Why can’t I sing these lyrics?

A very late blog post indeed, but I’ve been dwelling on this subject for a while now, and finally found some manner in which to talk about it: music! Perhaps the thing that drew me to my folio of choice the most was the musical notation, eerily similar to the notes & symbols I grew up with. As an inseparable love of my life, I was overjoyed to be able to undertake the transcription of medieval-era music, even if I had no idea how it was traditionally sung. Music was an important part of the liturgical process, linked to most if not all of its celebrations, and an accessible way for laypeople to participate (even if the meaning of the hymn was unclear to them).

For myself, even if this folio was from sometime in the middle of the last millennium, I was drawn to it because I could recognize some of the notes. Or at least, I thought I could…

Following our guest lecture on the subject, I was quickly shocked by how much compression/omission was used before our modern notation system took hold: notes within notes, hidden slurs, ‘catchnotes’ (for lack of a better term), etc. Saving space was as much a concern for music as for text, in order to maximize precious writing supports, so it stands that this kind of musical compression would have happened. Even the notes I thought I could recognize were not at all what I imagined…

For example, when notes were slurred upwards, the notes were nested within one another & linked by a vertical line, rather than side-by-side as is done ‘today’, called a ‘podatus’:



But this rule was different when slurring downward, without nesting, & called a ‘clivis’:




Oh! Don’t forget the ‘climacus’ when it’s three or more notes (but only downward), using diamonds and not squares:


Besides these odd differences in notation, and in trying to transcribe the music into the modern system, I encountered two additional problems:

  • Were the notations I was seeing exactly the same as in our guest lecture’s slides?
  • Was it standardized, or did this particular folio use different rules?
  • There was no time signature, so what tempo did the hymn follow, if any?

A search on the CANTUS melody engine unfortunately did not reveal any similarities between my folio and existing manuscripts, but I have not given up! Using some youtube videos of Gregorian chants (with accompanying sheet music), I intend to fully (& accurately) transcribe the music.


Maybe I could sing it at the end of the year?

Blogobiography, or ‘Why you should never try to coin terms’ (Nick’s bio)

Hi, my name is Nicholas Leckey (LeH-Kee), but I do prefer ‘Nick’.

Fourth-year History student, with double minor in GRS & Archaeology, and I’m a big fan of maps & people in landscapes.  Born and bred here in Ottawa, I’ve taken a more recent shine to local heritage and for solving unexplained historical anecdotes (however mundane they might turn out to be at times).  I have a loving wife ( I can say that now!) that inspires and challenges me (along with putting up with my incessant historical ramblings), and a furry baby named Leelou that knows full well when it’s time to eat, cuddle, or play.

My interests are broad, with a healthy dose of geekery thrown in: video games, guitar, outdoors camping/hiking, tabletop games with friends, gardening (although difficult in an apartment), and a host of pop culture in various forms.  As a random sidenote, I also have an affinity for Japanese history & culture, along with a spotted grasp of their spoken language.  While French is my first language, it’s been less practical at Carleton beyond the odd opportunity.

The manuscripts look amazing as always, and I can’t wait to figure out what some of them sound like!  Musical sheets!  Admittedly, I decided to take this class because 1) Marc was teaching it, and 2) I would like to go beyond my hereto self-taught grasp of the Digital Humanities.  I honestly believe the historical field (and much of Arts &Soc.Sc. as a whole) could benefit from some of these technological aids & tools, however difficult the learning curve may be… even for me.

My insofar conceptual graduate work will revolve around designing some kind of mobile-friendly historical database (or maybe open-sourced architecture, if I’m adventurous enough) that will help bridge (some of) the gap between Historical/Humanities research & the general public (likewise engaging both groups, in cooperation with one another).  I’m still working on it…but the key is somewhere literally in the hands of the curious public.


See you in class!