Pronunciation In Singing

It is impossible to emphasise too strongly the importance of clear

pronunciation in singing. The English, as a rule, pronounce

indistinctly. "We carry on our talk," says Mr. H. Deacon, "in mere

smudges of sound," a graphic and true way of putting things. The

Scotch, Welsh, and Americans pronounce better than we do. Indistinctness

and bad dialect arise, roughly speaking, from two sources--impure vowels

and omitted conso
ants. The impure vowels are generally due to local

habits of speech, such as the London dialect, which makes a colourless

mixture of all the vowels. In some parts of Scotland also the vowels are

very impure. The voice-training exercises given elsewhere are several of

them directed towards the production of good vowel tone, but the danger

is lest the power gained in these should not be applied to the actual

words encountered in psalm, canticle, anthem, or hymn. A sentence

containing all the vowels may be chanted repeatedly on a monotone, but

after all the best exercise consists in constant watchfulness against

mispronunciation in the ordinary weekly practice.

Man, according to Mr. R. G. White, may be defined as a consonant-using

animal. He alone of all animals uses consonants. The cries of animals

and of infants are inarticulate. So is the speech of a drunken man, who

descends, vocally as well as in other ways, to the level of the beasts.

This idea has been expressed in another way, by saying that vowels

express the emotional side of speech, and consonants its intellectual

side. All these distinctions point to the great importance of a clear

enunciation of initial and final consonants, and a clear separation of

words. A well-known bishop said to a candidate for ordination, "Before

uttering a second word be sure that you have yourself heard the first."

It is of no use to give a list of common errors, because each part of

the country has its own bad points of dialect. The choirmaster should

take his standard of English from the best preacher and reader he has

the chance to hear, and endeavour to conform his boys to it.

But localisms are not the only faults. Boys are very apt to clip their

words in chanting, to omit the smaller parts of speech altogether, and

to invent new and meaningless sounds of their own. The most familiar

parts of the service need frequent and watchful rehearsal to prevent

this tendency. Chanting, as a rule, is much too fast, and the eagerness

of the boys must be restrained in this direction.

In those rare cases where pronunciation and elocutional phrasing reach a

high pitch of excellence, the music of the service makes a double appeal

to the heart. It bears not only the charm of sweet sounds, but the

eloquence of noble words.