Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Lyre-playing technique and biblical psalmody

Yesterday I received a ten-stringed lyre made by Marini Made Harps and you can see some photographs (in slideshow format) I took of it yesterday here. How it sounds when put in the C minor scale and played with the fingers is well-illustrated by this video put up by another owner of such a lyre.

I tuned the lyre to the basic psalmodic scale as Mme. Haik-Vantoura inferred it from the Masoretic accents, thus extended over the ten-string range:

C D# (E) F# G A B C D# E - where (E) is the tonic of the basic scale.

Just now I was noodling with this lyre, using a guitar pick in keeping with the common practice of playing the kinnor with a plectrum (as Josephus noted for the kinnorot of the Temple). I was playing the melody reconstructed by Haik-Vantoura for Psalms 24:1-7, and found something which surely has relevance for Duane Christensen's consideration of the rhythmic patterns in Psalms, but also for the melodic construction of the Psalms.

Amazingly, the accentuation as preserved in the Letteris Edition for these verses (which differs from that of other versions at critical junctures) leads one to play in a consistent left-right stroking pattern note for note, beginning and ending each verse with a left stroke on the string. No exceptions in those verses, which retain the same mode or musical scale type (it alters in most of the rest of the Psalm).

What if that pattern is consistent in the rest of the Psalms? That could go a VERY long way to explaining why the Psalms have the "melopoetic" metrics that they do. In that scenario, originally the melodic line of the voice or voices would be doubled by the lead kinnor, presumably while other instruments added heterophony as required.

Another potential area of exploration would be variant readings in the printed editions I have and what MS. facsimilies I can look at. Readings which didn't fit the basic pattern of playing I just described - the most natural way of playing the instrument note by note with a plectrum - might well be dismissed as among the many scribal or editorial changes intended to make the notation more "self-consistent" by one arbitrary standard or another.

Best wishes,
John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)


Bob MacDonald said...

The music of the Bible revealed was presented without scholarly criticism at the Oxford Psalms conference last year. Are you aware of ethno-musicologists who support or critique Suzanne Haik Vantourna's work?

The comments at the end of this post on reading Hebrew illustrate where some scholars are in their thinking.


John Wheeler said...

I have a long list of reactions from various people (musicians, composers, music critics, rabbinic authorities, musicologists) when SHV first published her work. They come from compilations she excerpted and put together herself.

I haven't found and put together the negative critiques of the late Eric Werner (student of synagogue chant), Gerard E. Weil (Masoretic specialist) Peter Daniels or some others I know of. I need to do that. I did take the time to reply to James D. Price, Masoretic specialist, as best as I knew how then.


With the unexpected opportunity opening in Mexico City in July I need to prepare for the future by dealing with some of these critiques. The bottom line is that everyone who has followed Suzanne's logic correctly, and without letting prior bias get in the way, has supported her conclusions. One can always argue over technicalities but that is how a model adapts to new information and is not to be feared.

Bob MacDonald said...

Bravo on the Mexico City conference. I will look forward to any news you put on your blog. My duaghter is Music Director in Chapel at Selwyn College in Cambridge. My own experience is with analysis of data such as SHV did on the te'amim. I do not know how to read these marks though I do read Hebrew a little. I would like to perform some of the music and perhaps use it at our parish church here in Victoria. I would also like to study sufficiently to get my daughter interested past the point of initial skepticism. She knows the performers who did the work at Oxford. Partly for me it is curiosity but also that desire to share communications with the ancient writers and musicians as I do to some extent through my personal translations.. Thanks for your reply. I have this blog on my reader.

Bob MacDonald said...

The pdf's on this page appear to have broken links

John Wheeler said...

That problem on my site should now be corrected. Let me know if you find any other broken links or problems.

Bob MacDonald said...

and http://www.rakkav.com/biblemusic/pdfs/articles/real_meaning.pdf
both from page http://www.rakkav.com/biblemusic/pages/appendices/reply_price.htm are still broken

Perhaps it is a capitalization issue - most servers are sensitive to upper-lower case in the URL