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Changing a word

I am conducting Ferguson's Ye Foillowers of the Lamb for festival. A portion of the participants have a problem with "I'm glad I am a Shaker" because the Shakers were considered a cult. Could I change it to "I'm glad I am a Christian"?
Replies (33): Threaded | Chronological
on February 4, 2012 10:53am
Eddie:  What Philip said!!!  He's exactly right.  Ethically you cannot give in to unreasoning prejudice, unless of course this is an openly religious festival and it is necessary to bastardize the text to satisfy narrow prejudices.  Legally if the work is copyrighted you are on shaky ground making any changes in the copyrighted text.  Morally isn't it your duty to try to educate those with unreasonable viewpoints?
Perhaps you could remind them that Christianity was regarded as and persecuted as a cult until it became the official state religion of the latter day Roman Empire (4th Century AD, in case anyone asks--four hundred YEARS of persecution!).  And any separate branch of Christianity (and there are many!) considers every other branch to be a cult today.  (Just listen to the politicians and the "pastors" who broadcast their own irrational prejudices to further their own personal agendas!)  If God had meant us to be rational beings He would have given us working minds, not bumper-sticker slogans.
But of course you must consider your own situation, which we have the freedom to ignore.
All the best,
on February 4, 2012 11:55am
Shaker and Christian would not likely have been interchangeable with the people of those times.  When this comes up (and it does at church, community and sometimes university situations), I ask people to consider themselves to be actors ... portraying the words as they were written for the piece/work.
To oversimplify, would someone refuse to play Lady MacBeth because the charachter turns out to be a murderer and that is morally wrong?? 
I feel similarily about some kinds of word changes.
on February 4, 2012 8:02pm
Since this was posted under "Legal issues" I'm assuming the question is whether this is legal or not (whether it is ethical or not may of course be open to interpretation).  I, too, am interested in more clarity on this type of copyright issue--although, I'm guessing that the answer is on a case by case basis, depending on who owns the song/lyrics and when...
on February 4, 2012 9:34pm
Fair enough, Heidi.  And here's the problem.  Copyrighted material is property.  It belongs to someone by law, for a specified period of time.  And copyright law (U.S., that is) specifies that a copyright covers music and any lyrics associated with it.
That already gets complicated if the lyrics are not original.  In that case they are either used with permission, in the public domain, or used improperly without permission.  If they are in the public domain I don't even want to think about how that affects their use IN THAT MUSICAL SETTING!  It makes my head ache.
ON THE OTHER HAND, one of the provisions of the Fair Use Guidelines is that legally-purchased copies of music may be "simplified or edited" (or words to that effect) as needed.  Does that imply permission to mess with someone's poetry?  Again, I don't have a clue.
This is why lawyers get the big bucks, why specialist copyright lawyers are thin on the ground, and why questions like this are settled by court cases and judges who consider all sides, not by arguing personal opinions.  You want clarity, go into the stock market!!!  You won't find it in copyright law!
BUT, one can always ask permission of a copyright owner or assignee to do something with their property, and in this case that's probably exactly what Eddie should do.  That comes under one of the things we're supposed to have learned in Kindergarten:  if you want to play with somebody else's toys, ask permission first!
Will Eddie get caught and sued if he changes the words?  Very low probablility.  So that leaves his decision very much an ethical one, not simply a legal one.  Life's like that.
All the best,
on February 5, 2012 12:45am
I am taken back exactly 50 years, although the memory has no bearing on the present issue.
Our Paranjoti Chorus was embarking on its first European tour; and the cheapest fares were quoted by (then) Middle East Airways via Cairo,
where we were forced to spend a couple of days - as at that time, connecting flights were neither as frequest nor as convenient as these days.
Part of the programme was Bach's "Singet dem Herrn" sung (regrettably) in English.
Paranjoti, fearing that enthuiastic cries of "Israel, Israel" would be definitely not appreciated in the Cairo of those days,
and not having the time to make a programme change, had the chorus sing "Land of God, Land of God" instead.
No harm done, either to the sense or to the music.
(Since 1967, when Paranjoti died, and my wife was elected conductor, we avoid English translations from European language works.)
Just an old man reminiscing.
