Singing Guidelines

Sandhi in Tamil (joining two words)

In Tamil we have many compound words. Or two word phrases where the first word ends in a vowel and the second one begins with a vowel. In such instances, we may find them written as one word. Or we may hear them sung together without a break. Whether written or "heard" the connecting letter is called "sandhi" or "joining" .

Pundit Sabharatnam tells us:

In most cases, V occurs as the joining phoneme, between 'a' and 'a'( pata+aravu = pataVaravu); 'a' and 'u'(puu+alagu = puuValagu); 'u' and 'u', 'o' and 'o', as uru+umai uruVumai, atho+oro= athoVoru and so on.

Y occurs between 'e' and 'e', 'e' and 'e'(long 'e') 'e' and e"( as in enathu), 'ai' and 'a' ( as in malai+ alagu = malaiYalagu, beauty of the mountain) pati+eluthu= patiYeluthu and so on.

Elongation of Short Vowels

In general we try to observe the proper pronunciation of long and short vowels in Sanskrit and Tamil. In particular it is very important not to shorten long vowels. And short vowels, when they are sounds that are "inside" the words are typically kept short.

On the other hand, you will often hear Indian singers especially taking license and making short vowels long. This most often done with the last syllable at the end of lines or the last word at the end of musical phrases. Sometimes the last syllable of a compound word may be elongated, even though it is a short vowel. But westerners whose first language is English or a latin language need to be careful as we often elongate short vowels in ways that complete change meaning and cadence, making it sound like "operatic" or "choir" singing. When in doubt, keep long vowels long and short vowels short with the only exceptions being at the end of lines. And remember that long vowels are almost never shortened. For example we can sing "Aruuuuul" even though the "u" in "arul" (grace) is short. But we would never sing "Shanti" because it should be "Shaaaaanti."

Because it will be incorrect to change the actual letter of a short vowel to the corresponding long form, in our roman transliterations we are using elipses after a vowel to indicate a musical elongation of a short vowel. e.g.

pidyathan uru...vumai, kolamigu

Pundit Sabharatnam tell us:

"There is nothing wrong if short letter is lengthened while singing if it has to be lengthened. Especially, in Thirumurai songs, we can very often see that a short letter is treated as long letter. For example, in "arvaNaiyaan sinttittu aratrum ati"(St Thirunavukkarasar), the last word 'ati'(foot) is grammatically considered to be of only one syllable. But, in view of music, we are permitted to consider as of two syllables, because both 'a' and 'ti' are to be lengthened to give sweet melody and music(a...ti...).