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.