Suzanne Haik-Vantoura (1912-2000)

Suzanne Haik-Vantoura (Portrait)

Suzanne Haik-Vantoura (Portrait)

7:34 PM 7/26/2012

This is a portrait of Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura, taken many years ago. Mme. Haïk-Vantoura (née Vantoura) was a composer, organist and music theoretician. Born in Paris, France in 1912, she entered the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique in Paris (CNSM) in 1931, and was awarded First Prize in Harmony (1934), First Prize in Fugue (1938), and Honorable Mention in Composition (1939). She became the student of the great organist and composer Marcel Dupré from 1941 to 1946, then devoted herself to music composition and teaching.

World War II interrupted her studies, and she fled with her family to southern France. While in hiding from the Nazis, then-Mlle. Vantoura first approached a problem that had intrigued her since childhood: the original meaning of the te`amim (טעמים). By her account, she had learned in a French encyclopedia of music that these signs were ancient, musical and of unknown meaning. Given the lack of correlation between the melodies of the synagogue communities and the physical features of the notation itself, this appraisal was both plausible and objective — and it became the starting point in Mlle. Vantoura’s research.

After four months of intensive research (including the creation of interminable statistical tables), she became certain (as her intuition had suggested) that only the sublinear te`amim have a fixed musical meaning; the superlinear te`amim have a subordinate musical meaning. Thus she was able to reconstruct a rough draft of the “Song of the Sea” (Exodus 15); she was astonished at the results! After the war, however, the pressure of her studies and career forced her to put the time-consuming project aside.

During and after the war, Haïk-Vantoura composed a number of works which expressed her independent personality. Those listed on her own Web site include Quatuor florentin (played for the first time in 1942), Un beau dimanche (written in 1957), Destin d’Israël (written in 1964), Versets de psaumes pour 12 voix a capella (a work commissioned by the French Government in 1968) and Offrande (written in 1970). Other works in her curriculum vitae include Visages d’Adam, Rhapsodie Israelienne, Un trio instrumental, Jeu (for piano and violin), Poemes de la Pleiade (suite for piano), Temionage, Hymn liturgique pour voix de soprano et quartuor, and Sept motets for 12 mixed voices (another work commissioned by the French Government). Another notable accomplishment: a recording produced by André Charlin, featuring a text written by Haïk-Vantoura, spoken by Linette Lemercier, and set to music by Menuhin et al., entitled Magie des Instruments (Helios MA301). In addition to all this, Haïk-Vantoura became an organist at the Synagogue de l’Union liberale Israelite de Paris (1946-53) and the Eglise Saint-Helene de Paris (1966-79); an honorary professor of music education (1937-61); a published composer (Un beau dimanche for instrumental trio, 1970; and Adagio for saxophone and organ, 1976); and the wife of Mr. Maurice Haïk, who passed away in 1976. (The couple had no children.)

Over the years, Haïk-Vantoura would approach the problem of the biblical notation now and again, but never had the time to devote herself to solving it. Finally, her old teacher Marcel Dupré and others urged her to complete her work. After her “retirement” in 1970, she devoted herself to the task and (by her own testimony) was overwhelmed at times by the sheer scale of it. It took her four years to complete her decipherment, and another two years to prepare the first edition of her French book La musique de la Bible révélée (Robert Dumas, 1976) and the Harmonia Mundi LP of the same name (also in 1976). The second edition of her French book (Dessain et Tolra, 1978) won the Prix Bernier of the Institute des Beaux Arts de France, its highest award.

Since that time, Haïk-Vantoura produced or supervised the production of no less than six new recordings (two by Esther Lamandier and one by Mira Zakai); four scores with accompaniment corresponding to four recordings (Volumes 1-3 and Cantique des cantiques); three scores without accompaniment (Les 150 Psaumes dans leurs mélodies antiques, Quatre Meghilot and Message biblique intégrale); several articles in academic journals; and a supplement to her original book. (Since Haïk-Vantoura’s death, two more recordings, an a capella version of Cantique des cantiques and Le livre d’Isaïe, have been published by Esther Lamandier to date.) Though Haïk-Vantoura was long nearly invalid, she had her own Web site, which remained up and running for some time after her death: http://www.institutionroidavid.com. Regrettably, this site seems to be down permanently.

