But I am partial to James Joyce’s riverrun, all vowels and voiced consonants. In fact, river is one of my favorite words to sing, along with forever. Why? Because, blithely ignoring conventional choral tradition, I think R’s are beautiful in the mouth.
And why is that? Because I had the very good fortune to attend Fred Waring’s Youth Choral Workshop one summer, when I was fourteen. There, I was taught how to pronounce words naturally and clearly, so that the audience could understand them. I’ve used what I learned there in every line I’ve ever sung.
I balk when choir directors tell their singers to drop the final r – in “father”, for instance – because “it’s an ugly sound” – insisting it’s better to sing “fawthuh”, because a musical tradition born in England in the 1600s should sound English. I’ll do it, because the director is the director. But I don’t mean it.
In fact, research suggests that the English we hear today on the BBC is quite different from that of the 17th century. I have heard Shakespearean verse spoken in a way that is closer to how it would have been spoken when new, and let me tell you, it is o’erbrimming with Rs. Big, rich, juicy Rs. Fat, piratical Rs. And they sound delicious, and quite like some of our American regional Rs.
This, and other differences between the English accents in the Renaissance and today’s received pronunciation, reveal rhymes that have been lost. Loved and moved and proved used to rhyme. So, when Willie (I call him that because I love him sooooooo much that he makes me howl like a wolf) used some combination of love/move or love/prove as the final rhymes in Sonnets 25, 32, and (most famously) 116, he hadn’t suddenly decided, “oh to heck with it, close enough!” They did rhyme. Then.
In Sonnet 61, he juxtaposes -where and near. In 66, gone and alone. So these words, too, may once have rhymed.
Why does this matter so much to me? Two reasons. First, because there is no point in putting on, for the sake of “tradition”, the fake English accents I hear in some choirs, especially in the Episcopal Church, if the tradition isn’t accurate. Second, rhyme scheme is part of how I remember a lyric (the overall story of the song being the other part. That will be another post). I am acutely aware of a missing rhyme where there should have been one. If, when I’m grabbing a Johnny Mercer lyric off the internet, the established rhyme pattern suddenly disappears for a line, for no reason, and then returns, something’s wrong.
I wanted to post a YouTube clip that illustrates what I am talking about, but an evil cabal of choir directors is interfering with my internet connection today, and my eight-year-old laptop has jettisoned its Flash drive in its confused dotage. I therefore can’t watch video clips any more, and am flying blind on this. But here are two links that should take you there…
If they don’t work, let me know. If they fail, go to YouTube and look for … oh, try “Shakespeare authentic pronunciation”.