Song and Significance: Virtues and Vices of Vocal Translation

Song and Significance: Virtues and Vices of Vocal Translation

Song and Significance: Virtues and Vices of Vocal Translation

Song and Significance: Virtues and Vices of Vocal Translation


Vocal translation is an old art, but the interpretive feeling, skill and craft have expanded into a relatively new area in translation studies. Vocal translation is the translation of the poetic discourse in the hybrid art of the musicopoetic (or poeticomusical) forms, shapes and skills. This symbiotic construct harmonizes together the conflicting roles of music and language in face-to-face singing performances....] In opera, folksong, hymn and art song, as well as in operetta, musical song and popular song, we have musical genres allied to a libretto with lyrical text. A libretto is a linguistic textwhich is a pre-existing work of art, but is subordinated to the musical text. The essays in this volume provide interpretive models for the juxtaposition of different orders of the singing sign-events in different languages, extending the meaning and range of the musical and literary concepts, and putting the mixed signs to a true-and-false test.


Dinda L. Gorlée

Religious hymns are verbomusical prayers, interwoven in the texture of the life of the people and
the congregation. the performance practice is a speaking-and-singing meditation of praise of
God. Church singing partakes of Peirce’s threefold categories: feeling, willing, and knowing.
The pure potentiality of feelings (firstness) would become a stream of events (secondness) to
reach a continuous flow of messages (thirdness). the semiosis of hymns follows upwardly and
downwardly the mobile categories in the unification of text and tunes (CP: 7.572) in any
language. in translated hymns the melody and the native tongue must retain a rudimentary,
abstracted notion of this application. the old hymns are muted, upheaved, refixed, edited,
translated and retranslated without real signs of a primary sign and of the work of revisor and
translator. the new hymns are, in turn, transitory vocal songs, and their text and tunes form the
basis for further revisions, editions and translations. International hymns share the spiritualized
feeling of a common fate, sharing the same pleasure, hardship, and misery worldwide. This
semiotic study of English hymns is inspired by Peirce, Jakobson and Dewey, with further help
from Cassirer, Pike and Maranda.

Genesis of Church Songs

The first beginnings of vocal music in the early Christian church arise from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, directed to the Christian community of Ephesus, a Greek city on the Aegean coast of Asia Minor. Paul’s Letter suggests a date in the late 1 Century (80-100 A.D.). It takes the form and shape of a sermon offering practical moral advice on teaching and worship to the newly-formed Christian church. Paul writes, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5: 18-19 from the The Authorized Holy Bible in the King James Version). This semiotic sign means that singing in church offers a path cleared through the jungle of daily life, in order to reach God’s spirit.

Saint Paul was the wild apostle with the ecstatic vision, the ever-travelling messenger of the Lord who during his lifelong missionary work “spoke with tongues more than ye all” (1 Corinthians 14: 18 ff.). Paul’s deeds were a miracle, leaving deep puzzlement as a semiotic sign. Paul’s sermons are equivalent to Jesus’ parables, which are better called human encounters, meetings with Jews and Christians, natives and aliens. in these encounters . . .

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