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Diction/Pronunciation Question

All For Love - 20th Century composer Robert H. Young, Old English Text. Published by Carl Fischer, 1973.
Text begins: "Jesu, Jesu, Born to die upon the Tree."
Would you pronounce the first word (Jesu): "Gee-soo" or "Yeh-soo?"
I think I've heard it both ways.
Garrett W. Epp
Choral Director
Olathe North High School
Olathe, KS
Replies (18): Threaded | Chronological
on October 26, 2012 9:49pm
I would teach my choir to pronounce it "Yeh-zoo." I understand that there are variations in Latin (and this appears to be a Latin word thrown in amidst the Olde English), but the ones that I adhere to are that an initial "J" should act like an "i," in other words, a quick "ee" sound followed by the other vowel. The other issue is the "s." When the "s" is between two vowels, I have my singers soften it to the voiced equivalent, that is, "z." Like in "misericordia," which I teach as the same consonant sound as the English word "misery." 
It's possible that the old English pronunciation might have been "Gee-soo;" that information is above my pay grade (which means that I don't know much about old English pronunciation).
on October 27, 2012 3:50am
Since its an Old English text, I would use "Gee-soo." 
on October 27, 2012 3:54am
Gee-soo, which is the English pronunciation. Yeh-soo is for when the rest of the lyrics are in Latin.
on October 27, 2012 5:55am
I'm so glad to hear you are doing this lovely piece of Robert's!
I'm a recent convert from "Yay-zu" to "Gee-zu."  In English-language poetry, "Jesu" is a poetic form of Jesus, NOT a borrowed Latin word, so why woudl we say "Yay-zu"?  Well, becuase we've all always done it that way in the US (NOT true, I believe, in the UK).
Why do we prononce Elijah with a soft J as  El i-zhuh instead of E -li - DGuh?  We don't say Jehosophat or jeremiah with that soft sound.  I think it's the same answer, becuase we just do.
We performed "Jesu, Joy of Man's desiring" last month and I had the choir do "Gee-zu" and they all hated it, and I suspect the audience did as well.    But I stuck to my guns, for better or for worse, and honored what I perceived to be the poetic root of the word.
I wish I coudl remember what Robert woudl have preferred.  
on October 27, 2012 6:09am
I think I would say ['jƐ zu] like in Latin.
on October 27, 2012 7:22am
While a bit "off task" here.... if you like that text look also at "Born To Die To Set Us Free" by David Dickau.  It's one of his earlier works and, I think, a lovely setting of that (or a very similar) text.
on October 27, 2012 8:31am
same text, i think, Karl, and I agree, a fabulous piece.  I did it every year when I had a church job.
on October 27, 2012 7:34am
The normal British English pronunciation would be Geez-yoo.  
on October 27, 2012 7:36am
I found another complete thread of discussion on this question on Choralnet:
One of the responses as I scanned this discussion also mentioned that it is common to introduce a glide before the final u: [zju]
Len Ratzlaff
on October 27, 2012 8:32am
ha, Len is right, and doesn't THAT complicate things! Now we have TWO syllabes to worry about! :-)
on October 27, 2012 9:07am
If you decide to go with "Gee-soo," I'd like to suggest that right before your choir performs the work you explain to your audience why your choir is singing (pronouncing) "Jesu" that way, so that the performance of the piece will be gentle to the ears (instead of jarring and distracting) and a bit educational, too.
on October 27, 2012 9:25am
I agree with Stephen Doerr: Geez-yoo is the British pronunciation of "Jesu" when reading an English text. However, since Robert H. Young was American and not British, that isn't conclusive.
As for the "Old English text", the words quoted are manifestly modern English, so I'd assume that the text is modernized from an older text. It would surely be perverse to use an "Old English" pronunciation for "Jesus", even if you could work out what an Old English pronunciation might be. The question then arises: what pronunciation did the modernizer intend?
And, if you had the time to settle these questions, would you let the conclusion override your own judgement?
on October 27, 2012 12:58pm
Thank you, John W, for bringing up what is really a much more fundamental question.  Or perhaps questions:  (a) What is/was the composer's intention?  (b) Should the composer's intention be considered, and if so how much?  And perhaps (c) are we really talking about INTENTION or simply about EXPECTATION, or does that actually matter?
Those are not random questions.  In dealing with old or traditional texts, the composer did not create them, but has borrowed them and is using them.  And we really COULD (and some would argue that we SHOULD) ask exactly those same questions when it comes to ANY text from any time period.  As just one obvious but perhaps not sufficiently obvious example, how would any of Mozart's settings of traditional Latin have been pronounced at the turn of the 19th century in Vienna, in Paris, in Rome, in London, in Prague, in Dublin, or in Boston?  Do we know?  Would any conductor at the time even have worried about the pronunciation Mozart expected in Salzburg or Vienna, or simply have used the pronunciation he was used to and his singers were used to?
