Sunday, September 16, 2007

Music of the Bible Revealed!

Once there was Chariots of the Gods, then the Da Vinci Code, and now....Music of the Bible Revealed!

Ok. That was a bit melodramatic and might be a bit unfair to Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura, the French Jewish musical theorist and author, but not at all unfair to John Wheeler (aka Johanan Rakkav) the American editor of "Music of the Bible Revealed". The shrill tone of the title and Wheeler's website just brings out my bad side. (I've always been at the intersection of alt-science, alt-political, alt-religion, and alt-health crowds. I can always smell a rat.)

Anyway, what's revealed in this book, and in a series of related recordings, is something much more esoteric and much less exciting than spaceships or the holy grail: the original meaning of the te`amim, Torah cantillation, or trope, marks. Cantillation is the ritual chanting of Torah (Bible) passages and cantillation marks are small accent marks above or below the Hebrew text that guides cantor's (or Hazzan's) musical performance. The following image (from the Wikipedia cantillation article) shows the Hebrew text from Genesis 1:9 "And God said, "Let the waters be parted" with vowels and dageshim (letter doublings) in red and accent marks in blue.

Example of Biblical TropeThe "meaning" of the accent marks that (the Jewish) Haïk-Vantoura discovered is a manner of musically interpreting these marks which she claims is the correct original interpretation. This is important, in her view (or is it Wheeler's) view, because over the millenia the various Jewish interpretations of these marks have degenerated leaving us with a shadow of the original musical forms. Wheeler (a Christian) goes farther saying that "the musical results of Haïk-Vantoura's [research are] nothing less than awe-inspiring...Is is possible that we are hearing the word of the Lord in the actual melody He inspired by the Holy Spirit?"(Emphasis and Christianisms in the original) If you're interested in the details of Haïk-Vantoura's revelation then check out Wheeler's website, he explains in detail.

Whew. I knew there was a conspiracy here somewhere. Wheeler, through careful analysis of the revelation, draws out a whole series of lessons to guide Christian music and indulges in a strange discussion of contemporary Christian music that I don't follow at all. The bottom line "But as we must translate the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek words of the Hebrew-Christian Bible into many different languages, so we must translate the musical principles of the Bible into terms that cross all boundaries of time and place." Right. You do that.

Anyway, the study of cantillation and cantillation marks is an old and venerable one. There is a nice article on it in the 100 year old Jewish Encyclopedia, as well as more current but not much different article on Wikipedia. This isn't to say that no progress has been made in the last 100 years, but I'm not aware of anything really significant coming out of the academic study. (sigh, as a scientist I'm allowed to say much ever really does?). I would love to know what the academic community thinks about Haïk-Vantoura's work, but I haven't been able to find a review yet.

And now the moment you've been waiting for...The Music of the Bible Revealed!

The Music of the Bible Revealed - Esther 5:1-3


Anonymous said...

There's nothing close to masoretic about this music. The only significant acknowledgement of te'amim here is that they break the phrases into the structure dictated by the trop. Otherwise, pure speculation.

Jack said...

That's interesting to hear, and about what I expected.

Anonymous said...

Here is my basic understanding...
Following the tragic destruction of the Second Temple, the entire musical legacy of the Temple, both vocal and instrumental, seemed to be forever lost. However, the Masoretic scribes preserved (along with the biblical consonantal text itself) an ancient "reading tradition" dating back (according to themselves) to the Second Temple Era; and beginning about 1200 years ago, they painstakingly copied that tradition out in exacting detail. The Masoretic Text is still the oldest complete copy of the Hebrew Bible that we have.

Part of the "reading tradition" the Masoretes preserved was a series of "accents" (te`amim), which occur throughout the entire Tanakh (Torah, Nevi'im and Ketuvim) in two systems. The Masoretes did not understand the meaning or the monumental significance of these accents, and for centuries, there have been countless theories as to what their original meaning was. Most theories have started from the assumption that they were to emphasize precise points of grammar in the text. Leaving aside all these debates, Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura concentrated soley on finding a musical meaning of these "accents". Through countless experiments and a laborious process of irrefutable verification (using the Hebrew verbal phrase structure itself as her "Rosetta Stone"), she finally realized that all these symbols represent musical tones: the degrees of a scale, or else ornaments of one to three notes! The "accents" were, in fact, representations of hand gestures, which were known to be used in antiquity (e.g. in ancient Egyptian music) to denote both the pitch and the ornamentation of a melody. Such a system of hand gestures is known as "chironomy -

B.BarNavi said...

Wheeler, posting an ad for your site disguised as an anonymous third-party is low.

I'll tell you what Eric Werner of HUC said about it in 1982: "I consider this to be the perfect mixture of ignorance and confusion." (Musical Library Association Notes, Vol.38 No.4 p.924)

And of Peter T. Daniels: "Clearly this system is arbitrary and need have nothing to do with the music of the Masoretes." (Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol.112 No.3 p.499, 1992)

My take? It makes no freaking sense! Placing the sublinear accents as tonic and superlinear as motif puts many disjunctives in secondary roles, and conjunctives in primary roles.

Wheeler, I DARE you to find any place in the Tanakh where a Telisha follows a Mahpakh (as is indicated as a possibility by Haik-Vantoura).

Jack said...

Hi Barnavi, thanks for comments and the citations.

Avi Wollman said...

"Telisha follows a Mahpakh (as is indicated as a possibility by Haik-Vantoura)." is not possible according to Haik-Vantoura it takes you off the scale. (i wish people wouldn't quote without reading first)

The music that comes from her decrypting is very emotional. since the Plato period emotion has been "out the door" so don't expect ANYONE who attempts to understand this stuff without openly allowing emotional connection to God and his words, to accept it.

I have yet to see a better understanding of the multiple signs in the Ten Commandments. With the decipher none are wasted as all are used.


TruthHunter said...

"The shrill tone of the title" Apparently you don't know any French as its a reasonable translation of Vantoura's title.

As for her system being arbitrary, its only arbitrary if you know nothing about music.
What she did is comparable to a philologist discovering how to read what everyone else considers primitive scratchings.

Those who are clueless as to the methods have no right to be derisive.

The Te'amim puzzled the Masoretes, Their claim to have received them by transmission is supported by their confused and contradictory attempts to explain them. No Hebrew grammar worth its salt spends more than a few paragraphs on them. No one in over a thousand years has come close to making sense of them.
Finally a first class musical theorist who knows Hebrew tackles the problem and presents compelling arguments for specific meanings and applications.
Vantoura makes a strong case for them being musical rather than syntactical. There are many similar musical notations in antiquity.
She makes an equally strong case for them to apply to certain scales and modes.

I do find some of the youtube samples apparently recorded an old church that reverberates like cave a bit too much like Gregorian chant.

Beware. You may be dismissing with careless criticism one of the greatest advances in understanding the Tanakh since the Dead Sea Scrolls.