On October 22, 2000, on the day called Simhat Torah (“Rejoicing of the Law”) in Judaism — the very day when the liturgical cycle for one year ends and another begins in the Rabbinic synagogues — Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura passed away in Switzerland after complications resulting from influenza. She was 88 years old. As of October 24, legalities permitting, she was scheduled to be buried in France on October 30. This information (transmitted to me by Dennis Weber) came from Haïk-Vantoura’s grand-nephew Philippe.

The following obituary in French is taken from the Musica et Memoria site (Obituares 08/2000 – 11/2000), and is used with permission.

“La musicologue, organiste et compositeur Suzanne Haïk-VANTOURA est décédée en Suisse, à Lausanne, le 22 octobre 2000. Née en 1912 à Paris, Mlle Vantoura avait rejoint le CNSM où elle obtenait plusieurs prix d’écriture. Mariée à Maurice Haïk, elle commença par se consacrer à l’enseignement et à la composition. C’est ainsi qu’on lui doit notamment un Quatuor à cordes, sept Motets, un Poème pour piano et orchestre et un poème liturgique, Judas le pieux. Egalement organiste, elle avait rejoint en 1969 les rangs de l’Union des Maîtres de Chapelle et Organistes, alors présidée par Henri Busser. Peu de temps après elle se passionnait pour le mystère du sens des signes musicaux contenus dans la Bible hébraïque et réussissait à en retrouver le sens puis à en établir une grille de lecture. Elle put ainsi faire éditer cinq mille versets dans leur mélodie originelle et a publié en 1976 le résultat de ses travaux dans son livre La musique de la Bible révélée. Une notation millénaire décryptée (Ed. Robert Dumas, 503 pages, fort in-8). Ses recherches sont actuellement poursuivies par Gilles Tiar dans un institut créé en Israël, portant le nom de «Shir Hashirim». Elle résida longtemps dans un appartement de la rue d’Artois (Paris, IXe), non loin de la maison où mourut, en 1863, le poète et romancier Alfred de Vigny.” – Denis HAVARD DE LA MONTAGNE

This information comes from a page on The Music of the Bible Revealed Web site.

(יוחנן רכב הסופר)

Categories: Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, The Music of the Bible Revealed | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

PSALMS 24 – FULLY POINTED

2015-03-26 @ 07:30 CDT

This Psalm always has been one of my favorites even in English. When I heard it for the first time on Suzanne Haik-Vantoura’s first recording, as featured above, I knew I had to do whatever it took to learn whether her thesis was “on the level”. How little did I foresee the changes in my life which would follow from that one decision.

At a time when my future feels so fragile and uncertain, this Psalm reminds me of the strength of the One who has guided me long before and ever since that life-changing decision. Would that the peoples of the world were at a place where they could accept the message this “art song” conveys – even to the mere style of the sacred music which supports the words.

(יוחנן רכב)

 

Categories: Hebrew Bible, Internet, Letteris Edition, Psalmodia, Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, The Music of the Bible Revealed, Videos, YouTube | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

NUMBERS 6:22-27 – FULLY POINTED

2015-03-19 @ 09:30 CDT

This is the second video of my new “fully pointed” series, one which is based on the second track of Suzanne Haik-Vantoura’s first recording. This text is the famous Priestly Blessing, with its immediate context.

(יוחנן רכב)

Categories: Hebrew Bible, Internet, Letteris Edition, Prosodia, Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, The Music of the Bible Revealed, Videos, YouTube | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

PSALMS 23 – FULLY POINTED

2015-03-13 @ 16:00 CDT

It’s taken quite a lot of time to prepare the slides for the “final editions” in video form of Volumes 1-3 and the Song of Songs – that is, in the series of recordings produced by or under the supervision of Suzanne Haik-Vantoura. But today I not only was able to record the first of the set on Nero, but how to put it into a format which YouTube can accept. Heretofore the Nero program – due to its default settings it seems – put the videos into an incompatible ratio (16:9 versus 4:3) and nothing I did fixed the problem. After some checking with the YouTube help files and some repeated testing, I found settings that work. (For one thing, YouTube prefers original files in .mp4 format.)

This series puts just one Hebrew word on each slide, with the appropriate consonants, vowel-points, melodic accents (the basis of SHV’s work), and other signs, all from the Letteris Edition of the Hebrew Bible. I called it “Letteris Edition – Revised” because there are typos here and there in the original printing which need to be corrected.

How readable the text (Hebrew, Latinized Hebrew and English) will be in the end for the average viewer, I don’t know. The verbal pacing in this format is uneven, but it was that or put more and smaller print on each slide in ways not always consistent with the verbal syntax (verses, clauses and phrases) of the original.

