Jubilate by John Hosking, featuring tonic solfa

John Hosking’s latest addition to our catalogue is his setting of Jubilate (Psalm 100). This particular setting is in Welsh, and has been produced for Trelawnyd Male Voice Choir, who’ll be giving it its first performance in October 2013. The Jubilate, I need hardly remind you, is one of the canticles used at matins in the Anglican liturgy, and begins with the words ‘O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands’, and John’s setting is a real outburst of joy, both energetic and driven.

A feature of this edition is the tonic solfa (no relation of Oxford-based composer Solfa Carlile), included above the conventional notation. Music is very commonly notated in solfa in Wales (as it is apparently in parts of Africa). It’s possible to walk into some chapels in Wales, and find hymnals set out in SATB with not a note in them, but just page after page of solfa, and that’s all the congregation needs to be able to sing, in all four parts.

Solfa example

SATB with not a note in sight.

In principle, solfa is quite simple. You have the notes doh, rey, mi, fa, soh, la and ti, which correspond to the degrees of the major scale, and there are names for the various accidentals too, e.g. fi for a sharp fa and si for a sharp soh (mi and ti already have that i vowel, because they’re already as sharp as they can be without becoming the next degree of the scale). Then the bar is divided up into beats by colons, and if you want doh you write d at the right position of the bar. If a note carries on into the next beat, you show the continuation with a hyphen. Different octaves are shown by ticks after the note, either superscript or subscript for upper or lower octaves. Rests are shown simply by leaving gaps in the bar.

I don’t claim to know solfa well enough to be able to sing from it, but I have had to include it before in pieces I’ve typeset for other publishers (Welsh ones wrth reswm). Luckily, Sibelius has a plugin that can convert normal notation into a solfa line above the stave, which does the bulk of the work. It was written in 2000 by James Larcombe, and subsequently tinkered with by Sibelius’s Michael Eastwood and by me. James himself later worked for Sibelius, and is responsible for some of Sibelius’s more wizardlike features like Dynamic Parts. He now works for Steinberg, developing their music scoring application, and is no doubt being a wizard there as well. But I digress. The point is that Sibelius can do solfa, more or less.

The downside of using Sibelius for solfa is that you can only do it once the music is finished, or at least, if you add solfa before the music is finished and then change the music it was built from, the solfa won’t update, and you have to either fix it yourself or run the plugin again on that chunk. Another problem is that ties aren’t properly supported (they should be shown as straightforward hyphens, which show that the same note is supposed to continue, but in fact the note gets repeated when Sibelius does it). These and other little glitches mean you have to be very careful with solfa in Sibelius, especially if you don’t know solfa well enough that any mistakes are obvious.

Solfa also takes up extra space. For this reason, this Welsh version of Jubilate is produced in A4 form, which is unusual for a choral piece that only lasts 8 pages, and it has a card cover to support what would otherwise be quite flappy pages. The result is a good and practical product, and I’m proud of having been able to include solfa in this version of Jubilate. I hope it makes the music even more accessible to singers, in Wales and beyond.

My thanks go to Bob Zawalich for uncovering some solfa resources for me during the preparation of this work, Meinir Wyn Thomas and family for being willing to raid their family hymnal collection, and James Larcombe for writing the Sibelius solfa plugin.

Copies of Jubilate (the TTBB version in Welsh) by John Hosking can be ordered here.

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About Neil Sands

Director of the Chichester Music Press. Astronomer.
This entry was posted in Music typesetting, Publications, Sibelius, Steinberg. Bookmark the permalink.

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