One of the best tools in a singer’s arsenal is text.  Words convey meaning, of course, but how we sing them give us endless possibilities to make articulation, color, phrasing, and rhythm beyond the musical notation.  In the field of historical performance, we do our best to discover how our texts were pronounced in their own time, and then learn what that brings to the music.


Before there was a “standard” pronunciation of choral Latin based on the Italian model, most people pronounced it with the rules of their own language.  Lots of research has been done in the field of historical linguistics, and there are some terrific books to guide us.  But sometimes we are lucky enough to find what we need right there in the scores.  The Newberry Library’s Mexican Choirbooks, from which our next program is drawn, is a great example.  The scribes who copied the music into the manuscripts spelled Latin the way that they heard it, telling us exactly how to pronounce it.   Here’s one example:


from Ximeno’s “Magnificat” in the Newberry Choirbooks

In current church Latin, this is written “Dominus ex Sion”.  The contraction of the two words to the single “exion” (which appears in all parts of this piece) tells us that the “x” and “s” are pronounced together with no gap between the words.


Another example is the change of a letter to reflect regional pronunciation.

from Lienas' "Credidi" in the Mexican Choirbooks

from Lienas’ “Credidi” in the Newberry Choirbooks

This text is usually written “et nomen Domini invocabo”.  Because the letters “v” and “b” are pronounced alike in Spanish, the resolution of both consonants to “b”tells us how to say it. And moreover, it is clear that before “b”, an “n” becomes an “m”!  Try saying these:  in-bocabo; then im-bocabo.  The easiest way almost always becomes the accepted pronunciation!

It’s also common to see words with close cognates in the vernacular take on the more familiar sound.  One word we sing often is the word for “holy”, or “Sanctum”.  In Spanish, the word is “Santo”, and so we see this in the  Choirbooks:

from Ximeno's "Magnificat" in the Newberry Choirbooks

from Ximeno’s “Magnificat” in the Newberry Choirbooks

Not only do we leave out the “k” sound, but the “m” changes into an “n” before the word “nomen”.


In case you are curious about how this sounds, I’ll leave you with a sample of what I’ve recorded for the singers to study based on my research, guides in Singing Early Music (my favorite book on historical pronunciation), and the wonderful bread-crumb trail of spellings in the Choirbooks.  Here is the text of “Salva nos, Domine” using Spanish Latin:

By adding this final touch of historical spice to the gorgeous music we are singing, we hope to bring yet another dimension of its unique New World Hispanic flavor to our performance.

POSTPONED: April Fundraiser

Dear Valued Patrons,
We regret to share that due to concerns relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have decided to postpone our April 19th fundraising event, Ecco la Primavera. We expect to reschedule this event for a weekend between July and September – stay posted! Please know this decision does not reduce the Newberry Consort’s need for your support. Indeed, now more than ever, we hope you will consider making a tax-deductible donation to help us not only minimize the losses from this postponement but also contribute to our future events.

If you currently hold a ticket for this event, refunds are available upon request. Otherwise, the cost of your ticket will be applied to the rescheduled event. If you are a current ticket-holder for this event, Consort General Manager Hannah De Priest will be in touch with you directly very soon.
You can always donate to the Newberry Consort online  or via check. Our mailing address is The Newberry Consort, P.O. Box 60212, Chicago, IL, 60660-0212. Please reach out to if you have any questions or leave a message at 773-669-7335 and one of our staff will be in touch with you.
We appreciate your understanding and very much look forward to welcoming you to Newberry Consort concerts in the future. Till then, wishing you all good health and safety in these uncertain times.