In time I plan, God willing, to put the videos I make in this format onto private DVDs.

(יוחנן רכב)

Categories: Hebrew Bible, Internet, Letteris Edition, Psalmodia, Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, The Music of the Bible Revealed, Videos, YouTube | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

IDELSOHN: THESAURUS OF HEBREW ORIENTAL MELODIES (PARTIAL)

Babylonian Jewish Wedding Songs on ANCIENT ECHOES (SAVAE) - c/o Idelsohn

Babylonian Jewish Wedding Songs on ANCIENT ECHOES (SAVAE) – c/o Idelsohn

2015-03-08 @ 14:55 CDT

Years ago, while living in San Francisco, I photocopied a good number of pages from the Thesaurus of Hebrew Oriental Melodies by Abraham Z. (Zevi) Idelsohn. At the time I wanted to find melodies suitable for performance on Celtic harp and lyre, although I never found the time to do more than mark interesting candidates.

The CD Ancient Echoes by the San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble (SAVAE) uses a number of melodies transcribed by Idelsohn as inspiration. Two melodies taken notably “as is” from Idelsohn’s collection are given above. They are Babylonian Jewish wedding songs, the first sung only by men, the second sung only by women. Either tune certainly would work on my 12-string lyre, Aletheia, and that admirably. So would many other tunes found in the photocopies I have. Many tunes are rather plain, but could be adapted in various ways for the lyre or for my Earthlight Orchestra electronic music project, or both.

This early afternoon, I scanned the whole set of photocopies and converted them into a single PDF. My Dropbox link to this collection is here.

(יוחנן רכב)

Categories: Abraham Zevi Idelsohn, Ancient Music, Dropbox, Internet, Musicology, SAVAE, Vocal Music | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

VOLUMES 1-3 AND SONG OF SONGS: POWER POINT SLIDES

(Psalms 130:7 NKJV) O Israel, hope in the LORD; For with the LORD there is mercy, And with Him is abundant redemption.

(Psalms 130:7 NKJV) O Israel, hope in the LORD; For with the LORD there is mercy, And with Him is abundant redemption.

2015-03-02 @ 09:15 CST

At last, my long labors in preparing PowerPoint presentations of the first four recordings of Suzanne Haik-Vantoura’s work are complete. JPG slides have been made of them, in preparation for the next stage of my project: the production of individual videos DVDs corresponding to each of the CD recordings (although likely I will combine Volumes 1-2 on one DVD and Volume 3 and the Song of Songs on another).

The purpose of this set of videos is to give Hebrew texts with full pointing (consonants, vowels, melodic accents, other relevant signs) as they are given in the Letteris Edition Revised (for so I call the results of my corrections to the occasional typographical errors extant in the original). With the Hebrew Masoretic Text as given above (one Hebrew word per slide), I give a simplified transliteration and then an English translation or, in some cases thanks to space limitations, a paraphrase.

To those who might make good use of the PPT files “as is”, I give this Dropbox link to a ZIP archive.

(יוחנן רכב)

Categories: Hebrew Bible, Letteris Edition, Recordings, Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, The Music of the Bible Revealed, Videos | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

FOR WITH THE LORD IS MERCY…

(Psalms 130:7 NKJV) O Israel, hope in the LORD; For with the LORD there is mercy, And with Him is abundant redemption.

(Psalms 130:7 NKJV) O Israel, hope in the LORD; For with the LORD there is mercy, And with Him is abundant redemption.

2015-02-10 @ 13:30 CST

This WordPress blog post by Wallace G. Smith – one of the presenters on the Tomorrow’s World telecast sponsored by the Living Church of God – got me to thinking about one of the greatest things God provides for His own: mercy, or in a broader sense, grace (unmerited favor, covenant love, steadfast love, and all else translators have tried to bring out about the Hebrew hesed and the Greek charis). As the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread approach, hesed is very much on my mind – and when it is, Psalm 130 is one of those passages which I remember and focus on.

