My denomination is just beginning the process of developing a new hymnal, since our last one is over 25 years old. We have discovered that we are trying something no other denomination has done…and trying to make it truly international. Our plan is to have a 2-book hymnal: one book will be in English and will be primarily intended for the English-speaking church; the other will contain (hopefully) approximately 100 hymns that are most sung and that best represent our message and mission from non-English-speaking parts of the church. This book will be part of the package and will also be the hymnal that we use at our legislative and other international gatherings.
So…as part of my work responsibilities, I am currently transcribing some of these hymns from different parts of the world for the selection committee to look at. For the ones I am working on now (China, India, Philippines, and some in a language whose country of origin I am not sure of). I have a CD with members from those congregations singing–and a Romanized (i.e., English-language) version of the words. (Hopefully I will also be getting an English translation of them–even if it’s only an approximate translation to let us know what we are singing.)
Some of them have been fairly easy to notate–with a definite rhythmic structure that works in our Western notation style and with intervals that have not incorporated quarter-steps.
But others have provided much more of a challenge! It’s not just the rhythm–although I have one notated in which every phrase of the music is in a different meter!
It’s also the language.
I have words in the Roman alphabet in front of me, and as I look at them, I know how I would pronounce them…or at least I have a pretty good guess. But then I listen to the CD–and sometimes wonder if I am looking at the correct words!
It’s worse because I have no understanding of the words, although I can occasionally pick out something that looks like “Christ” or “Jesus” or “Hosanna”… But how do the words divide?
And then–because these songs come from an oral culture–sometimes there is a lack of consistency. What I have written in front of me (the order of the verses / chorus) may or may not be the way it is being sung…so I have to listen carefully to see what part needs to be repeated–and how many times.
I’m thoroughly enjoying it, although I periodically have to go for a walk to clear my mind…
But what I’m also discovering is the different worlds that we live in. I have always enjoyed what is commonly called “world music”–but even so, much of what I’ve heard blends fairly well into the Western tradition I’m accustomed to. This doesn’t.
I’m being challenged to open myself to new things…to really appreciate the diversity in this world I’m a part of. And it is a challenge…but I’m finding it well worth it!