pose (vs. Latin) and my solutions:
    Problem #1: There are more than two or three syllables between accented syllables.
    Soltuion: One of the unaccented syllables almost always clearly stands out as a candidate to receive stress from its position in between a pair of trochees or dactyls. Stress is, in effect, accent which is not inherent to the word but rather derived from the rhythm of the text. In effect this creates another trochee or dactyl: Ex. "GLOry to the FAther." "Glo" and "Fa" receive accent, but "to" receives stress and creates a third trochee in the phrase: "GLOry TO the FAther" If one were to use the translation "Glory be to the Father," it seems to make more sense for "be" to receive stress and create a dactyl in between the two trochees: "GLOry BE to the FAther." (Occasionally the choice of which syllable to receive stress is not obvious, but most of the time it is.) For my taste, substituting stress for accent (if sung intelligently) seems a lot simpler than creating/learning a new psalmtone formula if one is already familiar with the Latin tones and/or you are using vernacular chant as a vehicle toward singing in Latin.

    Problem #2: Phrase ends on an accented syllable.
    Solution: (Disclaimer: Not my solution, but the one Solesmes currently implements when this situation occurs in Latin.) If this accented final syllable comes after a trochee, then the solution is easy: ignore the accent on it and treat all three final syllables as a dactyl. If the accented final syllable comes after a dactyl, it is usually satisfactory to treat the last four syllables as two trochees and sing it intelligently. (There is another solution in Latin when an accented single syllable occurs at the end of a phrase, where one returns to the reciting tone on this note, but Solesmes seems to shy away from this in all their recent editions. I tend to agree that choosing this option only burdens the singer(s) with additional "options" to worry about vs. a simple reliable pattern conducive to meditation.)

    Problem #3: Two accented syllables in a row.
    Solution: Decide which one is more important or achieves a better textual rhythm. Ex. "Teach us your ways, Lord." It would seem that this is a dactyl followed by two accented single syllables ("TEACH us your WAYS, LORD"), but chances are if you're using traditional Gregorian tones, you're looking for a trochee at the end anyway, so ignore the accent on "Lord," yielding "TEACH us your WAYS, Lord" While your faith may cringe a bit at making "Lord" the less important word, if one did choose it, the only alternative would be to give stress to "your" (TEACH us YOUR ways, LORD), which has awful textual rhythm. (The best solution, if working in a situation that permits it, would be to alter the translation to "Teach us your ways, O Lord." - but that may not always be possible or advisable.)

    In the end, there are usually some choices to make - or at least a decent amount of reasoning to do - requiring the text be pointed in advance. (Heck, most of us need that kind of help even with Latin where it is possible for those with experience to sing the texts to Gregorian tones wihtout any pointing.)

    I don't know how much any of this can be applied to Dutch, but I hope it's helpful to somebody.
    Thanked by 1Vilyanor
  • SkirpRSkirpR
    Posts: 854
    Of course, after writing all that, I see Mr. van Roode's response. I will gladly defer to anything he has to say regarding Dutch!
  • The adaption of the text "Teach us Your ways, Lord" to "Teach us Your ways, O Lord" is a correct alternative translation since "Lord" is in the vocative sense and "O Lord" is an appropriate translation.

    (glad to see that my studies of Latin hasn't gone entirely to waste)
    Thanked by 1SkirpR
  • SkirpRSkirpR
    Posts: 854
    The adaption of the text "Teach us Your ways, Lord" to "Teach us Your ways, O Lord" is a correct alternative translation since "Lord" is in the vocative sense and "O Lord" is an appropriate translation.

    :) I don't have a problem making such changes, but I just wanted to acknowledge it might not always be advantageous - particularly when some people may be following along in different books - or you're maybe looking to get something published officially someday...
  • Back in the days when I worked on canticles for The Hymnal 1982, I, like you, handled oxytones (final accented syllables), as you do. (e.g., Father and | to the Son"). But I grew increasingly uneasy about doing so. Now, when I look at some of the pointing I did thirty years ago, I cringe.

    As Columba Kelly reminds us, the Romano-Frankish composers referred to chant as ars recte loquendi, = the art of speaking correctly. And saying "to the Son" is not speaking correctly. Psalm tones are simple recitatives. Musical interest lies primarily in the antiphons with which they are used, and the only reason we have psalm tones in eight/nine modes is so that they will be compatible with antiphons in those modes. (The tones used for "indirect" psalmody are different in this respect.) Compromising English diction to accommodate a recitative formula exemplifies the Procrustean Bed approach. (Procrustes supposedly cut off a man's legs to make him fit a bed.)

    Psalm verses written out in full in manuscripts show that the medieval musicians did not adhere rigidly to the pointing rules given in 20th century chant books. Cardine, after making this point, says that deviations are commendable in psalmody sung by a skilled cantor but impracticable in psalmody sung by a choir. We must, however, note that (1) Monastic choirs sing Latin psalmody from unpointed texts, (2) The accentuation of Latin is extremely regular, and deviations from the normal patterns are unusual. So the distortions resulting from a strict approach to pointing are few.

    The accentuation of English is far less regular, and cases in which English texts deviate from the accentual patterns that the psalm tones were designed to accommodate abound. Furthermore, since English prose contains so many monosyllables, no two speakers will necessarily accentuate the same text the same way. So it is impossible for a group to sing English psalmody without pointing; and because preparing a group to sing even from a pointedtext consumes rehearsal time, it is often best to notate psalms in full. (This doesn't take very long to do .)