As to "English," perhaps we should not even use the term in relation to pronunciation since the many dialects of "English" vary and have long varied according to nation, ethnic background, and even according to location and/or social class within any given country.
So is it worth worrying about, or just one of those things that need to be decided for uniformity and then move on to more important things?  Perhaps worth thinking about.
All the best,
John H
on October 27, 2012 5:13pm
John, you put it much better than I was going to! 
The composer's nationality and the intention, whatever that is, of the moderniser of the text are totally irrelevant. Find something that works for you and then do it - there are no rules.
For what it's worth, I would probably sing Gee not Yay because that's how we pronounce it in England in 2012, but if I had the time and inclination I Might go back to the original version of the poem and find out how all the words might have be pronounced at the time is was written. But I wouldn't bother with something in between. 
In almost all pieces it is the meaning of the words and their interaction with the composer's music that is important and not how the words are pronounced, though it is nice if all the singers in a particular choir try to pronounce them in the same way as each other!
on October 27, 2012 10:43pm
Such great responses to my post, many were what I would have predicted, and from people that I expected would comment on this post (I mean that in a loving way).  Thank you expecially David, John, John, and Chris.  Leonard Ratzlaff did mention a previous similar thread on Choralnet which I read. I purposely noted that the text was from Old English, although the rest of the text appears to be somewhat modernized.  I also purposely posted that the composer was an American composer because I wanted to be sensitive to what the composer heard in his head when he composed the piece.  What I was hoping I would get is an answer from someone who might have a recording of a Baylor University Choir that performed this piece in the 1970's.  I am fairly certain that Robert H. Young spent much of his professional career as a theory and composition professor at Baylor University and I'm guessing that one of the Baylor University Choirs performed this piece, perhaps even in manuscript form.  That could at least indicate what Robert Young would have preferred.  I thought I was only concerned about the first syllable, but many proposing the English pronunciation also brought up two additional issues (s vs. z and soo or zoo vs. [zju]).  I might also note that sometimes proper names are pronounced in a different language.
I have done this piece many times previously and I think I have used the Latin [je-su].  However, I am more recently being influenced by my position as a paid singer in an Episcopalian Church, especially when singing English music by an English composer.  Hence, this post.  Thanks again for great discussion points.  We have already begun rehearsal on this piece, but the jury is still out on what I'll do.  The singers are aware we are considering both pronunciations.
Garrett W. Epp
on October 28, 2012 8:24am
Not to prolong this, but we recorded a CD of Robert's music, incouding some tracks from Baylor. The recording of this pice was ours and we said "yay-zoo" back then.  Robert never said a word, but of course he wouldn't have "corrected" us, thinkng it rude.   I hope one of his many discipiles from Baylor will have a recording or a memory. 
on October 28, 2012 10:43am
Garrett-I see that you are a High School Director, and I see this as the world's greatest "teachable moment".  You have the opportunity to share with your student musicians that you have contacted the ChoralNet of the ACDA, and tell them that even the most erudite directors from places far and wide are engaged in a lively discussion of this pronunciation concern, and that they do not all agree on "the answer".  Read some of the responses to the students and encourage them to also have a lively discussion, with many opinions.  Have the STUDENTS vote on the final decision and go with that.  A wonderful opportunity for students to THINK, EVALUATE, and make their educated decision based on the facts laid out.  Encourage some to go and do further research and come back to the group with more facts and information.  Talk about learning empowerment!  Allow them to be in Olathe High School, in 2012, and to actually CARE about and value discussing such a subject and having it considered IMPORTANT to think about.  "So, what did you do at school today?"  "Well, in choir we discussed the pronunciation of the word "Jesu" in the context of it being an Old English text and wondered if it should be pronounced differently than the Latin one.  And we got to choose the one we'll sing at the concert!"   Beats the "Oh, nothin'!" answer heard so often. 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 28, 2012 10:08pm

How much more American can you get than Webster's Dictionary?

from The Temple (1633), by George Herbert:

¶   JEsu.


JESu is in my heart, his sacred name
Is deeply carved there: but th’other week
A great affliction broke the little frame,
Ev’n all to pieces: which I went to seek:
And first I found the corner, where was J,
After, where ES, and next where U was graved,
When I had got these parcels, instantly
I sat me down to spell them, and perceived
That to my broken heart he was I ease you,
                                And to the whole is J E S U.
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