Czech our pronunciation!

Ros Cresswell, a member of CpM’s alto section since 2003, reflects on the joys and challenges of singing in multiple and often unfamiliar languages.

A snippet from Hradčanské písničky by Leoš Janáček.

With words, appearing to a native English speaker, to have no vowels and the thorny pronunciation problems surrounding the Czech “ř“, Chorus pro Musica’s rehearsals for Leoš Janáček’s Amarus are providing some interesting new challenges to singers. After singing Dvořák’s Specter’s Bride over the summer, I regarded myself as somewhat experienced in Czech pronunciation and went ahead as soon as I received the score to annotate it. However, given the split-second 8th or 16th notes Janáček wrote to accommodate all the consonants in a word like prchly (he fled), we appreciate all the help we can get!

CpM is receiving vocal coaching by Czech pronunciation expert Professor Tim Cheek from the University of Michigan, as well as the support of our own linguistics expert and coach, Ron Severson. Professor Cheek recorded practice recordings with additional explanation and guidance, and Ron guides us directly during rehearsals. The detailed text of Amarus tells the tragic story of an orphan, raised by monks with neither love nor affection, who dies when he witnesses true romantic love. There are a lot of words to communicate this tragic tale! But the music, not to mention the story, are well worth the hard work.

Chorus pro Musica has sung in multiple languages, from the standard Latin of masses, German choral works, and Italian operas, to Mandarin, Hebrew, and Russian. One of my fellow altos was keeping track of the number of different languages sung by CpM, but lost count somewhere between 20–30.

A lot of effort goes into ensuring authenticity and CpM has often been praised for its mastery of languages. Come and hear for yourselves how well we have done at Jordan Hall on November 8 at 8PM. In addition to Amarus, the concert includes Mendelssohn’s Die erste Walpurgisnacht in German and Kodály’s Budavári Te Deum in Latin. Contemporary translations, prepared by members of the chorus, are included so you don’t miss a word! Soloists are Teresa Wakim, soprano, Alexandra Dietrich, alto, Lawrence Jones, tenor, and Bradford Gleim, baritone. CpM is joined by Brookline’s Metropolitan Chorale and their Director, Lisa Graham, for this memorable and unique concert.