Bob MacDonald is launching a project to turn the melodies that emerge from the text of the Hebrew Bible when one uses Haïk-Vantoura’s approach to interpreting the cantillation marks, into English language settings appropriate for liturgical use in churches. He isn’t considering this a formal composition contest, but he does have plans for selected compositions to be performed, published, and/or recorded. The compositions will not simply be arrangements of existing text and melody: there is room both for melodic adaptation and variation based on the Haïk-Vantoura interpretation of the ancient melodies, and for lyrical adaptation as English words are crafted and adapted to that melodic exploration.
It is exciting to see Haïk-Vantoura’s work–as well as Bob’s work–made the focus of a musical project in this way. On Bob’s YouTube channel, linked from many of the posts about this on his blog, you can find some digital renderings of his efforts to turn the cantillation markings into full-fledged works of music. The results are genuinely impressive, and themselves speak to the likelihood that the interpretation of those markings that Haïk-Vantoura proposed was indeed correct. Click through to his post inviting compositions and find out more! I also recommend exploring other posts on his blog about the Bible and music, which touches on topics such as how an acrostic Psalm that skips a letter suggests a verse has gone missing.
Let me also take this opportunity to highlight Bob’s daughter Sarah MacDonald’s lecture “Silent in the Churches” that seeks to highlight the work of female composers in the domain of liturgical music. The lecture is illustrated by musical examples, the playlist for which is online!
I am grateful to Bob for drawing my attention to the above in a comment he left on my blog, which I’ll link to below. But first, here’s a very timely musical composition by Sarah MacDonald: a Psalm arrangement specific for the context of quarantine.
Look at the lyrics, specifically the first letter of each line, if you’re not sure what makes it specific to our present context…
Also of related interest, Willem-Jan de Wit shared a selection of Psalms that can be found on YouTube, including some metrical Psalms in Arabic and Dutch. Also about the Psalms:
I’ll be sharing more “biblical music” in another blog post very soon!