    Simplicity is valuable, but not so valuable that its pursuit justifies distortion of English
    (or Dutch) texts. My essay on setting English texts to Gregorian psalm tones, which Jeff Ostrowski mentioned earlier, is accessible at this site. In it I discuss the treatment of oxytones as well as proximate accented syllables. Anthony Ruff, in an article that he wrote for an NPM publication, noted that some German Benedictines had been using certain of the same techniques that I use with English texts. So they may be useful to those setting Dutch texts.
  • SkirpRSkirpR
    Posts: 854
    Thank you for sharing your viewpoint and addressing my concerns. I respect it, as well as your experience and your work very much.

    I cannot claim the experience of having lived a monastic life, and don't have the sense that comes from chanting the Psalms in Latin day in and day out. I am, however, a professional choral musician, who has very much struggled with and been musically formed by careful consideration of what happens when text accentuation conflicts with musical accentuation.

    My personal experience has been that this conflict arises very frequently in all kinds of choral music - far more than many singers or even conductors seem to realize - or at least respond to in their interpretations. I find that, unfortunately, there is a strong (self-perpetuating, almost pervasive) trend among many (particularly American and English) conductors to value the accentuation patterns of the music over those of the words. I don't know why this is so, perhaps because so much of the study of choral conductors is focused on musical issues rather than those of declamation. But for many conductors (and hence, choirs), the most attention the text ever receives is matching vowels (which it seems is often for the more musical sake of intonation) and encouraging clearer consonants (so that the words are merely understood by the audience, if not comprehended) - and even these areas seem on the whole to be given less attention than at least I would ideally prefer.

    So often I feel many choirs (by which I really mean conductors) could/should focus more on the relationship of the text to the music. And I don't just mean pointing out to choirs the use of text painting, be it quaint or clever - but rather, changing one's interpretation of phrase lengths or even employing subtle (or even not-so-subtle rubato) to inform the music with at least one particular interpretation of the declamation of the text.

    For me, the influence of the text on the music - the push and pull and conflict between them - IS the stuff of choral music - or any sung music. For if the composer didn't want such things "getting in the way of" the music (as was once offered me by a colleague with an opposing viewpoint), he or she should have just written the work as an instrumental piece.

    So, I highly respect the declamation of text. But I also love the beauty, tradition, nostalgia - essence - of the traditional Gregorian tones - and I just can't be so quick to relegate their use strictly to Latin texts. I'll state again that the text/music push-and-pull happens much more frequently in Latin psalmody than I feel it is acknowledged, and I also find its occurence in English psalmody to not be the terrible distortion you perceive it as - in fact, as I said above, I find it to be an occurence of - or at least an opportunity for - beauty.

    Perhaps the real issue is one of the aims of the vernacular. If one's goal in using modal tones to point vernacular texts is an end in and of itself for a self-contained, stable vernacular liturgical action, then I can perhaps understand the use of tones composed or arranged to be particularly suited for the vernacular.

    If, on the other hand, one views use of the vernacular as a gift of understanding to aid a community on the way to a stronger continuity with the musical and Latin tradition (as is the case in the community in which I find myself), then it seems to me inventing or appropriating a brand new way of doing something apart from the Latin almost gets in the way of bigger goals.

    (For example, in my situation, when my students hear Latin psalmody someday - or when we work up to it in a few years - I want them to be able to say, "Oh yeah, that's the same thing we did with English," and I want the work we did (in English) to enable a connection to the Latin, rather than have them think, "that's kind of like what we did, but it's kind of different - and something new I have to learn," and risk them making the judgment that one is perhaps better than the other - whichever way that judgment might fall.)

    I will allow there is room for more than one opinion on this, but I am somewhat put off by the fact that it seems among some in the establishment the matter is settled in all cases and there is no merit to this point of view- and those of us who hold it just don't understand the issues.
  • Skirp R wrote: "So, I highly respect the declamation of text. But I also love the beauty, tradition, nostalgia - essence - of the traditional Gregorian tones - and I just can't be so quick to relegate their use strictly to Latin texts."

    I could not agree with you more. The last thing I wish to do is relegate the Gregorian psalm tones to use with Latin texts exclusively. My goal has been to adjust them (rather modestly) so that they can accommodate English texts instead of distorting them.

    "Gregorian psalm tones" cannot be equated with the tones given in the Vatican edition, pointed according to Solesmes rules. During the long history of the tones various versions of them have appeared at various times and in various places. The editors of the Vatican edition looked at various local forms and chose the ones they liked best. It is hardly justifiable to say that with the alterations I propose for English texts the psalm tones would cease to be Gregorian psalm tones. Little of what I propose is unprecedented. In the Sarum form of the tones the epentheses are generally placed on the pitch of the note that precedes them, whereas in the Vatican form the epentheses are generally placed on the pitch of the note that follows them. I have proposed placing them on the pitch of the preceding note when an accented final syllable follows and on the pitch of the following note when an unaccented syllable follows. The use of two different placements may be novel, but ample precedent exists for either placement.

    Unwillingness to make necessary alterations (chiefly in pointing rules) adds fuel to the fire of those who would "relegate their use strictly to Latin texts." Adjusting the tones so that they facilitate good declamation of English texts weakens their position.
  • SkirpRSkirpR
    Posts: 854
    Mr. Ford, many thanks for your patience with me on this issue. I think we agree in principle. My chief objection is to those kinds of English use tones that don't even (or barely) recall the traditional formulas while theoretically holding to the same modes. It would be great if you could post the formulae for all of the tones (with the various endings) as you propose them to be adapted for English so I can have a better sense of what you mean.

    I will also PM you with some more specific questions...

    Thanks again.
  • Skirp R said that my essay on setting English texts to Gregorian psalm tones, which Jeff Ostrowski mentioned earlier in this discussion, is no longer accessible on this site. So I am posting it again for the benefit of any who may wish to read it.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen ParleyDee