Paranjoti Academy Chorus of Bombay, India.
on February 5, 2012 12:43pm
Love this story Nariman -   a circumstance where it was lifesaving to change a word!
on February 5, 2012 8:25pm
What a great addition to this discussion.  Thank you.
on February 5, 2012 5:51am
This is quite intriguing, since a question at around this time last year regarding Wilhousky's "Battle Hymn" led to a lengthy discussion in which quite a few of the respondents felt it was OK, depending upon the current political situation (whether we are currently at war or not), to alter the original phrase "let us die to make men free" to "let us live to make men free." There is a choral tradition of doing just this with this arrangement.
And, John, you didn't actually take a position on this practice, there! Neither did you back in a discussion of the same arrangement in 1996, acc. to the archives. It seems that many choral conductors have felt quite free to change just this one word, in this one song, which happens to be a hugely historic and well-known song for our nation - and yet, many have felt simply no qualms about changing just the one word. In fact, back in 1996 when this same topic was discussed, a total of 36 choral conductors were in favor of changing "die" to live, and only SIX maintained that we should remain faithful to the orginal text.  And  the Wilhousky arrangement was created in the 1940s, so his text was definitely still under copyright in 1996 during the earlier ChoralNet discussion.
And all this, even though the linguistic parallel of "As Christ died to make men holy, let us die to make men free" is COMPLETELY LOST and nonsensible if the one word is altered to "live"! At least Mr. Creer's suggested word change makes internal sense in the piece, I am assuming!
Is it possible for us to make an attempt to be consistent? Otherwise, it's not fair for Mr. Creer to be subjected to this hard-line approach. I understand completely what all of you are saying about copyright; but I'm just asking for consistency, because several of you would probably have no qualms about changing the one word in "Battle Hymn." When we rule with an iron thumb but then commit the same sin ourselves and feel completely comfortable with it, it doesn't come across as being very fair.
on February 5, 2012 10:43am
Hi, Cherwyn, and thanks for bring up "Battle Hymn."  But there's a rather significant difference there.  That text is unquestionably in the public domain, belongs to all of us, and can be modified by anyone who chooses to do so.  Legally, at least.  Morally or poetically the argument isn't nearly as clearcut.  And the words in the Wilhousky arrangement (which is STILL in copyright, by the way, assuming it was renewed in its 28th year) were not HIS text at all, they were public domain.
As to consistency, didn't someone once write that "consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds"?  I'm actually getting pretty tired of politicians who are conscientiously "consistent" and "on message" while at the same time being dirty lying ruffians!
But I do believe that as performers we are story tellers, actors if you will, and should be able to deal with texts that may not in fact reflect our own innermost beliefs.  Actors have no problem with that--it's part of their craft.  Instrumentalists seldom have a problem with it.  It's singers who seem to take things personally.
All the best,
on February 6, 2012 5:31am
Hi, John,
While I knew that the original text was public domain, isn't it also true that when a text is wedded to a musical setting, it becomes copyrighted for that specific setting? I thought that perhaps you, yourself, had even made this point a while back. (But I might be mistaken.) Does not this mean that we can't fiddle with it in association with HIS particular setting? I may have the wrong impression.
As far as your 2nd argument is concerned - perhaps singers take things "personally" because we, as conductors, are always urging them to take them personally in order to elicit or provoke a more heartfelt delivery - "What does this text mean to you? How does it still have relevance today, for me, for you, for our audience members? Can we make this song 'ours," somehow?"
And then, other times, "Don't take the words to heart for yourselves - you are merely actors. Just make it believable to the audience."
I find the mixed messages that we send to our singers to be quite possibly the source of such consternation.
on February 6, 2012 9:25am
Cherwyn:  This might have a clearcut answer for someone who knows copright from a legal viewpoint, but to me it's one of the many grey areas.  It's a fact that under U.S. law once something enters the public domain it can never again be claimed or copyrighted.  And this should apply to literary works (and poetry) just as much as to music.  But it's also a fact that new editions and new arrangements of public domain works CAN carry their own copyrights, as long as there is new "intellectual material" involved, although the new copyright does NOT, EVER convey ownership of the original PD material.  And it's also a fact that the simplistic definition of copyright for music does say that it includes "any text that is associated" or words to that effect.
So to me it's up in the air, and I honestly don't know.
As to singers taking the words personally, we may have different concepts of what actors actually do.  They assume characters.  And their characters speak (or sing) the words they are given.  So their CHARACTERS have to believe what they're saying (unless their particular character is a liar who KNOWS he's lying!!!) even if the ACTORS don't.  So why should singers be any different?  Perhaps it's just a matter of training and the diffrence between the acting culture and the singing culture, exactly as you suggest.
