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In this setting the conductor must stress the rhythmic vitality. The word "Lord" does receive extra attention by the composer. Because of its length, syncopation, higher pitch, and the meter changes in the previous measure that highlight the final measure, it will not be necessary for a choir to further emphasize it. The composer sufficiently "built-in" its emphasis.

The following example (fig. 6) demonstrates text stress in a passage meant to be sung as though the singers were playing the words off the tip of the tongue. Notice that the unstressed words and syllables far outnumber those receiving primary or secondary stress.

The text in figure 6 is also a good exercise in the application of the IPA. It illustrates the very short period of time during which a particular vowel sound or consonant is heard. The correct application of the schwa in the words "moment" and "present" for example, is critical to the proper flow of this text. It is also critical musically since any emphasis on the unstressed syllables of those words would cause the musical flow to be altered, and often the tempo would be slowed by that stress. By using the I for the pronunciation of the "y" in "carefully" and "equally" a proper flow is continued as well. "Delight" offers the pronunciation challenge discussed earlier in this chapter. One can easily see its importance in this example.

The principles of word stress in these examples can be applied to most choral works. Determine the points of primary and secondary text stress, remembering that the unstressed words and syllables are then automatically identified. Having singers mark primary stress points can be helpful. Secondary stress points can be identified and marked later as the singers become more familiar with the text and the music. In fact, as the singers become more aware of text flow, secondary stress points will often be identified without having to call attention to them. By marking the primary stress points early as you can avoid emphasis on unstressed words and syllables.

Polyphonic works pose a special problem, and several points must be kept in mind as you consider this special repertoire. Much of the polyphonic repertoire you will rehearse and perform is of the Renaissance and early Baroque period. The text is usually Latin and sacred. These texts were mostly well-known motets that were part of a sacred service familiar to the singers and participants in the service. Or, the text was part of a mass and the participants thoroughly knew the text. In later repertoire fugal passages present many of the same problems as the earlier music presents.

So, the singing of this music in a service was common to the church and to the participants. They were not hearing the music of the text for the first time nor were they attempting to distinguish one text part from another as the polyphonic lines intertwined. Your audience will often be hearing the text and music for the first time, hardly an easy task for an untrained listener. Even though the text and music was familiar in the Renaissance, the church was concerned that the message was being blurred by the polyphony, and the effect of the Council of Trent (1545-1563) was to encourage more homophony and clarity of text. The twentieth-century conductor should understand that polyphony, by its very nature, will tend to make the text less understood. Often, the text is stated in the first voice or homophonically before the polyphony obscures it. Also, it is the inherent beauty of the crossing voice lines, reinforcing each other as they challenge for the momentary ear of the listener, that makes polyphonic choral music so attractive. The aesthetic challenge to choral singers makes this music a joy to sing and just as much a joy to hear. If the text is not completely understood by today's audiences, the beauty of the music and the sense of the text is understood.

The choral director will be most successful in his attempt at correct diction if he will mark each text with the IPA symbols. He should read the text aloud several times, using the pronunciation that he would use if he were singing it. Finally, he should sing the text as the composer set it, singing each part and carefully noting any awkward stresses as a result of rhythm, melodic leaps, or harmonic emphasis.

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Choral techniques. OpenStax CNX. Mar 08, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11191/1.1
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