The NEUMES Project The NEUMES Project

Transcription Primer


3. The Chant Transcription

3.1.1. Using Tags
3.1.2. Defining the Musical Gesture We Call a "Neume"

3.2.1. The Encoding of Neumes
3.2.2. Why Use Mnemonics?

3.3.0. Transcribing "Dextera domini"
3.3.1. Melodic Motion and Tone
3.3.2. Ligation
3.3.3. A Full Rendition
3.3.4. Data-Entry Programme

3.1.1. Using Tags

A NEUMES transcription is an XML document. Any XML document consists entirely of two types of things: The 'character data' (NEUMES) include:

'Metadata' (NeumesXML) in the form of descriptive "tags" surround the 'character data.'

Following the conventions of coded web documents, many items require both an opening and closing tag. The following paired tags are used frequently in a NEUMES transcription:
<neumed_syllable> ... </neumed_syllable>
<syllable> ... </syllable>
<neume> ... </neume>

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3.1.2. Defining the Melodic Gesture¹ We Call a "Neume"

What is a neume? For the purposes of NEUMES transcriptions, a neume is defined separately from a "glyph", that is, a "neume" is not necessarily merely a single stroke of a scribe's pen, but a melodic gesture or a coherent unit of vocal expression. From the Greek pneuma, meaning "breath", a neume is a guide to the performance of the sung liturgy, the act of "giving breath" to sacred texts.

Supporting this concept is the first definition provided in the Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., s.v. "neume": "In plainsong, a prolonged phrase or group of notes sung to a single syllable, esp. at the end of a melody. c 1440 Promp. Parv. 354/1 Newme of a songe [H. nevme], neupma."

For the transcriber and researcher, the distinction between "symbol" (i.e. "glyph") and "melodic gesture" (i.e. "neume") involves interpretation. The difficulties lie in:

Managing and encoding the interpretive aspect of the transcription process is the function of the metadata (see section 3.1.1. "Using Tags").

Within NEUMES encoding, the "melodic gestures" which we call "neumes" consititute "semantic frames" for the purpose of melodic pattern-matching. Such "neume frames" allow software to overlook small differences of melodic or notational details when comparing similar sources. For example, if two sources differ by just one glyph (one pen-stroke) within a "neume frame," or they differ by just a few tones in the pitches of notes, these two neumes can still result in a match within an allowable margin of error.

[1] "A neume is actually a 'written gesture.'" Dom Eugène Cardine, Gregorian Semiology, transl. Robert M. Fowel[l]s (Solesmes: Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Solesmes, 1982), p. 9.

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