Ilse Lehiste Memorial Symposium

From the Linguistics Department site at the Ohio State University, an announcement of the Ilse Lehiste Memorial Symposium: The Melody and Rhythms of Language, November 11-12. Invited speakers: Jaan Ross, Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre; Janet Fletcher, University of Melbourne; and Linda Shockey, University of Reading.

Opening remarks by Keith Johnson, UC Berkeley; closing remarks by me. Submitted abstracts are invited; see the website.

Language Log postings on the occasion of Ilse’s death:

AZ, 12/27/10: Ilse Lehiste (link)

ST, 12/28/10: Ilse Lehiste again (link)

AZ, 1/10/11: For Ilse Lehiste (link)

From the last of these:

Yesterday in Sunnyvale, I led the peninsula shapenote singers in a memorial song for her. Not one of my usual ones, but an extravagant, transcendant, oh-so-not Lutheran “shouting song”, Hallelujah (#146 in the Sacred Harp) — Ilse came to singings when they were at my house in Columbus — where I could go all crazy on the chorus

The organizers of the symposium have asked me for a rendering of #146 in my remarks. As I said to Brian Joseph, echoing Anna Russell, my quartet singing is not what it used to be (this is four-part music), so I’m musing on ways to bring the song to the symposium, along with some comments on the fit between the poetry (by Charles Wesley, in iambic tetrameter), the prosody of the words in spoken language, and the setting to music, with comments on performance practice (what you see on the page is not necessarily what singers do; there’s syncopation, slides, turns, and so on). The song as it appears in The Sacred Harp:

A few notes about the complexity here: The natural reading of the words as poetry has a rest instead of the fourth foot in lines 2 and 4 of the verses, so you’d expect the music to hold the last syllable of those lines for a whole measure, but instead the music rushes right on from the third foot to the next line (similarly for the last syllable of line 4 of the chorus); this sort of rushing-ahead is common in shapenote music. Then there are the slurs, some (but not all) of which are often performed syncopated, with time stolen from the first of the two notes and given to the second. There are often turns linking the last two notes of the “short” lines, for trebles (top line) and tenors (third line, the melody). (The trebles and tenors are singing counter-melodies, by the way.) And, for the trebles and tenors, some singers slide up from the last note of the verse to the first note of the chorus (I’m fond of those slides myself).

If you compare different performances — I have nine on my iTunes — you’ll hear everything from very straight renderings to highly ornamented ones. Even for the straight renderings, the fit of prose to poetry to music is complex, in ways that Ilse would have found fascinating.



6 Responses to “Ilse Lehiste Memorial Symposium”

  1. Dan Says:

    Thank you for your insights in the the fit between hymn text, spoken prosody, and tune. I have often wondered if there’s a correspondence between spoken English/American dialects/accents and tune rhythms; thus, the way William Billings of the First New England School of composers treats a C.M. tune differs from the way a 19th C. Southern composer like Walker treats a C.M. tune. And English composers such as Ralph Vaughan Williams have still another slightly different set of rhythmic conventions for C.M. tunes. Any insights on this from a linguist’s point of view?

    Speaking as a Sacred Harp singer myself, what really interests me about the tune Hallelujah is the refrain, where the tune is written to fit one set of words (as opposed to the verses, where one tune has to fit 4+ sets of words). As I sing this tune, it feels as though Walker captured something of both the rhythm and melody of the way he might have spoken these words. Although it’s not my dialect so I’m not sure about that — as someone who speaks both Boston-area dialect and academic-American dialect, Walker’s setting sounds a little foreign to my ear, but it sounds pretty natural as well.

  2. Hallelujah « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] follow-up to a recent posting with the Sacred Harp song Hallelujah (#146) in it: four recordings of the hymn, by various […]

  3. nbmandel Says:

    There are shapenote singers in Columbus, even at OSU; perhaps they would come and sing for you. Try Eric Conrad, in or formerly of the math department. (Unfortunately the links through his OSU site seem to be broken.) Thanks for getting me thinking about the prosody of SH texts.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Indeed there are shapenote singers in Columbus; it’s where I started to sing. I’m working on making some connection with the singers there, though I left the place 13 years ago and of course things have changed.

  4. nbmandel Says:

    Sorry, I hope that came across as enthusiasm rather than as suggesting you have no research skills.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: