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Comments about the soundtrack for Gladiator (Hans Zimmer/Lisa Gerrard)

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Re: It must be hebrew
• Posted by: Phaedra   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Wednesday, July 28, 2004, at 1:48 p.m.
• IP Address:
• In Response to: Re: It must be hebrew (Krugergirl)

> If Ms. Gerrard is indeed making up the words as she goes along, it seems
> strange to me that there is an appropriate repetition of the words in the
> song, as though they have a meaning.

Short answer: she calls it melismatic singing, and has stated numerous times in interviews that it's not in any particular language.

Long answer (why I think she does it): Putting aside her quasi-spiritual explanation, approximately, "The words are in my own internal language, and mean more than I could ever explain," consider the following: it is not odd at all that a talented musician like Ms. Gerrard would repeat the sounds where the music repeats. Quite to the contrary, I find it very appropriate.

The phonemes one uses when one sings, regardless of their meaning, alter the musical shading and tone quality of one's voice. We have to put our tongues in different positions, tighten or loosen different parts of our throats, change the shape of the inside of our mouth, close or open our lips, etc. For example, if I am singing "feet" my voice is going to sound very different than if I am singing "wow" at the same pitch and volume. As a violinist, I can tell you that the angle at which the bow touches the string, the pressure of the violinist's fingers, even the angle at which the instrument faces (or doesn't face) the audience are all used for different musical effects.

Well, a singer's instrument is her body. When she's singing predetermined words, she is limited in how she can alter the timbre and tone quality of her words. For example, she might want the bell-like clarity that can be achieved when producing an "oh" sound, but she if she's singing the word "please," she's just going to have to attempt the best she can with that vowel sound, despite the fact that it's a high, tense, front vowel. On the other hand, if she's not singing predetermined words, but rather shaping the sound the way an instrumentalist does, she's free to sing "oh" went she wants a more clear, open sound, or "ee" if she wants a more constrained, higher tension vowel sound. If she wants an emphatic, staccato sound, she can put in "t" sounds or "p" sounds.

And of course, when the music repeats, the "words" are probably going to be repeated, just as generally when a musical theme repeats, one doesn't radically the way in which it is played unless the music calls for it.

The end result is that Ms. Gerrard gets to musically have her cake and eat it too: she can shape her sound exactly as she wishes, but because (I assmue) the phonemes she chooses are carefully thought out, they sound like meaningful language, even if a foreign one. Although this practice is not unique to Ms. Gerrard (I've heard Loreena McKennitt, Jorane, and Vas do it, to name a few) in my opinion her work is the best example I have yet encountered of how to put all our the abilities of our unique vocal apparatus to a purely musical use.

But, returning to the original point, it's certainly not Hebrew.

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