Tom Carter, over to you!
All the best,
on February 5, 2012 6:10am
As I understand the nature of the work, at least how it was presented to me, it would be inappropriate to change the word because of the function of the song in the Shaker's belief system. It would not translate to a wider Christian context. It seems that to be culturally true, that nature would be compromised, by losing or changing its identity. Isn't part of the reason for doing culturally diverse works an opportunity to learn from that culture? I say educate your singers instead of letting them see it from an uninformed perspective.
on February 5, 2012 6:57am
A couple of postings in this thread use acting as an analogy. I'd like to point out that, in the theatre, directors routinely change words, stage directions, sometimes whole scenes to suit their own ideas; and actors ad lib, or write their own changes into the script. Characters are often played quite differently from how the author originally conceived them. A new production may give an old play a whole new meaning. However upset authors may be, they are never going to sue for breach of copyright.
So I don't think "acting" is going to cast any light on the question of whether to change the word "shaker".
on February 5, 2012 10:59am
Thanks for bringing this up, John.  Yes, theater and movie directors routinely change words, staging, and sometimes whole scenes, cast roles in different genders, change time periods (and therefore costuming), and all manner of other things.  It's a mark of their hubris that they consider themselves smarter and more "artistic" than the playwrights whose work they dis.  And they do it in spite of the LEGAL wording in any Grand Rights contract I've ever seen that specifically forbids doing so.
And in the case of public domain works that's absolutely their right.  In the case of copyrighted works there is exactly the same kind of question as there is in music as to the legal, moral, and ethical right to make those changes.  "Everybody does it" isn't a strong argument for a stage director any more than it is for a 13-year-old rebel!!!
And I was about to suggest that it's similar to interpreting a musical work, which is always a balance between trying to understand the composer's original intentions and finding something new and wonderful in the music.  But I can't really make that argument, because in the case of music we don't (usually, at least!) change the notes or the words or deliberately ignore the specific markings as to mood and dynamics, and stage directors DO.
Now not much of this applies to cases where changes are made in order to avoid challenging community mores or shocking our audiences, and that's where Eddie's question originates and what makes it so interesting.  There are MANY words choices in playscripts or Broadway musical scripts that might have to be modified to avoid offence, and those decisions are always difficult.  Have I made modifications?  Of course!  I wanted to use a Charlie Daniels song, "In America," with my university show ensemble because it's a strong, powerful piece with an important message, but I had to modify a few words to avoid offending many in our audiences (and probably a few of my singers as well) who would not have used those words themselves, because that wasn't the image we tried to maintain.  And playwrights have done the same thing on occasion.  (Was there REALLY anyone who didn't know what was meant when the gang in "West Side Story" sang, "Gee, Officer Krupke, krup you!!"?)
It always comes down to a personal decision, and we always hope that our decision was the right one.
All the best,
on February 6, 2012 7:09pm
Thanks, John Howell, for the hand-off. It does indeed simplify things when singers take the approach that many actors do, truthfully communicating the text for the duration of the song ... then "letting it go" if it doesn't correspond to personal belief.
RE John Wexler's comments, I'm with John H. as well. It is quite illegal to change a script, and folks have gotten in big trouble for doing so (that includes lawsuits, blacklists, and fines).  But John H. and John W. are both spot on about the fact that many directors change scripts without asking for permission (as most contracts require). It may not be surprising to hear that the more amateurish a production, the greater the possibility of a changed script; professional productions almost never change the script. When they do, however, they almost always do it legally.
As to the stage directions, that's another kettle of fish entirely! While some people believe that stage directions are meant to be followed, most of the time they are simply the stage manager's record of what the original (usually Broadway) actors did -- in that production, with that director, on that set, with those lights and costumes.... Virtually all trained directors will either ignore stage directions or consider them as just one of many options; if a particular stage direction turns out to be the absolute best option in THEIR production, that's the only way it'll make its way onto the stage.
