Tuesday, March 10, 2009

If music is a universal language, why do we need to study Italian terms?

In less than a week, Andre will be sitting for his Grade 2 theory exam for piano. For the most part, he's ready... except for them dastardly Italian terms. For those not in the know, since Western classical music was mostly composed in Italian centuries ago, the expressions for describing how the music should be played are usually in Italian (or French or German, but in the lower grades, you only need to learn Italian terms). Which might not be a problem for ang moh kids but for a little Hokkien boy in Singapore, it might as well be Greek.

Taking theory exams growing up, I never liked learning the Italian terms but I don't remember having quite so much difficulty. Lesley-Anne too, managed reasonably well. But Andre just can't seem to wrap his mind around them. Part of the problem is that his English is shaky to begin with. Take these Italian terms and their meanings:

Maestoso - Majestically
Brio - Vigour
- Sustained

Andre hasn't the faintest idea what the English words mean, let alone the Italian ones. So when he's learning the terms, he actually has to memorise BOTH the Italian terms and their accompanying meanings in English. Which really defeats the purpose, in my opinion. Imagine if he comes across a piece of music which states Maestoso, he won't have the slightest clue how to play that piece majestically, even if he remembers that's what it means. (Now, if Mozart and Beethoven both spoke Singlish, things would've been so much less complicated - "Don't so hurry lah!")

Take these three terms, for example: Allargando, Allegretto, Accelerando. They mean "broadening out", "lively, fast" and "getting faster" respectively. To Andre, they're all long words that start with the letter 'A'. Unpronounceable and indistinguishable. As with Rallentando, Ritardando and Ritenuto. (Actually, you should hear him try to say the Italian, it's like a hysterical mix of Japanese and Tamil. His "Allegretto" sounds suspiciously like "Arigato". The Italians would have a fit.)

That's not the end of it. His teacher has written out all the Italian terms he has to know and even as we're struggling with those, I compared them with those in Lesley-Anne's old theory book and found at least a dozen other words that are not on the list. A quick check with the teacher revealed that he only provided the ones that are often tested - he didn't give the full list because Andre couldn't even remember the more common ones.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. When all else fails, resort to exam skills (we're not Singaporeans for nothing!) I've told Andre that if the exam paper throws up an Italian term he's not familiar with, look at the piece of music. If it has many minims and crotchets (long notes), write "slow". If it has many quavers and semi-quavers (short notes), write "fast". At least he'll have a slim chance of getting it right.

Fine. (The end).


Lilian said...

I'm seeing STARS!! Poor Andre!! Nevermind, work hard now, next time can charm not just Singapore Ah Lians, but also Italian babes.

monlim said...

LOL! Actually, the only Italian he's comfortable with are Spaghetti and Pizza. :)

Alcovelet said...

See? The dude's already trilingual!

eunice said...

Monica; Those are the only Italian words he needs to know! Boy has his priorities right.

Anonymous said...

This post makes me subito scherzando.

In the tranquillo of the night, I feel ruhig, somewhat frohlich zu knowing that my ordeal with these 3strange languages will be perdendosi/morendo/smorzando by this coming weekend. Then I can embrace this piacevole weekend appassionato!!!! Presser!

The exam is chewing me up...LOL


monlim said...

qx: You are giving me nightmares! Had to help L-A learn all those for grade 5 last year. It's pure torture. Let me translate for those who lia bo kiu:

subito - suddenly
scherzando - playful
tranquillo - calm
ruhig - peaceful
frolich - cheeerful
zu - too
perdendosi/morendo/smorzando - dying away
piacevole - pleasant
appasionato - with passion
presser - hurry


And no, I didn't remember them all, I had to check up on some of them :P

bACk in GERMANY said...

You moms are so cute...
Foreign languages and music! Hahaha...

Now I wouldn't mind learning music for those foreign words. :)
That's why students who do music tend to perform better in foreign language classes.

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