11:11 PM 8/9/2012
Recently I was contacted by the author of this blog post, who’s been asking me for help in learning the method Suzanne Haik-Vantoura inferred as the “deciphering key” (her words, and good ones) for the te`amim (טעמים). As he posted his first effort to write Psalms 114 into score form, I thought it would be easiest just to convert my PDF copy of SHV’s own score into JPG files and post the pages for comparison here.
First, I give here the original Hebrew base text: Psalms 114 as found in the Letteris Edition. (I have PDFs of all the Psalms as photocopied from an all-Hebrew printing made somewhere in Europe. I used one of the photocopies, which splits the Psalm into two parts across two pages, as the source of the above graphic. Not all of the photocopying flaws could be removed.)
Above we have Bob MacDonald’s first attempt at writing a score based on Mme. Haik-Vantoura’s key. Below we have Mme. Haik-Vantoura’s own score:
SHV inferred that this Psalm (given its structure) was sung throughout by alternating small choirs. There is an arrangement I can infer that could bring out the sense of the words even better: alternating small choirs for the first six verses, then the full chorus on the last two verses (first loud, then comparatively soft). This is the arrangement that SAVAE (San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble) used in their arrangement of one of the old synagogue melodies used for this very Psalm (as found on this recording).
In my opinion this Psalm could have been sung by boys’ voices such as we know were used in at least Second Temple times to “sweeten the tone”, most likely joined by the regular men’s chorus on the last two verses. Also in my opinion, this Psalm is too subtle to be composed by a child as Mr. MacDonald thinks (more than youthful genius is required, so is spiritual maturity – nothing less could balance both the innocence and the depth in the faith expressed!), but to be presented largely by and for children is quite another matter.
SHV’s transcription technique, fully developed by the time the scores of the Psalms were published, is worth discussing.
- First, the Hebrew is transcribed into French characters and with a simplified pronunciation with regard to some of the vowels (particularly the diverse sorts of “e” vowels).
- In the French transcription, with the sole exception of certain Divine names, only letters which receive double force in their pronunciation are capitalized.
- Next, she gives the te`amim in their printed positions above and below the words and syllables (in some Psalms, even to the point of being over-scrupulous where the original typesetting was flawed with regard to position or even kind of sign used).
- Next, every note demanded by the te`amim, no more and no less according to her inferred rules of interaction, is transcribed onto the modern staff, with E taken as the conventional tonic.
- Finally, those notes that are explicitly accented by the te`amim are transcribed with white heads and are sung with an explicit accent, in addition to the “arched dynamics” that rises and falls with the pitch of the notes within each verse.
This score, along with all the other texts transcribed by SHV (some 5,000 verses or about 1/4th of Hebrew Scripture), is available along with much else on THE BIBLICAL CHANT LIBRARY DVD-ROM. For further information, please contact this author.
(יוחנן רכב הסופר)