Psalms 51, which is Mr. Smith’s focus, was never recorded by Suzanne Haik-Vantoura or her associates in the original Hebrew with its original melody (technically speaking, as the Letteris Edition closely preserves it – the extant textual variants are of academic and musical interest). It was, however, put down in musical score form along with the rest of the Psalter, and it has been arranged for Celtic harp accompaniment. I only have the melody-only score, a page of which follows (retouched first to aged newspaper tan, then to negative image blue):

Psalms 051 (Suzanne Haik-Vantoura), Retouched

Psalms 051 (Suzanne Haik-Vantoura), Retouched

I had the unique privilege of accompanying Gilles Tiar, Suzanne’s closest associate, in his home in Yavne, Israel, when I visited that country a few years ago. He said he didn’t do as well when trying to accompany himself on his small Celtic harp, so I filled in for him there. Mr. Tiar sings this music better than anyone else I know, and what he brought out of the most self-abasing of the Psalms of David is an experience I will never forget.

But for me, Psalms 130 has always been more meaningful as a Psalm of repentance, because it is more poetic (from my point of view, anyway) and because it is also more “musical for its own sake” in the original Hebrew. While David’s name isn’t attached, its style is consistent with his own – few indeed of the Psalmists (i.e., certain anonymous Sons of Korah) surpass him in melodic expression within the limits of the archaic musical system. The blending of words and melody, so characteristic of David – and unmatched by any other Psalmist, frankly – is perfect. Thankfully, SHV put this Psalm at the end of her Volume 2 recording, and here is the penultimate video version I made of it (the opening photo is take from the basic slides being used for the final version):

In his latest post – one of a series – Mr. Smith writes of “things too wonderful for me”. I suspect he got that phrase from the following verse…

(Psalms 139:6 NKJV) Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it.

…but I think first of a similar verse in Psalm 131, which was recorded as Psalms 139 was not:

(Psalms 131:1 NKJV) A Song of Ascents. Of David. LORD, my heart is not haughty, Nor my eyes lofty. Neither do I concern myself with great matters, Nor with things too profound for me.
(Psalms 131:1 RSV) A Song of Ascents. Of David. O LORD, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.

And so in tribute to “things too wonderful for me”, I end with this video of Psalms 131:

Blessed be the name of the Eternal forever and ever!

(יוחנן רכב)

Categories: Churches of God, Gilles Tiar, Hebrew Bible, Internet, Letteris Edition, Recordings, Scores, So Nice I Blogged It Twice, Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, The Music of the Bible Revealed, Videos, WordPress, YouTube | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

NEVEL AND KINNOR: THE SEMITIC LYRE 01 – HANDEDNESS

2015-01-21 @ 12:30 CST

This extremely amateurish YouTube video is the first part of a series of short lectures I hope to give on the Semitic lyre, and especially those types called nevel and kinnor in the Bible. This is about the kinnor, which consistently was played with the bass strings nearest the player. If you were right-handed, the bass strings were on the left; if you were left-handed, the bass strings were on the right. Why was all this so? Because 1) the lyre player wanted to feel the resonance of the bass strings and 2) playing the lyre in this fashion allowed the body to be an additional resonator and thus make the lyre sound louder. You can actually hear the difference on the video.

(יוחנן רכב)

Categories: Ancient Music, JRV Luthier, Luthiers, Lyre of the Moon, Lyres, Musicology, Nevel and Kinnor, Temple Instruments, Two Lyres and a Pipe, YouTube | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

OVERTONES AND UNDERTONES – PART 01

The Overtone Series (MBR English Book, p. 506)

The Overtone Series (MBR English Book, p. 506)

The Undertone Series (MBR English Book, p. 507)

The Undertone Series (MBR English Book, p. 507)

2015-01-06 @ 15:30 CST

This post is a “stub”, mostly to give Michael Levy of the UK something to chew on while I compile more information on the subject. These illustrations come from Suzanne Haik-Vantoura’s English book (they are not part of the original French editions). Their relevance has to do with the nature of “just intonation” and which style lies behind the biblical Hebrew chant she rediscovered – indeed, with the whole question of which tuning is most “natural” in principle, and why. I will say more when I have more to say. :D [NOTE: The creator of the second diagram – not SHV or myself – put in G flat rather than A flat on the staff, and it slipped by everybody into the book. Alas.]

(יוחנן רכב)

Categories: Books, Michael Levy, Musical Systems, Science, Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, The Music of the Bible Revealed, Tuning and Temperament | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

OBJECTIVE AND SUBJECTIVE VIEWS OF THE PSALMS

Psalms 29:1 (Accents Only)

Psalms 29:1 (Accents Only)

2014-12-22 @ 12:00 CST

In my promotion of Suzanne Haik-Vantoura’s (SHV’s) awe-inspiring discovery – the “canonically inspired” music to which Hebrew Scripture was sung in antiquity – I inadvertently, and all too frequently, create a misunderstanding in my hearer’s minds. Here I’ll try to set the matter straight once and for all. Then, when the misunderstanding arises again, I can point them to this essay.