That said, there are some playwrights who actually write their own stage directions into their plays, and a few of those playwrights are/were hyper-concerned about those directions being followed. Such playwrights include Pinter, Beckett, and O'Neill. And it's usually only the living playwright who has made a fuss. I know of no estate, publisher, or dramatic publishing house who cares about this in the least. (Though I wouldn't be surprised if Beckett, for example, tried to set in place some controls to be exercised post mortem.) Even those stage directions, though, aren't seen as sacrosanct by most directors. They may give them greater weight, but they'll still come up with what they consider to be the best staging ... even if that means disregarding the playwright's directions.
on February 5, 2012 8:52am
I just don't think there can be a hard and fast rule about this. I (and, I imagine, many directors) change words when it makes sense to do so. If I include "O Come All Ye Faithful" on a Lessons and Carols programs because my audiences just won't accept all Advent music (they want Christmas music and they want it now!), I change the line "born this happy morning" (which makes no sense on an evening in mid-December) to "born on Christmas morning". How could anyone object? We are all familiar with changing hymn texts and related texts to be gender-neutral; there is hardly an actionable legal problem there.
Composers routinely change the words of the poems they set, intentionally or not. Janacek set complete gibberish in parts of the Glagolitic Mass because he miscopied the translation into Church Slavonic that he had himself commissioned.  The results are really hard to fix if you want a text that means anything at all. Delius rewrote Whitman in "Sea Drift". And sometimes there are outright errors in printed music. (See the recent discussion of Betelehemu.) I once sang an early Mexican piece which had been edited by a non-Spanish speaker. The nouns and adjective did not agree in either gender or number. Legally appropriate or not, rigid fidelity to the score in that case would have sounded ignorant.
(All that said, I don't think "As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free" is an improvement. It rather undermines the earnestness of the abolitionist cause.)
So my question is whether you are trying to have the participants, as part of the preparation, think about what it meant to be a Shaker? In that case I wouldn't change the words, but would perhaps take a few minutes to talk about who the Shakers were.
on February 9, 2012 7:19am
Nathaniel - Oh, you've run into that "I want Christmas music and I want it NOW" even though it's Advent and the Sacred Event hasn't yet occurred (at least liturgically), too?  Ran into the same thing at my Mom's retirement community when we did a program of Lessons & Carols, and one of the residents, as I was setting up, snagged a copy of the program and said, "There are no Christmas hymns in this!" and I couldn't help myself, I shot back, "Of course not; it's an ADVENT program!"  People just don't get it, do they?
on February 5, 2012 9:25am
Quite an interesting discussion.  I agree that in this case the word should not be changed.  Perhaps the conductor can replace the piece if the choir members are adamant.  If this were a church choir, the word or piece should be changed to reflect their theology.  However, from the pragmatic point of view, would anyone really catch a word change (except for the well-known Battle Hymn)?   Perhaps someone would if it was recorded and placed on youtube, which is a possibility.  This is evidently a community choir and diction is often not the strongest point of these types of choirs despite all the work we do.  In addition, unless the word is repeated numerous times or held on a long note, the change is likely to slip by the audience even if the diction is crisp and clear.  Just speaking from the practical - and not legal, ethical, moral or performance practice - point of view.  
on February 5, 2012 9:54am
A few other points. After I read and posted to this, I glanced at the "Key of F Bugaboo" thread. I find it interesting that we have all sorts of ethical and legal concerns about changing a *single word* of a song, while at the same time we routinely and blithely transpose entire pieces up a half step into keys that might dismay composers with perfect pitch. (Surely that's not strictly legal, either?) I am not saying we are wrong to do so: For good reasons, our culture holds the expressive power of words to be more important (and thus more subject to legal/ethical regulation) than that of pitches alone, and most of us and our singers and our audience don't have perfect pitch. It makes for an interesting comparison nonetheless.
I take a rather "18th-century" approach to choral conducting. I have rewritten, revoiced, reorchestrated, and retexted countless pieces to suit my needs and my taste. I have never deliberately transgressed against what I understand to be the meaning or the power of a work, but neither do I treat printed music as Holy Writ, the Unalterable Word of The Composer Almighty. The changes are usually small and made for good reasons, and the composers with whom I have worked have rarely objected.
Word changes seem desirable to me when they replace an obscure or foreign (or perhaps genuinely offensive) term with a more readily accessible word, especially for less sophisticated audiences.
And then there is the issue of the "Juden" / "Leute" swap in the St John Passion...
on February 5, 2012 2:14pm
Nathaniel Lew wrote (6 Feb)
"A few other points. After I read and posted to this, I glanced at the "Key of F Bugaboo" thread. I find it interesting that we have all sorts of ethical and legal concerns about changing a *single word* of a song, while at the same time we routinely and blithely transpose entire pieces up a half step into keys that might dismay composers with perfect pitch."
