Sunday, 23 December 2012

A capella

I was singing a capella last night in a church - the best place for such singing, next to a chapel (capella, geddit?), and we sang, among other things, a piece that underlines that derivation. It was Rachmaninov's Vespers - our selection including that movement that Rachmaninov required to be sung at his own funeral, Bogoroditse Devo (a diacritic or two would improve that immensely, but The List  of Christmas preparations won't allow the research needed). The Orthodox Church still maintains the proscription of any but vocal music in church, so that music meant to be sung 'as though it were for or in a chapel' (a capella) does not have an instrumental accompaniment - a far cry from the godlessness of Paul Simon's 'Late in the Evening' - on the One Trick Pony album:
Down along the avenue some guys are shootin' pool
And I heard the sound of acapella groups, yeah
In my preparation for the concert I was juggling my Post-It bookmarks, so that old favourites not on the programme would not make their presence in the book felt (and with that 'book' I'm reminded of yet another metaphor., the Greek biblos, that Book which
If I don't read, my soul be lost
Ain't nobody's fault but mine
but that's another story) 

And I moved out of sight the marker for Personent Hodie. At one time I thought, mistakenly (but quite creatively), that  the voces puerulae were 'putting in a personal appearance'; I felt it was a bit of a stretch to make a voice put in an appearance, but hey.... The story of personent is far less of a stretch than that. The OED  traces it directly to the Latin persona - a mask such as those worn in Roman theatres, and possibly incorporating (or at least constituting) some means of amplifying the voice - making it ring out - per sonare. But some scholars, Klein for one - author of A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language - point out that the length of the 'o' in persona is at odds with this supposed derivation; their espoused root is the Etruscan phersu, 'mask'. Klein traces it ultimately to Greek, with a possible connection to 'Persephone'.

So it seems that the idea of  a 'mask-cum-amplifier' is an attractive coincidence, a bit like most English-speakers' assumption that an 'ear' of wheat is a metaphor for something that is 'ear-shaped' - whereas it is derived from a quite different root from the listening appendage, with which it was brought together accidentally by the movement commonly known as the Great Vowel Shift. But the fact remains that what the voces puerulae are being exhorted to do is to 'sound out'.

Let them!

Merry  tale from the word-face:

As a result of a hasty cut&paste in the Search field of the dictionary software on my laptop, I searched the other day  for the string "yeastyweatherbeaten" (yes, I'm reaching the end of the -EA- words).
It thought for a little while, but not wanting to admit defeat it finally asked 'Do you mean weatherboard, weatherboards, masturbating?' The search algorithm clearly keeps some dark secrets.

Update: 2013.10.02.16:15
HeadFooter updated:
Update: 2014.
Footer updated again , in response to a coincidental surge (more of a surg-ette) of visits in the last day. The coincidence is that I was singing the same two a capella pieces (and several more excerpts from Rachmaninoff's All Night Vespers) last Saturday, with two incomparable soloists. The hundred or so extra people who would have fitted in All Saints' Wokingham missed a treat!

Update: 2014. – Added this note:
<autobiographical_note date_range="mid-sixties">
One of the more critical entries in the Rachmaninoff piece reminded me of the first line of the Song of the Volga Boatmen. It wasn't exactly the same, but it reinforced the idea of a suitable Slavonic butchness.

My brother and I used to collect series of numbers: trains, planes, buses ... all enjoyed spasms of enthusiasm. The book of bus numbers (published by Ian Allan, as were all such books it seemed) included a few 'service vehicles' – seldom seen things like breakdown vans or fuel tankers. On a long car trip we saw one, and – having no pencil and paper – remembered the registration number by singing it to the tune of the Song of the Volga Boatmen. I don't think I'll ever forget that  number: JXC 1.

Update: 2016. – Removed  old footer.

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