Lost in Translation

June 15, 2021
close-up of sheet music

Music is often described as an “international language” that can break down barriers. Does it, or does it divide us sometimes? The music that we prepare for church is created by composers from all over the world, and so a church musician might consider the various aspects of the word translation quite often!

Some questions to ponder:

  • If you put the titles of compositions in the bulletin or on the screen, do you use the original language or a translation into the language used for worship? Or both?
  • If your musical group or choir sings in a language other than the one usually used in the worship service, do you offer a translation, either literal or poetic, or a kind of summary?
  • Do you ever use a congregational response, refrain, or hymn in a language that is not the one ordinarily used in worship? Is a translation provided, or is the text interlinear? Does someone provide a synopsis?
  • Whenever another language is used that may not be as familiar to most, does someone teach the pronunciation? Is that person the music director, song leader, or a native speaker of the language?
  • Have you invited someone to sign music or other parts of the service using American Sign Language?
  • When looking at a published score that is not in your first language, do you know how to interpret the musical terminology, like instructions for tempo, dynamics, or instrumental nomenclature?
  • When working with your musical groups on pieces not in your first language, do you know enough of the language to share some basics with the musicians so that they have a better ability to telegraph the meaning of the text to others? Have you sought out translations, or can you point out key words?

As we continue to try to be an inclusive denomination, consider some of these questions so that nothing gets “lost in translation”!