It probably depends on the composer.  In the process of working one of my Masters' subjects I had cause to contact a couple of composers to ask how they felt about their art songs being recorded in other than the original key, specifically a tone lower and a minor third lower.  I though it might be an issue, given how/where certain keys "sit" and therefore sound in a soprano voice.  The response from both of them was that they didn't really mind: they were happy that the songs in question were being performed and recorded.  On the other hand, a composer friend of mine who sadly died recently would very likely _not_ approve of her (choral) music being blithely transposed or her carefully chosen texts fiddled with.  She was very protective of her music after it had left her desk.
Helen Duggan
on February 5, 2012 10:38am
I'll be quite honest about it:  in using an English translation of Tchesnokov's "Salvation Is Created" in liturgical settings I had the choir change the word "created" to "begotten" - the majority of us being Catholics, we say in the Creed, "Begotten, not made" (i.e., created) in referring to Christ.  Legally impermissible?  Probably.  Morally and theologically sound?  Ya betcha!  And which do you think might have been correct in fact - that the translation from the Russian may have been (I don't know - I don't know Russian or Church Slavonic) "begotten" - but had been translated as "created" for fear of thinking of "mis-begotten" (or some such nonsense).  Point is:  you do what's right, not necessarily legal - tending to be two entirely different things.  Going along to get along is part of the abiding sin of the age, IMHO.  Now, the issue seems to be that this is a community chorus, not a church group; there it seems much simpler.  These are the words.  Don't like 'em?  Don't sing 'em.  Or find a new piece of music.  I can't disagree with John that it's a possible teaching moment - but that may not be appropriate to the group or their purpose (especially if more time is taken than is available to try to convince the invincibly unconvinceable).  If a piece of music I were asked to sing in a community chorus setting praised Satan I might have to bow out for the nonce - either for the piece itself, or the entire concert.  You make choices; many of them painful.  So, to the real point:  I don't think changing the words is permissible under the circumstances.  This isn't a legal comment, because I'm not a lawyer, and certainly NOT a copyright lawyer.  But if it were a liturgical setting, there'd be an argument to make.  But it isn't, so don't change the words.  If people choose to sit out, that's their choice; you at least have erred on the side of legal right.
One other comment:  demanding that what was written or offered in 1996 as being something to be done in 2012 misses a fundamental point:  In 16 years, the then-commentators presumably would have become wiser with their advancing years.  So positions held firmly then may not be so firmly held now, or vice-versa.  None of us are free of inconsistency; best we not hold others to that impossible standard.
on February 6, 2012 4:59am
Cult? For goodness sake...
on February 6, 2012 8:30am
Karen - Nothing new.  Shakers then; Mormons now.  Catholics in some fundamentalist viewpoints; some in Catholic's viewpoints.  Narrow-mindedness needs the least ground to stand on....
on February 6, 2012 12:29pm
What an opportunity for your chorus to inform your audience about a most interesting community. Are Shakers not Christian? Think of their dedication to simplicity and wonderful furniture making, for instance. It might sound a little odd to sing, "I'm glad I am a Methodist" or "I'm glad I am an Episcopalean," but "Shaker" fits nicely. Inform your people that the Shakers were/are fond of simple dancing. Perhaps you could combine with "'Tis a Gift To Be Simple."
And, please, be serious about it. The YouTube performances are too "sing along" for my taste - UI included! "Flop along" is popular these days.
Most of us are assuming your group is not a church group. Even if it is, the above appeals to me.
Otherwise, use the old "cop out," "Don't ask don't tell" and remember, "lLoose lips sink ships."
Another Eddie,
on February 7, 2012 5:11am
EP - Sadly, the Shakers are gone.  Last one died some years ago (believe she lived in Maine).  The religion eschewed sexual relations, so it literally died out.  But we are left with their music, their furniture, their buildings (Hancock Shaker Village in Western Mass., for example - great place).  So let us let them rest in peace, and mayhaps being glad to be Shaker might be....well, something to be admired from a distance!
on February 7, 2012 6:12am
Ignorance of the Shakers aside, I'm finding this discussion to be quite over the top. Eddie, you've purchased the music, and you are entitled to perform it as you see fit.
I attended a reading session a while ago in which one of the composers was in attendance. Someone asked if he had objections to conductors/choirs making changes to his works, to which he simply responded, "Did you buy my music?"
