Hannah Lambert, Shon Hopkin, Department of Ancient Scripture
The use of liturgical music is common to several faiths in today’s society. The purpose of this project was to shed light on the origins and development of cantillation marks in the Hebrew bible and on the development of liturgical music in post-biblical time. Most importantly, this project’s chief purpose was to analyze and demonstrate the impact of Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura’s proposal regarding cantillation on Jewish and Christian liturgical and worship music.
Jewish synagogues employ cantors to chant or sing the Hebrew Bible. There are explicit directions in the text itself—which has come down to us from the 10th century—that guide the cantors. Each sign or ta’am is understood to provide directions on how to read the text. But in 1978, Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura made a revolutionary proposal regarding the te’amim (plural of ta’am) with the publication of her book, La Musique de la Bible Révélée. She claimed that the signs were actually a very early form of musical notation which provided exact instructions on how to sing the Bible on a diatonic scale. The revolutionary nature of this proposal, contradicting hundreds of years of tradition, was cause for investigation as to how it was received.
My research began with a study of the history of cantillation and its interpretations of the years. I gathered information from scholarship that has already been published, as well as from interviews with prominent cantors in different traditions. I then moved on to a more in-depth study of Haïk-Vantoura’s proposal for a fuller understanding of the technical aspects of it. The bulk of the project, which is still underway, is gathering information regarding the reception and impact of this theory. I’ve been conducting interviews with both scholars in the field, as well as those who actively participate in the production of liturgical and worship music.
Though the contacting has proved challenging due to technological issues as well as scheduling issues, the information I’ve received so far is generally unanimous. Though Haïk-Vantoura’s theory is indeed revolutionary, it has not, as of yet, had any great impact on the larger liturgical world. Her work has been investigated and even performed, but only in an attempt at entertainment. It has not, so far as I’ve been able to gather, been implemented for liturgical use in any way. The issues seem to be 1) the difficulty of the Hebrew language for choirs in general, and 2) the overbearing power of hundreds of years of tradition.
Although Haïk-Vantoura’s theory hasn’t been implemented in worship services, it has encouraged a new surge of interest in music in the Hebrew Bible. As my research comes to a close, I believe the overall trend will point in the direction of a new generation of scholars that study both liturgy and music and the relationship between the two, today and in the past. As this field of interest grows, Haïk-Vantoura’s theory may yet prove to be of significant value to the Jewish and Christian liturgical communities.
As I mentioned, the research is not quite complete yet, so these are my preliminary findings. My completed research will be produced in a paper that will be submitted for publication. I anticipate the completion of this paper by the end of January 2015.