>One More Thing About Diction…

>Over here one gets the sense sometimes that everything in America is looked at as either/or. I realize this is not the case all the time, but one place where I sense it strongly is with opinions on language skills. Reader J. asks if singer’s diction courses “pass on rules of pronunciation that singers can use even if they don’t know the language, or is it pure imitation, e.g. the coach demonstrates what a piece should sound like and the students try to replicate the coach’s example?”, and while this is a perfectly intelligent question I have to add here to my answer in comments: where is the line between knowing a language and not knowing it? Many of us have some experience in several languages but not all of us can say we are fluent in all of them. I am not. But aside from that point, I am fluent in German yet still appreciate some help with singing pronunciation when needed. It’s all fine detail work — when faced with “Wie kommst Du darauf?”, must it be “kommst / Du” or does the listener more easily understand “kommstu”?  In English diction, one of the trickier exercises involves singing the word “divine” on two different tones, and what tone should you be singing when you move through the v sound?

Back to my little rant: I have heard countless times for example,  that ABBA sang all those pop songs phonetically, not knowing a single word of English. Which is just ridiculous. Certainly the women didn’t like to give interviews in English, not trusting their conversational foreign-language skills, but please.

Therefor I will state here that I don’t believe that Garanca “doesn’t know” French — more likely she knows the words she is singing, knows enough to read a little and work out sentences, but is not proficient enough to speak it off-script, and gets help with the more nuanced pronuciation work (and let me tell you, French diction rules have more exceptions than Italy has Vespas!)

Thank you for the blogpost fodder, J. I hope you know I don’t mean to pick on you!

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3 Responses to >One More Thing About Diction…

  1. Joe says:

    >Marcellina,No offense taken, though I do want to explain myself more fully. It was not my intent to present it as an 'either/or' – obviously, there is a continuum between complete ignorance and confident fluency, and I didn't mean to imply that one either "knows" a language or does not. I may be an American citizen living in the United States, but that doesn't automatically make me an ugly American!As for Elina Garanca, I was just repeating she said in the interview, but I see your point and I suspect that you're probably right. To say the least, I'd imagine that it would hard for someone to go through the work of preparing a major singing role in a language they don't speak in conversation without learning at least some of the language – even if they do so purely through osmosis.

  2. Joe says:

    >An addendum to my earlier comments: I don't think the 'either/or' mentality that you reference is unique to the United States. My experience in Europe and living with Europeans (and, for that matter, with Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans) has suggested to me that it's actually a human problem that afflicts people everywhere, even if it manifests itself in diverse ways. On the language issue specifically, I have met people who take the approach that you suggest and act as though the only two possibilities are not speaking a language at all or speaking it with a high degree of proficiency. My experience on this issue matches yours – I have an experience with several languages, but only speak a couple of them proficiently, and even then I must still grapple with the kind of "detail work" you mention (not just on diction issues, of course, but also on matters of idiom). As to your (presumably rhetorical) question of the dividing line between knowing and not knowing a language, I can only reply, "Is there one?" I'm not sure there is. My experience (and, I suspect, that of many) is that it's more a matter of stages along a continuum than an absolute either/or.

  3. Marcellina says:

    >Joe, my thoughts exactly, there is no "line". And of course I am most likely guilty of making assumptions from over here that are not necessarily still true over there. But I believe that stages along a continuum is a fine description of many things. Probably, it's the political fury in the US these days which has me wondering why so many things have to be black or white to so many other people.Here's a little something in thanks for your generous commentary: this went viral among my classical singer friends earlier this month.

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