Singing in foreign langs
|From:||Jan van Steenbergen <ijzeren_jan@...>|
|Date:||Monday, January 13, 2003, 20:38|
--- Sally Caves skrzypszy:
> > Jan van Steenbergen wrote:
> > >> That's something I've always been interested in: how do opera singer
> > >> learn to sing in languages they don't know.
I didn't write that question, I just tried to answer it ;)
> Tell me about your own singing, Jan. And whether you create songs in your
> language that you sing. And record.
My singing? Oh, that is a long story. I was born in a family of musicians (my
father was a conductor, composer, music teacher and oboist, my mother an
organist and a singer, the latter in a grey past before I was born), so I grew
up with music. I became a member of a childrens' choir at five, sung in the
boys' choir in Bach Matthäus Passion, etc.
In 1992 I joined a choir specialized in performing contemporary (classical)
music, the "Koor Nieuwe Muziek" in Amsterdam. I was a regular member of it for
nine years. Unfortunately, our conductor was a celebrity, who died completely
unexpectedly in 1999, and after that, the choir deteriorated quickly. It
doesn't exist in its old form anymore.
Anyway, I took part in about 100 concerts of this choir, and performed various
repertoire in various languages. Off hand, I can remember Dutch, English,
German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Latin, Ancient Greek, Russian
(Schnittke, Shostakovich), Hungarian (Ligeti), Norwegian, Danish (Nørgård),
Japanese, Korean (Yun) ... Oh yes, and one piece in Old French by a young Dutch
I wrote a piece myself for the choir too (a cantata in nine movements, on texts
in Latin, Greek, Turkish, Sanskrit, Tocharian, and Old High German). It was
How does that sound, eh?
Now I don't sing anymore; with a full-time job and a daughter who reached the
age of one today (!), I just can't afford this kind of hobbies anymore. For the
same reason, I allowed myself a long sabbatical from composing, the only art
form that I really consider "my calling". Sure, I miss it, but life is tough,
sometimes. Anyway, I expect to come back to it later. Conlanging as at least
more convenient as a hobby in this sense that I can dedicate as much time to it
as Real Life allows me.
And now about the idea of writing music in my conlangs. I have thought about
the possibility lately. But what withholds me are basically three things.
First, not that I am secretive about my conlanging or so, but I have never felt
the need to advertise it either. Let's say that I am a bit reluctant...
Second, since I started conlanging more seriously (which was, more or less,
after I joined the list), I haven't written a single note anymore.
And the most important reason: I completely lack any poetic talent. Before
writing a piece of vocal music, you must have a wonderful and inspiring text,
and I am definitely not the person who can write it. And who else would write
it? On the other hand, I never use translations, but - as a matter of principle
- always the original language.
So, the idea of combining these two forms of art into one whole appeals to me a
lot, but I doubt whether I am the right person to do it. Maybe one of the other
on this list (Jesse Raccio, Dan Seriff, a few others perhaps...)
> Roger wrote:
> > Singing in general seems to deform language in curious ways. Though
> > fluent in Spanish, I've never been able to puzzle out songs, aside from
> > the inevitable rhymes "corazón...amor". A slightly crazed friend heard
> > "with innocent pleasures" (from Purcells's "Come ye sons of art") as "with
> > hymnals and prayerbooks", and the Magnificat's "quia fecit mihi magna" as
> > "we are facing Mimi Gaga"-- childhood names for his grandmothers.
LOL!!! That's the best I have heard in a while!
One thing I remember from childhood: when I was six, seven years, I used to get
up early every morning and listen to those huge tapes that were used before the
cassette became popular. My favourite was Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas". But of
course, I didn't know any English by that time.
I still have a strange relationship with the piece. I know literally every note
of it, but I just can't memorize the text. There is one place where I just
can't help hearing a certain "President Moore" mentioned, but don't ask me
about the correct text.
> As for distortion, it always seemed to me that singers of songs in Spanish
> were far more willing to put the emphasis on the "wrong" syllable than
> singers of English songs, or to end measures in the middle of a word.
Well, I don't know Spanish. However, I have similar problems in Polish. My
Polish, I dare say, I quite fluent, but I just simply can't understand Polish
songs. Whether this is due to distortion or to something else I can't say. I
guess it has more to do with my inability to concentrate on more sounds
simultaneously (for example, I am completely unable to have a conversation in a
loud café, or with a radio or TV switched on). And the music always wins it
from the words.
> When I try to put
> Teonaht into verse, especially rhyming verse, I still labor under the
> anglophonic assumption that the words cannot be distorted, emphasis cannot
> be changed, verbal phrases have to match measures; and therefore it's
> incredibly hard to versify Teonaht. I'm trying to shake free of that.
In French music of the fourteenth century (the so-called "Ars Nova", and
subsequently the fascinating "Ars subtilior") it was quite a common phenomenon
to violate word stress even on purpose! Counterintuitively, one would say, but
that, I guess, was part of the art.
The closest I ever made to poetry in a conlang is my Hattic translation of
Irina's "Starlings' Song" (you can find it at Irina's site). It is both rhyming
and metric, and that's how I like it. This translation set a rule, in this
sense that in poetry, metrum is superior to word stress. Inspiration from
Ancient Greek verse, I suppose.
"Originality is the art of concealing your source." - Franklin P. Jones
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