Advertise on ChoralNet 
ChoralNet logo
The mission of the ACDA is to inspire excellence in choral music through education, performance, composition, and advocacy.

Pronunciation of Adam Lay Ybounden

Can anyone point me in the right direction for the correct pronunciation of the text for the old Advent carol Adam Lay Ybounden? Thanks.
Rob Howard
Director of Music
St. George's Anglican Church
Colorado Springs, CO
Replies (8): Threaded | Chronological
on September 21, 2013 4:50am
I have a friend who specializes in Old English and can put you in touch with her if you like.  Replying privately with her contact info.
on September 21, 2013 8:47am
Just for the record, Adam lay ybounden is in Middle English, not Old English. Furthermore, the text first appeared during a significant change in pronunciation in English called the Great Vowel Shift, so there's no definitive "correct" pronunciation — most likely it was pronounced significantly differently by different speakers at the time it was first written. Second, if your concern is about authentic performance, does it make sense to look at pronunciation at the time the text was created, or at the time the music was composed? How Britten or Boris Ord thought it was pronounced might be different from what scholars think today, and that might have impacted their composition. Finally, how will different pronunciations impact your audience? If you pronounce the gh in thought like a german ch, will that seem more authentic to your listeners or will they just find it weird and incomprehensible? Historical accuracy isn't always best.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on September 21, 2013 8:19am
I'd call around to local college English departments to find an Old English scholar.  I did it once with the old pronunciation, which I learned from my wife who had studied Old English in college.  Oh, the weeping and gnashing of teeth in the choir!  People objected like mad--not sure why!  Most recordings I've heard seem to use more-or-less modern pronuniciation, which seems odd to me.  Good luck with whatever you decide!
on September 21, 2013 10:26am
I have no idea of American practcice, but I can say that in Britain it would be considered bizarre to attempt an authentic pronunciation unless you were singing a fifteenth-century setting of these fifteenth-century words. By convention, we may sing one or two words with unusual pronunciations (e.g., "iboonden") to acknowledge the antiquity of the text. That's the oral equivalent of putting up a pub sign reading "Ye Olde Boare's Head", or labelling beetroot soup as "BOЯIS'S BOЯSHT", but it seems to be socially acceptable.
If you really want to attempt a correct pronunciation, you need to know that the words as printed in the music are heavily modernized. For the authentic text, see wikipedia.
on September 22, 2013 4:47am
As a fan of the music of the period I can tell you that in an archival recording done in the '50s the "Y" was pronounced as a long E.  
on September 22, 2013 6:21am
I listened to a recording of Britten and copied his pronunciation. How can you go wrong copying Britten?
on September 22, 2013 2:56pm
I think the further one gets into the possibilities for "correct" pronunciation of English from that time period, the closer one gets to giving up, especially for pronunciations used before the Vowel Shift.
The following little samples are not authentic at all, just a little sample of how "bad" (from an audience perspective) it can get: "thookkht hay not toe long" ; "awn awpeel thawt hay toke" ; "nay hawd thay awpeel tawken bayn" - and so on. In the context in which this song is now usually sung, hearing and understanding the text is one of the main goals.
And for the person who mentioned it, a note about "Old English"... Old English is this:
Hwæt! wē Gār-Dena in ġeār-dagum,
þēod-cyninga, þrym ġefrūnon,
hū ðā æþelingas ellen fremedon.
Oft Scyld Scēfing sceaþena þrēatum,
... and so on. With Middle English, the average person today can sometimes barely make out the meaning of it, but at least it mostly looks sort of like English to us (unlike the Old English above, which might as well be Martian for most modern readers). Shakespeare is Modern English.
on September 24, 2013 7:52am
David Rogers is quite right.  I can't BELIEVE I wrote "Old English" when I meant "Middle English," and did it not once, but twice--ouch!  
  • You must log in or register to be able to reply to this message.