My title focuses on the Psalms, but what I discuss in fact covers the entirety of Hebrew-Christian Scripture. All of it – in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek – was meant to be read aloud in public or in private study, and all of it may be sung aloud (e.g., Psalms 119:54; Revelation 1:3, original Greek and some versions). There are two special notations which make this possible, and together, they comprise the most important part of the “canonically inspired reading tradition” of the original-language texts.

In Hebrew Scripture, there are twenty-four melodic accents by my count, as based on SHV’s own tables. (It is a bit misleading to say there are nineteen or twenty graphemes as she sometimes did, as some have more than one melodic meaning – as she herself brought out in due course.) In Greek Scripture, there are three vocal accents: the famous acute, grave, and circumflex accents (é, è, and ê). The same three vocal accents are found in printed editions of the Greek Septuagint version of the “Old Testament”, and also in Greek and Latin poems outside the biblical canon.

The Roman poet Cicero called the recitation of Greek and Latin texts according to the three vocal accents “obscure song” or “obscure chant” (translations vary). There are other examples of this sort of chant, notably the most ancient form of Vedic chant in India, which likewise uses three accents. Such music is the simplest form of “melogenic” music extant (see this essay by me for the definition).

But such music is hardly “art song”. Biblical Hebrew chant, by contrast, is “art song” – the most basic form we know of. All of the fundamental principles of “good music”, applied to a specific language for a specific purpose, are present in it. The more one studies the matter, directly and by comparison to music history and theory, the more one discovers the truth of this assertion.

What is the purpose, then? Biblical Hebrew chant is meant to lead us, not to our subjective understanding (definition 1) of what the words mean, but to the biblical authors’ objective understanding (definition 6) of what their words mean. It also conveys not only their personalities, but their circumstances, putting us “right there with them” in a way even modern filmmakers and actors can only dream of. That is why the music is “canonically inspired”, as no music we can create and attach to the Scriptures – however expressive, sophisticated, and valid in its own right – can be. And nowhere is all this more true than in the Psalms, which is why I focus on the Psalter here.

(For further clarity: I use “objective” and “subjective” the way psychologist Carl Jung did, and if I had my wish, the way everybody would use these words. An objective mental viewpoint directs its energy outward, toward the object; a subjective mental viewpoint directs its energy inward, toward the subject. This definition and distinction removes biases in discussion, as neither direction of mental energy is innately superior to the other and neither is any more or less apt to be misled than the other.)

But after we gain that objective understanding of Hebrew Scripture, then we can derive whatever subjective application suits us at the time, according to our own personalities and circumstances. That is what “art song” of whatever kind is for.

But this leads us to another question. As SHV underlined, this music cannot be transferred to other languages without destroying its original inspiration. That is why she forbade any such attempt during her lifetime. So are we all asked to take up biblical Hebrew in our musical worship and our daily Bible study – no easy task for most of us who, unlike religious Jews, have no experience with Hebrew at all?

Not at all. But to answer this question properly, some history must be put forward.

Because the Psalter speaks so much of people singing and performing on instruments (usually the Psalmist, but sometimes the whole earth), and because we are used to singing the Psalms as a “hymnal”, we naturally assume that the common people in Israel sang the Psalms. As far as the worship of the Temple went, no, they did not. The priests and Levites acted as intermediaries between God and the people – and that role went in both directions. In formal worship, at least as Chronicles and Ezra describe it, never do the people sing the Psalms or any other sacred text. Yes, they do respond with “Amen” and “Halleluyah”, and so far as we can see, melodically so – but the performance of the text as a whole was not given to them.

Now in the Song of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1ff) we find Moses and the Israelites singing, but in all likelihood the Israelites, once again, merely responded with short, powerful, easily learned verses (specifically verses 3 and 18). The rest was too sophisticated and too complex, surely, to be learned by 600,000 men and their families as quickly as the situation demanded. But a little later, we see Miriam modify Moses’ opening words and melody to a metrical “jig” and lead the women of Israel with timbrels and dances in its performance (verses 20-21). So we see a pattern set: formal worship in formal services, popular worship outside of formal contexts. This pattern continued through Israel’s and Judah’s history and still survives in some synagogue communities. No doubt portions of the Psalms and other texts were modified to fit the popular worship forms, and we see hints here and there of this being done in the biblical text itself (one possibility being the first several verses of Psalms 47).