In other words, you paid for the music, and that's all the composer can ask for. What you do with it in performance is YOUR business.
on February 7, 2012 6:18am
FWIW, I have seen an arrangement of this wonderful tune with precisely the words that Eddie suggested: "I'm glad I am a Christian."  Of course, that has nothing directly to do with the legal issue Eddie is asking about, but it does illustrate that words to traditional hymns have been changed often by various arrangers and compilers of hymn books.  Compare current hymnals with older ones and you'll see innumerable word changes for various reasons, and sometimes even for an apparent LACK of any reason.  I'm not taking any sides here -- just saying that word changes for hymns seems to be quite common these days.  
on February 8, 2012 5:58am
Lot's of discussion going on here...not sure you have a 'clear' answer. I would contact John Ferfuson directly and ask his opinion. ferg(a)
Sometimes it is easier to go straight to the horses mouth :-)
Michael Main
on February 8, 2012 7:56pm
You certainly stirred up a lor of general info with your simple question. Just a word about Shakers. Research it yourself;  there ARE some, in Maine for instance. I would certainly stay with the original text and enjoy relating an interesting part of Ameraican religious music/dance/furniture culture.
on February 9, 2012 7:31am
Edward - Just did the research; you're right; there were three alive in Sabbathday Lake Village, Maine, as of January 2011.  I had heard that the last one had passed away, but apparently that got conflated with the passing of the last Shaker in New Hampshire, and that was back in 1992.  At any rate, there are very few Shakers still alive; the sect/denomination (whatever word one wishes) will die out as an active religious activity upon the demise of these three folks, unless someone joins the group.  Just thought I'd clarify my own mistake here.
on February 10, 2012 7:38am
Wow. Having performed this piece of music many times (once at Southern ACDA Conference in 2008), I cannot IMAGINE changing the word Shaker to anything else.  The whole point of the piece is that the Shakers were proud to be Shakers, and definitely not plain, vanilla "Christians."  And Shakers were definitely not plain, vanilla Christians in their worship, to which Ferguson's musical notations allude.
Imagine performing Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" by changing the phrase "I'm proud to be an American" to "I'm proud to be a homo sapiens" or maybe "I'm proud to be a republican."
on February 11, 2012 8:47am
Good point, Phil. Changing words isn't a "black and white" issue. We have both the freedom and the responsibility to make informed artistic choices as we perform music and texts, some which our singers might not be entirely comfortable with. As a general rule, I think it's better to leave the original work intact, but for practical, artistic, or other reasons, minor alterations are sometimes better choices for a given situation. In this particular case, I'd urge the OP to have the singers treat the text for what it is, and convince them that they can sing things that they don't personally believe in without compromising their own beliefs or ethics.
Some of the other "points" raised her are pretty silly or far-fetched, IMO, such as worrying about changing the key of a song or other reasonable modifications. IMO, the "legal" aspect doesn't really become that important until you try to *publish* a new arrangement/edition of a work, or perhaps release and distribute a recording. For performances of an individual ensemble, which are pretty ephemeral, I'd say better to do what you think is right and when necessary, ask for forgiveness later. :-)
on February 11, 2012 11:22am
Thanks for bringing up this important point, David (and to Phil for your post as well).  It's important to understand the composer's "original intention" (and the poet's as well, which tends to be overlooked in this forum of musicians so it's good when someone remembers it!!!).  But music doesn't exist in a vacuum, and the USE to which we put music is an important part of the decision process.
When I was teaching Choral Literature annually, and the course had a "Writing Intensive" requirement, I asked my students for an essay on the seemingly simple question, "Should choral music be performed in the original language or in the language of its audience?"  Well, as we all know too well, that may be a simple question but it has never had a simple answer, ESPECIALLY when the music was written to be functional music in, e.g., to fit into a given slot in a church service, or into a celebration of a ruler's birth, wedding, coronation, or funeral.  And my point was to make them THINK about the question.
My own approach is that it depends on whether we are performing the music as art or as functional music in something like a church service.  As art, OF COURSE it should be done in the original language, because that's the language that was in the composer's ear and the language is PART of the music.  (Although that may be accepted wisdom in the U.S. to a greater extent than in other countries.)  But equally, as functional music it should be understood by the audience/congregation as part of the event, for which the words are more important than their musical setting, and no, a printed translation does NOT do the job!  When my wife and I were married we had a Bach Wedding Cantata, but it was done in English because it was important that our families understand it, and our professors understood perfectly why we had made that decision.  In concert or recital we would of course have done it in German.
All the best,
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