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Hebrew text--transliteration, IPA, or both? What is useful?

Hello everyone,
 
I'm working on a piece with a text from Song of Songs. The singing texts will be in English and Hebrew, each presented as a line of text under the music. I would like to provide a pronunciation guide, based on the transliteration and on hearing the text spoken by a cantor. 
 
What would be most helpful? Just the transliteration, which is of course  an approximation in places, or an IPA chart of the spelling in the transliteration? Or both? What do you think would be the best presentation: the transliteration with the IPA under each phoneme, with an IPA chart with English equivalent sounds (for the singer/conductor who may or may not have a strong background in IPA)? There are obviously plenty of options, and I would like to have your experienced opinions. 

Thank you very much!
 
Kirin Nielsen
 
on June 17, 2013 7:08am
My experience as a rabbi, a singer and Hebrew coach for religious and secular choirs, and a proofreader and editor of concert programs is that an explanation of the transliteration is critical and that IPA is a nice addition. Hebrew transliteration, at least for the Sephardi pronunciation most widely used, is fairly standardized, and not everyone interested in performing this piece will be familiar with IPA.
 
The one thing you didn't mention and that I would strongly suggest is including the text in the original Hebrew. Since you are using a text from TaNaKH (Scripture), this is less critical than if you were using a text that is not as easily located, but even so it is extremely helpful for a conductor, singer, or local Hebrew speaker helping with text and translation to have the original text in the publication. The text could be placed either on the verso of the cover page or following the piece.
 
Faedra Weiss
Applauded by an audience of 1
on June 17, 2013 8:09am
This is an interesting question! My own take on it--
 
First, just for transliterated languages in general--In my admittedly limited experience, the only singers who are really comfortable with IPA are the ones with voice degrees, or at least serious study in that direction--so one of my questions would be, how difficult is the piece? If it's in the realm where, realistically, only seriously trained singers will handle it, I'd say it might make sense put the IPA directly below the transliteration in the score.  Otherwise, a chart in front would probably be just fine or even better, and less visually cluttered. (Which is to say, if one anticipates the conductor feeding most of this to the singers, the front is probably absolutely sufficient; if one expects the singers to read it fluently on their own, they'd probably benefit from the IPA in the score.)
 
Then again, it's Hebrew, and most pro singers I know of hold on to their High Holy Days jobs like the precious autumn security blankets they are, and are pretty comfy with the language. So--another question, and I hope someone more accustomed to singing in Hebrew than I will weigh in--those times when I have sung in Hebrew, there seems to be a fairly accepted/consistent transliteration across the board...is that perception accurate, does anyone know? If so, again, there'd be less of a desire for the IPA in the body of the work itself. And also if so, it'd be all the more crucial to make sure that's the transliteration you're working from...
 
I'll be following this thread avidly! (And looking for a precious autumn security blanket myself, having never managed to secure anything but brief annual sub spots...:-)
--Jennifer
Applauded by an audience of 2
on June 17, 2013 5:38pm
Dear Kirin:
I assume from the tenor of your message that you are not a Hebrew "officianado", so to speak. If I were you, I would set up a time to speak with a local rabbi or temple choir director to get their take on your questions -- as one of your myriad of resources as you prepare for the rehearsals and performances.
As Rabbi Weiss and Ms. Breedlove suggest, I would "keep it simple". To me, the IPA might create more questions than answers for your singers that may or may not understand how it all works, and unless your singers are Hebrew-readers themselves, the actual Hebrew might also create more questions than answers. I would do your own "due-diligence" with the transliteration and then meet with one of your local resources (as mentioned above). Feel free to invite them to visit one or two of your rehearsals to give their advice to the members of your ensemble.
This would a great way to involve someone in your greater community in your ensemble's rehearsals and preparation. Maybe this connection can result to your ensemble performing the piece at their temple in some way, shape or form. Any opportunity for your group to connect with one of the locals is inherently good...
 
Ron Isaacson
Germantown MD
 * * * * * * * * * * * *
Dir., Or Chadash Singers
Cong. Or Chadash
Damascus MD
on June 18, 2013 8:42am
Dear Rabbi Weiss, Jennifer, and Ron,
 
Thank you for your wisdom. I am not the composer, but work for the publisher who will be publishing this piece soon. The composer asked for suggestions about how best to use IPA as well as the transliteration in the edition, which is why I am asking. I completely agree that the conductor ought to do "due diligence," as Ron suggests (and which I would do), and I agree that it is best to keep all of this quite simple. Since the piece is being published in a series that is directed towards college/university and community choirs, it's likely that some will know IPA, and some not (the latter being more likely, I suppose--a few of my fellow DMA candidates didn't know IPA as well as they ought to have!).
 
I will certainly pass along your ideas to the composer. Thanks again.
 
Kirin Nielsen
on June 19, 2013 2:03pm
 If you want to use the nuances that can be conveyed with IPA, the Earthsongs guide to Hebrew texts and their annotations (by Joshua Jacobsen) has an extensive IPA guide. Otherwise,  as Faedra noted, most Hebrew transliteration is fairly easy to pronounce, even for those who do not speak Hebrew (myself included).  If your singers are familiar with Latin vowels, the main exceptions for transliteration would be the combo "ei", the sound written with our apostrophe (ex. "B'Rosh Hashanah") and the "ch" sound. (I"m sure other folks can think of more examples)  Good luck.
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