iconea 2015 banner




Masoretic  Te’amim and  other  musical  notations of  the  Ancient  Near  East

Senate House, University of London, 15 and 16 December 2015, room 264.


Tuesday December 15


Tuesday December 15

10:00 Registration in Room 264

10:15 Introduction by Richard Dumbrill and Irving Finkel

1045: Bruno de Florence: Some General Semiotic Remarks on Music Notation

Musical notation may appear simple, and yet seems to be made of multiple inter-connecting layers: code, message, index, icon, symbol, sign, graph, analogue, digital, etc… I shall therefore attempt at describing what I regard as forming a complexity.

11:15 Questions and discussion

 11:30 David Mitchell: Prolegomena to the Masoretic te’amim

12:30 Questions and discussion

13:00 Lunch break

14:00 Theodore W. Burgh: Creating Music in Iron Age Israel.

Archaeological and textual data demonstrate that ancient cultures shared many distinct similarities and differences. Architecture, pottery, iconography, and figurines are a part of the lives of most peoples of the past, but they also help to define specific aspects of these enigmatic groups. Scholars work diligently with fragmented, complex puzzle pieces to better understand subtle and overt intricacies in these areas. Music is too one of those fascinating, yet challenging realms. Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, Anne Kilmer, Richard Crocker and others have put forth in depth analysis regarding musical notation in ancient texts. Although the precise sounds of music from the past are lost to us, archaeological and textual data show that ancient Near Eastern cultures possessed distinct characteristics and differences in musical instruments and performance. This paper offers unique questions to the available sources in an effort to further our understanding of musical practices in antiquity among these complex cultures. Employing examples from the above-mentioned data, this work will briefly explore two queries regarding potential musical practices Iron Age Israel: 1) Did musicians perform known melodies and possibly interject them with regional or cultural flavor? 2) Did musicians improvise during musical performances?

15:00 Questions and discussion

15:30 Break

16:00 Max Stern: Transferring Knowledge from Generation to Generation:  Teaching Masoretic Te’amim in the Yemenite Cheder.

For nearly two years, almost four decades ago, I attended a Yemenite cheder in Jerusalem. My classmates were children between the ages of 4-11, while I, an adult, already a mature professional musician, on a few occasions, taped our sessions.  This lecture is based on this field recording as well as personal recollections, reflections, impressions, observations, insights and understandings of the traditional process of teaching Masoretic Te’amim in the Yemenite cheder.

17:00 Questions and discussion


Wednesday December 16

09:00 Raymond de Hoop: The Te`amim between Music and Punctuation.

In the discussion on the function of the te`amim, the Masoretic Text, as found in the authoritative Tiberian codices, is taken as point of departure. In that sense the function of the te`amim is described on the basis of the final product, not on the basis of its historical development.

In this paper I will discuss the historical development of the te`amim as it is found in the ancient documents in order to arrive at a more solid definition of the original purpose and function of the te`amim. It will be concluded that the original purpose of these signs was to indicate where a moment of rest was needed during the recitation. In this sense their function was close to what we call punctuation, though it might be closer to the interval in music. In texts the punctuation has an obvious syntactical function. In the music of a song the interval is not always found at a syntactically logical position, but, in general, at a position that will help to experience the contents and the beauty of the text much better. Yet to state that the te`amim are musical signs is certainly a bridge too far.

10:00 Questions and discussion

10:30 Coffee break

11:00 Victor Tunkel: Recovering the Lost Music of the Psalms

The Tiberian ‘prose’ t’amim, their function and syntax, is well understood and realised musically. But the music of the ‘poetic’ system of Psalms, Proverbs and Job remains a mystery. This paper will consider some recent attempts at its recovery.

12:00 Questions and discussion

12:30 Lunch break

14:00 Hirsh Cashdan: Music and Meaning in Torah Cantillation

The te’amim that provide the means of the cantillation of the Torah, through their role in delineating the phrasing, clearly play a part in the interpretation of the text. But there are multiple ways the te’amim can achieve an identical phrasing while the particular choice of te’amim for the phrase sounds quite different.  In this paper I explore the questions “can it be shown that the choice of te’amim indicates an intention to express meaning and to what extent is there a deliberate pattern in so doing?”

15:00 Questions and discussion

15:30 Viktor Golinets: Meteg, Mercha, Tifcha and Silluq – One Stroke with Four Functions within the Tiberan Accentuation system.

The lecture investigates the graphical form of the accent signs Meteg, Mercha, Tifcha and Silluq in Hebrew manuscripts. These signs have clear-cut forms in printed edition but their forms in manuscripts vary greatly. The tilt of the signs Mercha, Tifcha and Silluq is not absolute. The form of Mercha is influenced by the form of Tifcha, and both Tifcha and Mercha influence the form of Silluq. It means that the graphical form of these strokes is not immanent, but the function of a stroke – and, accordingly, its name as an accent sign – is conditioned by the relation between the neighbouring strokes/accents.

16:30 Questions and discussion

17:00 Fr Shafiq Abouzayd and Ahmed Mukhtar: a musical conclusion


Please send your abstracts before November 15 to rdumbrill@iconea.org

Advance registration: £70, concessions £35, payable to:
Richard Dumbrill: IBAN: GB68NWBK60051418136958

Payment of registration on the day in cash only.

Information about Hotels near Senate House: