Daily Archives: May 27, 2010

Pointing the English Epistle

Thanks to the generosity of Father and the congregation, I’ve been honored to serve as sub-deacon at the Church of the Advent; last Sunday was my subdiaconal debut which went rather well. We use an adapted form of Fortescue’s ceremonial for those interested; I may put up my own notes on our practice if there’s interest.

One of the major tasks of the sub-deacon is the proclamation of the Epistle. Following the best historical practice, it is sung recto tono or just simply read on most days. There is, however, an Epistle tone which is used on the highest feast days. The Epistle tone uses intonations for the metrum (pausing point), full stop, and questions as well as a unique concluding tone. As a result, I’ve been working on pointing the Epistles; last week it was the Pentecost reading, this week the Holy Trinity. It’s not a completely straight-forward process so I thought I’d share some of what I’m learning.

1. The presence of the metrum requires interpretive choices. That is, it marks a pause in the main thought of the sentence from which you continue to the end. Now I’ve noticed that readers in many churches have trouble proclaiming Paul well—and that’s entirely understandable. Even in translation, Paul’s writing style is unfamiliar to modern Americans. He uses long sentences with quite a number of clauses. And not all of these clauses are created equal, either. Some are parenthetical; some are additional; some are central.The trick is to proclaim them in such a way that the differences can be discerned by those listening.

When chanting the reading, my base rule is that the metrum doesn’t just go on any ol’ comma or semi-colon that presents itself; rather, a metrum only belongs at the conclusion of a central or substantive clause. For parenthetical or additional clauses, I just put a holding punctus on the reciting tone at the conclusion.

2. My first port of call was the very helpful Sung Reading Tutorial and the accompanying audio files from the good folks at CMAA posted at MusicaSacra. Unfortunately, at the present time the link to the printed tutorial is broken. The audio, however, contains almost word-for-word what is in the tutorial.

The one problem that I encountered in working fro this pattern is that, while the example is with an English text, the directions still have Latin in mind. This comes to a head in describing the metrum—all of the examples in the document have the accent on the penultimate syllable rather than the ultimate (er, second to last rather than last). So, I went looking for some assistance…

3. …And found it in on the website of the (Roman) International Commission on English in the Liturgy. They have a document called “Music for the English Language Roman Missal” which gave some very helpful examples.