It seems all the same that only in the Second Temple period, and that after the close of the Hebrew canon, did the Psalms really become the property of the people.  They would have been sung to very simple folk tunes – we may surmise – again just as in the oldest synagogues. This genre of music is what the early Jewish Christians would have heard by far the most frequently. Their visits to the Second Temple, as with the rest of the Jews, was occasional: at the appointed times of the Eternal in Leviticus 23, mostly. The folk music heard locally was, perforce, a wholly local and highly subjective phenomenon. It expressed the personal encounters with the text of those who created them, if in an emotive yet artless way (if the far-too-numerous, technically poor examples preserved by the oldest synagogues are any indication). This is the musical background out of which the original Jewish Christians were called.

Certainly the many priests who came into the early Church (Acts 6:7) brought with them knowledge of the ancestral melodic recitation of Hebrew Scripture. This may well account for the parallels between SHV’s discovery and certain features of Gregorian chant (even to melodic motifs and “tones”), which as an art form emerged much later in our written sources. But not everybody in the growing early Church spoke Hebrew, not even in the Land of Israel. The vernacular of the common people was Aramaic. Greek was also widely spoken. Outside Judea, Greek was the predominant language. The apostles wrote their epistles in Greek, and mostly to Greek-speaking audiences. Even in the synagogues where Jewish and Gentile Christians attended Sabbath services (cf. Acts 15:21), if and when texts were recited in biblical Hebrew, they were recited to “folk liturgies”, which had only aural memories of what was done in the Temple as brought home by pilgrims and perhaps Pharisaic teachers – all without direct access to the priestly “reading tradition”. Remnants of such folk liturgies still exist in the oldest Jewish communities.

Paul’s admonitions in the following verses draw upon three technical terms found in the Greek Septuagint Psalter, all referring to the Psalms properly speaking. Without categorically denying the singing of other biblical texts or the creation of new kinds of music – this would be unreasonable to assume (cf. the later, and quite singable, “true sayings worthy of acceptance” such as 2 Timothy 2:11-13)  – Paul basically advised, “Sing the Psalter”. How then were Greek-speaking Christians, whether Jewish or Gentile – and especially Gentile – to do it, or to sing any other biblical text for that matter?

(Ephesians 5:19 RSV) addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart,
(Colossians 3:16 RSV) Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

This is where the Greek vocal accents come in. The original method gave a range of three notes, for example the equivalent of D#-E-F#. Unaccented syllables would be sung on E. The acute would raise the tune one degree on the accented syllable: to F#. The grave would lower the tune by one note on the accented syllable: to D#. The circumflex would combine both on the accented syllable: first F#, then D#, perhaps resolving in certain cases to E at the end. Not much of a tune, after all.

But the benefit of such “obscure song” in Greek is that it filled in what was missing in the intended meaning as given by the words alone, and that with high precision. Greek needs only three accents as opposed to twenty-four because Greek spells out what Hebrew and Aramaic only imply in context. So if one sung the Psalms in Greek this way, or anything from the whole Greek Septuagint or some other Greek version for that matter, one would have a decent objective understanding of what the words were about. And one could go further – as the evidence shows people did over time – and embellish the vocal accents with a more sophisticated melody, one which would focus on one’s own subjective experience of the text being sung.

Such a subjective experience is what most of us have been used to these past two millennia. We have had no concept that there might be an objective experience in sacred music, let alone considered what that might mean for us. It’s not that subjective experience is inferior to objective experience – that is a modern bias. And of course the bias can work the other way – as in fact it does in some religions, professing-Christian and otherwise. Sound theories of the human psyche see through such biases as through clear glass. So does the Bible itself, for that matter.

But when I was growing up, by age eight I was a poet-composer, and somewhere between eight and eleven I asked my Sunday school teacher(s) what the original music of the Psalms sounded like. No one could tell me. There are reasons I asked this. As a poet-composer, I knew full well that anything I attached to the Scriptures, in either Testament, would be my wholly subjective idea about what the words were about. I had no interest in my subjective ideas – or anyone else’s – about the Bible’s words. I wanted to know how the biblical authors considered their own words: “how they said what they said” under God’s direct inspiration. Only with the New Testament, generally, did I dare write a little original sacred music, for there much more of the inspired meaning is conveyed – even in English translation – by the words alone than in the Old Testament.

