Carmen and James Taylor

One of the choirs I sing in sang two concerts with another community choir – last week on our turf and this week on theirs. Our choir sang excerpts from Carmen, which we will be singing in a concert performance later this year. Our conductor plugged the concert several times. After the concert, a man asked me “Is the opera in English?”. I said “No, it’s all in French”. He said “Oh, I don’t understand French”. (Neither does most of the choir, but that doesn’t stop us singing it.) I said “There’ll be a good explanation in the program, and you can find information on the internet”. He asked “What’s it about, basically?”. I thought for a moment then said “Boy meets girl. Girl meets other boy. Boy fights other boy. Boy kills girl.” He said “I know that story”.

Most of the other choir and some of mine had dinner at a local pub. One of the other choir’s singers said to me “You look like James Taylor”. I said “Oh” because no-one has said that before. Then I thought she said “And you sing like him too”, so I said “Oh thank you”. (I wasn’t sure how she’d heard me closely enough to think that.) She said “I said ‘Can you sing like him too?’”. I said “I don’t know”. And I may never know.

^ James Taylor or me


^ or maybe I look like this!

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Words from paradise

One of the choirs I sing in is rehearsing a work consisting of five movements each setting one word from the Bible. The words – holy, hallelujah, selah, hosanna and amen – are from Germanic, Hebrew, Greek and/or Latin, and are now different degrees of ‘English’.

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Country, country

Today is Saint David’s Day. He was an early Welsh bishop and is the patron saint of Wales. No doubt many renditions of Mae hen wlad fy nhadau will be rendered from Cardiff to Holyhead. I am not an expert in Welsh, so I will keep this to my own experience.

When I was young, one of my piano tutor books had many songs from many countries, including this one. I remember that the title was given as O land of my fathers and the words entirely in English. The first line was O land of my fathers, O land dear to me, but I can’t remember enough of the rest of it to attempt to reproduce it, and the internet doesn’t seem to have it.

The first two words of the chorus were Great land. I now know that the original is Gwlad, gwlad, meaning country, countryside, nation.

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“Let us all Thy grace receive”

If there’s anything worse than a linguistic rabbit hole, it’s a theological rabbit hole.

At choir practice on Thursday night, we rehearsed an anthem on the famous hymn Love divine, all loves excelling by Charles Wesley. For the first time, I noticed the ambiguity in the line:

Let us all Thy grace receive.

Is that:

(Let) (us all) (Thy grace) (receive)

or

(Let) (us) (all Thy grace) (receive)

?

Linguistically, there’s no way to decide in this case. Both are grammatical and usual/natural. In both, the word all can be omitted, perhaps with a change of emphasis but not of basic meaning. To the extent that I’d ever thought about it, I had always assumed the first reading.

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Christmas hymns

Two of the most popular Christmas hymns are Hark, the herald angels sing and Joy to the world. We sang both on Tuesday morning, which sparked this post.

Hark, the herald angels sing is usually sung to the tune MENDELSSOHN, which is usually credited as, eg, “From a chorus by Felix Mendeslssohn-Bartholdy 1809-47 adapted by William Hayman Cummings 1831-1915” (The Australian Hymn Book). So which work of Mendelssohn is this adapted from? Something pretty obscure. The website Hymnary.org states:

The tune is from the second chorus of Felix Mendelssohn’s Festgesang (Op. 68) for male voices and brass; it was first performed in 1840 at the Gutenberg Festival in Leipzig, a festival celebrating the anniversary of Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press.

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Another rabbit hole confounds me

Another day, another linguistic rabbit-hole.

On Sunday, we sang Universi qui te expectant by Michael Haydn, which I had not previously known. The Latin of the two verses (Psalm 25:3-4) is:

Universi qui te expectant non confundentur, Domine
Vias tuas Domine notas fac mihi et semitas tuas edoce me.

No English translation is given in the score, but at the rehearsal one of the choir members quickly found:

Let none that wait on thee be ashamed
Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths. [KJV]

Hang on, though. A little bit of Latin shows that Universi is everyone/all, and that non confundentur is will not be confounded, so the verse should be translated:

Everyone who waits for you will not be confounded.

(The more common Latin word for everyone/all is omnes, which can be followed by a noun: omnes gentes or omnes generationes.) Continue reading

O great mystery

One of the choirs I’m singing in is rehearsing the motet O magnum mysterium by Tomas Luis da Victoria.

The text is:

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
iacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Iesum Christum.
Alleluia!

One more-or-less standard English translation is:

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
the Lord, Jesus Christ.
Alleluia!

Every time I’ve sung it, I’ve been struck by how many of the Latin words have engendered English words. English is officially classified as a Germanic language, but many of its advanced words are derived from Latin. In fact, two of the words are Greek and two are Hebrew through Greek. Some words came into English via French rather than directly from Latin. Continue reading