Practical cats

A few weeks ago I mentioned the musical Cats, and commented about translating the title and the lyrics into other languages, including Korean.

The first song is ‘Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats’, which is not in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, so I guess it was in TS Eliot’s unpublished poems, along with Grizabella. Andrew Lloyd Webber consulted Valerie Eliot while composing this work. (Note that Trevor Nunn wrote the lyrics for ‘Memory’ (and see my previous comments about this song here.)) The song ends with a series of 22 occurrences of ‘adj cats’:

Practical cats, Dramatical cats
Pragmatical cats, Fanatical cats
Oratorical cats, Delphicoracle cats
Skeptical cats, Dispeptical cats
Romantical cats, Penantical cats
Critical cats, Parasitical cats
Allegorical cats, Metaphorical cats
Statistical cats and Mystical cats
Political cats, Hypocritical cats
Clerical cats, Hysterical cats
Cynical cats, Rabbinical cats

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organ

organ
1. Also called pipe organ. a musical instrument …
4. Biology. a grouping of tissues  …
5. penis.

Church musicians with a certain sense of humour, or people with a certain sense of humour who know church musicians, are prone to making jokes about organs. At one time it was possible to buy t-shirts or windcheaters with the words ‘Bach’s organ works’ on the front and ‘and so does mine’ on the back. (Note: JS Bach and his two successive wives produced 20 children between them.)

It is possible for writers from earlier times to make innocent innuendo. During his visits to England, Felix Mendelssohn met and became quite friendly with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. On one visit, Mendelssohn wrote (in a diary or letter):

Joking apart, Prince Albert asked me to go to him on Saturday at two o’clock so that I may try his organ.

ed Derek Watson, The Wordsworth Dictionary of Musical Quotations

Cats

On Sunday a former colleague in Korea posted on Facebook that he was attending a performance of the musical Cats in Seoul. Someone else asked him if it was in English or Korean. He replied that it was in English, without mentioning whether the performers were Korean or foreign. I later discovered that the production is, in fact, Australian.

Translating any poetry is difficult, given the competing requirements of meaning, meter and sound, especially in this case Eliot’s idiosyncratic English and Lloyd Webber’s world-famous music. Despite all that, Cats has been translated – Wikipedia says into more than 20 languages (with citing a source), and the show’s official website says 15 languages. Neither source lists the translations.

One obvious problem with any translation is the words cat and cats, which are so important in the meter of the poems and the rhythm of music. These are not necessarily one syllable in other languages. Taking four major European languages as examples, only French (chat, chats) has monosyllable equivalents, while German (Katze, Katzen), Italian (gatto, gatti) and Spanish (gato, gatos) have bisyllabic ones. The situation is even worse in Korean, where cat is 고양이 (go-yang-i) and cats is either 고양이 or 고양이들 (go-yang-i-deul – the plural marker is optional and usually omitted). So 고양이들 has as many syllables as ‘Jellicle cats’. (Google Translate translates ‘Jellicle songs for Jellicle cats’ (9 syllables) as ‘젤리 클 고양이의 젤리 클 노래’ (12 syllables).

From what I’ve found on this internet, all the publicity for this production in Seoul uses the English word Cats. I also found another production called Original 어린이 캣’s (Original children cat’s) which played in Seoul from late 2016 to mid-2017 (I saw posters for this in Daejeon before I left there in August 2016).

I’ve got more to say about this, but I need to do more research.

saeng-il chuk-ha ham-ni-da v Happy birthday to you

This morning my wife was watching a Korean tv reality program about a young man (possibly a K-pop star) travelling around with his grandmother. During the episode, she celebrates her birthday. He sings happy birthday to her in Korean (slowly), then English (up-tempo). Koreans use the standard tune but alter the rhythm to 3/4 + 4/4 by adding a beat to the equivalent of ‘you’. (I get caught out every time.)

The Korean words are: saeng-il chuk-ha ham-ni*-da (extra beat), saeng-il chuk-ha ham-ni-da (extra beat), sa-rang-ha-neun (name) (pause), saeng-il chuk-ha ham-ni-da – approximately: birthday congratulations (to you) we do, loving (name). [*The Korean has an extra syllable here and in the second and fourth lines. These two syllables fit into one beat (dotted quaver – semiquaver).] He made two changes: he sang shin (the formal word for ‘day’) instead of il and hal-meo-ni (grandmother/grandma) instead of ‘(name)’. Korean names traditionally have two syllables, so usually fit those two notes better than English-speaking names (with a greater range in the number of syllables) do. Except that he sang hal-meo-ni, which required two small notes (dotted quaver – semiquaver) in that beat (compare ‘Jennifer’ or a similar name). (hal-a-beo-ji (grandfather) has four syllables: compare ‘Olivia’.)

When he sang it in English, he changed the whole rhythm to 4/4, with an extra beat on ‘day’ as well as ‘you’. Instead of ‘dear grandmother/grandma’, he sang hal-meo-ni, which really messed up the rhythm.

(I’ve been meaning to write about the Korean version of Happy birthday. The tv program was a convenient prompt.)

Mary’s Boy Child

My first exposure to a non-standard variety of English was probably the Christmas song Mary’s Boy Child. One of my grandmothers had the sheet music and various members of the family sang it in various combinations when we visited at Christmas.

I vaguely remember vaguely thinking, ‘oh, this is different English’, not ‘oh, this is bad English’. Researching for this post, I found that Jester Hairston was born in a rural community in North Carolina, but grew up in Pittsburgh and later studied at Tufts University (Medford, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston) and the Juilliard School (Manhattan, New York). An obituary in the Los Angeles Times refers to his Boston accent, which he had to ‘lose’ for (stereotypically Black, at the time) radio and tv roles.

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Fine for parking here

Yesterday in class, someone, whether a student or I, said something about either one word with two different meanings or two very similar words, which made me think, ‘Oooh, are those two meanings/words actually related?’. After class, I promptly forgot about it, until mid-evening, when I suddenly had a memory of it happening, but no memory of what the meanings/words were. After some racking of my brains, I thought, ‘I’ll look in the textbook tomorrow morning’.

Fortunately, I remembered to do that, and found the word. The topic was traffic, and the textbook introduced compound nouns: bus lane, railway station, seat belt etc. One was parking fine, and I’d said something like ‘That’s not the same word as fine, ok’, before thinking ‘Oooh …’.

Before you continue, think for a moment whether fine, ok is related to parking fine, and if so, how?

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‘O Lord, increase our faith’

Last night at choir rehearsal we practiced ‘O Lord, increase our faith’ by Henry Loosemore (d 1670). In it, we prayed for ‘wisdom, charity, chastity and patience’. The printed edition used by one of my first choirs omitted ‘chastity’ and instead repeated ‘charity’, but the choirmaster told us to sing ‘chastity’ anyway.

Praying for something generally means that you aren’t or don’t have it now. You may well give thanks for what you are or have now, but you don’t need to pray for it. Chastity seems to be an ‘all or nothing’ sin; either you are chaste (‘refraining from sexual intercourse that is regarded as contrary to morality or religion’) or you are not. It is possible to be a little bit unwise, uncharitable or impatient, but it’s not possible to be a little bit unchaste.

We pray/sing ‘endue us with wisdom …’. It is very easy to turn ‘endue us’ into ‘endure us’. And it may well be very appropriate to pray ‘O Lord, endure us with patience’.