It has taken me many years to come to terms with what the New Testament era demands perforce of Christian musicians. God values the objective experience and the subjective experience alike – He designed both in our minds, after all. In Hebrew Scripture, He focuses on the objective experience. In Greek Scripture, perforce, He focuses on the subjective experience. He has His reasons for doing this; sacred music is just one more means of testing everyone’s hearts and spirits at different times in different ways.

The trouble comes mostly because we humans so easily confuse our personal values with God’s universal values (see this LCG Commentary by me for a discussion of this flaw in human thinking). The decision-making part of our minds which is so vulnerable to this confusion – our moral conscience, our “Jungian Introverted Feeling” – is the very same part which is responsible for the most basic part of our “music appreciation”. And therein lies the problem I have with much of what calls itself “contemporary Christian music (CCM)”, and most of historical Jewish and Christian liturgy too.

I often get the impression that when people describe their subjective experiences of the Psalms, and especially when they write and perform CCM, they have the attitude, “This is my subjective impression – my way of valuing the Psalms – and therefore it must be the ‘right’ way, or at least ‘the best’ way, of valuing them.” There are times, undoubtedly, when that is a false impression on my part, and to anyone I misjudge in that area, I apologize in advance. I also say to such people this: When I bring out what the objective meanings of the Psalms and other biblical Hebrew texts are, by presenting SHV’s music on video, it’s not to deny anybody‘s right to have a valid subjective experience either in hearing or in composition, with regard to other forms of sacred music. If they don’t confuse their personal values with God’s universal values, or deny God’s universal principles of “good music” for that matter, in the process – then more power to them. It’s what Paul’s admonitions would lead them to carry out. I’m not about to argue with Paul!

But the biggest plague on both Jewish and Christian sacred music, after the close of the Second Temple period, and especially since the Protestant Reformation, has always been that very attitude: “my subjective viewpoint is the only ‘right’ one, or at least is ‘the best’ one.” That’s why we need objective, God-inspired standards of comparison – and why I’m so profoundly grateful that after 1900 years to the year (70-1970 AD), we finally have such standards again. Not everybody can focus on them professionally as I do. We all have different gifts. But we can all learn something from the biblical examples. I wish that everyone were so willing, even among those who know that the biblical examples have been rediscovered. They are not – and modern musical worship, however well-meaning, however skillfully done, suffers to a greater or lesser degree because of that.

(יוחנן רכב)

Categories: Churches of God, Ethos, Greek Scripture, Hebrew Bible, Melogenic, Melos, Metaphysics, Musicology, Religion, So Nice I Blogged It Twice, The Music of the Bible Revealed, Vocal Accents, Vocal Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Why Christians and “Worship” Teams Should Tune all Instruments to 432 hz and Abandon 440 hz

John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav):

I can neither affirm nor deny the accuracy of much that is said here; much leaves me in doubt (to say no more) without further cross-checking. [EDIT: I deliberately understated what I put here in the way I did so as to let readers make up their own minds. Having done some cross-checking, already I find a great deal of nonsense refuted in a very short space by two valuable essays.] But because the validity of A = 432Hz as a pitch standard is a topic closely related to my own research, and because a musician friend asked me to evaluate this blog, I repost it here for future reference.

Originally posted on The Story Behind The Story:

Why Christians and “Worship” Teams Should Tune to 432 hz and Abandon 440 hz

by A. True Ott, PhD

First of all, allow me to explain the current situation by exploring historical truths.  From the earliest history of instrumental music and “symphony”, we learn from archeological evidence uncovered primarily in the “fertile crescent” of ancient Ur of the Chaldees that the contemporaries of Father Abraham created specific musical instruments and tuned them to a “keynote” pitch of 432 hz.  A number of metallic “tuning triangles” have in fact been unearthed in modern-day Iraq, that were used to “tune” various stringed instruments to a keynote pitch of 432 hz – known today as “Concert A” pitch.

Early Chaldean "Tuning" Triangle - emitting 432 hz tone. Early Chaldean “Tuning” Triangle the original form of today’s “Tuning Forks” – emitting 432 hz tone.

Why did the early Chaldeans tune their various stringed instruments to 432 hz??   The biblical record explains the…

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Categories: Musicology | Tags: | 10 Comments

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