Foreign Tongues (Re: minstrel: translations )

Vanessa Layne dagoura at MIT.EDU
Fri Apr 21 11:15:59 PDT 2000

If one has cohorts one has more alternatives.  Since I often perform
with friends I've tried....

* Subtitles.  No kidding. One of our sopranos had a monster roll of
butcher paper, and another is a calligrapher.  The piece was an
Italian filk of an Italian madrigal; we *really* wanted the audience
to get the words as we sang them, and be suprized at the right moment.
We quite literally unrolled the subtitles across the quire as we sang,
synchroinized with the words.

Pros: It worked, spectacularly.  The non-Italian speakers were
convulsive with hysterics, we practically had to hospitalize the
Italian speakers.  ("They're >gasp< ARE >gasp< really singing >gasp<
those words!  >gasp<")

Cons: Too hokey to work with anything other than a really funny piece,
where the joke survives translation.  Might ruin atmosphere.

* Recited translation over instrumental interlude.  A team of 4 of us
presented a cantiga de s.m. where we had a soprano sing, a soprano
recorder play, a percussionist on doumbek, and me alternating between
declaiming the translation over the instruments repeating the verse,
and playing hand drum with the singing.  So
sing-sing-sing-declaim-declaim-sing-sing-sing-declaim-declaim, etc.

Pros: Very dramatic, very "professional" -- what modern audiences are
primed to expect from live acts.  

Cons: Coordination problem.  Either you need to pair up with someone,
or you have to manage to continue to play a non-wind instrument and
speak at the same time.  That's harder than the pros make it look. 

Non-group things we've tried....

* Pantamime, mugging, props, and other clues.  "Medici ni suamo" (sp?)
we actually brandished root vegitables at the audience.  That wasn't
terribly successful.  If the words to something are close enough to
puzzle out, you can "school" the audience before launching in:

  [points to goblet] "Istud *VINUM*"
  [smiles broadly] "*BONUM* vinum"
  "vinum *GENEROSUM*" [looks expectantly at prospective patron]

Meanwhile, while we've yet to meet an audience who gets the words of
"Wir zogen in das feld" (German/(bad)Italian macaronic mercenary's
complaint), the "bronx cheer" we stick on the end of the refrain is
pretty clear.

Pros: Keeps in the atmosphere better, often.

Cons: Hard to do successfully.

* Declaim the translation before launching into song.  One of our
basses (actually, the bloke who wrote the Italian madrigal filk
mentioned above) was so mispleased by the translation we had of
another madrigal, he wrote his own.  We thought it was good and should
be presented, but it wasn't poetic and we generally don't sing
translations.  So we had him declaim it, then sang.  Madrigals boil
down into just a few lines, so this didn't much increase the length of
the performance.

Pros: gets it out there

Cons: no suspense, and if your song lyrics aren't terribly interesting
(i.e. you're singing because it's catchy or has some other merit) this
is kind of pointless.

* Tell them what it's about, generally, and punt the specifics.  Our
quire does that all the time.  You don't *have* to translate a bunch
of christmas carols, e.g.  "la la la Gabriel la la la Maria la la la
Yesus la la la..." I'm pretty sure *I* don't know the translation of
anything but the first line of "Wohl kommt der Mai" yet I love that
piece; we sing it sometimes for our local Mayday, what more do I
really need to know?  Same with the verses of "Revercy venir du
printempts"(sp?), which are just glorious to sing.  Something about
frolicking ducks and spring.  Who cares?  It's a happy lovely piece.

Pros: Doesn't sweat the small stuff.

Cons: The merit of the piece can't be just in the lyrics.  The music
has to be beautiful -- and you have to sing it really well.  Well
enough that just listening to your voice is pleasing.  Very hard to
do; hardest to do solo.  Harmony makes it easier (harmoy makes
everything sound better ;).  Even in a group, it is at or beyond the
very edge of my ability.

-- Tibicen

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