In my last choir rehearsal, while going over a new piece, after I said, "Let's go back to the beginning and go over the 'oo's", my lead tenor, whom I respect immensely as a musician, responded "Uh, shouldn't that be the 'oh's? If there's an 'h' it's pronounced 'oh'."

So, I looked at the music and saw "Ooh". Now, to me, two "o"s means "oo", regardless of the "h". This started a short but lively discussion which I stopped before it went on too long... We rehearsed it as "oo".

I hate seeing "lololol", because in my head I hear "Laughing out loud out loud out loud". I get that others read that as "laughing out loud for a really long time", or maybe "ha ha ha ha ha", but not me. It drives me nuts. Letters should not be repeated to indicate that the word should be spoken slowly. Certainly not in music! We have notation standards for that. A drawn out "Oh" would be notated as "Oh---".

But, this is all just my opinion. I have no authoritative source to back it up. Can anyone provide a definitive answer one way or another and back it up with evidence?

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    Given that "ooh" is a word pronounced as you describe, I don't think there's much to debate. – user28 Jun 28 '12 at 15:37

Unfortunately for all questions of music notation, the answer is technically "whatever the composer meant." If you have a recording of the composer conducting the piece and they do it one way, then that's probably the right answer (unless the composer edited the piece later and that's the edition you have).

Of course, there are also generally accepted interpretations of specific pieces of notation. In this case, I would agree with you. Two o's indicates a long 'oo'. Some pieces of evidence to back this up (outside of years of performance experience reading choral music):

  1. English language (and that means standard written English, not lol-speak) pretty universally pronounces double o's this way. (Winnie the Pooh, though a fictional character's name, is an example of the double o followed by an h.)
  2. Nowhere in the music is there written three or four o's--it's always either one or two no matter how many notes the syllable is sung over. A mellismatic "oh" would be written out entirely on the first note, with an underscore line drawn from the word through the last note it is held through.
  3. The h is silent regardless of whether it's 'oh' or 'ooh'. (Read 'o' or 'oo'.) It doesn't change the pronunciation of 'o', so why should it change the pronunciation of 'oo'?
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    The h not technically changing the pronunciation of either is a good point. I've always seen a long held out "oh" notated with an underscore, never ooh. Also, in popular usage (Facebook, texting, etc. I think a held out "oh" would be "ohhhh." Although the h's are still silent so… go figure. – Josh Fields Jun 28 '12 at 14:05

Comparing written English to how it is pronounced and sung is extremely complicated and ambiguous, especially compared to languages like Italian, Latin and Spanish, where the rules are very straightforward.

If you really want to research this subject, you need to learn the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and how to transcribe English into the IPA. They teach classes in that in music college. As a voice major, I was required to take classes in transcribing English, German, Italian, and French into the IPA as a means of studying correct pronunciation.

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no. music is like any language - fast and loose with the rules. Whatever produces the best emotional output - that's the best - run with it. And, of course, that'll be different depending on who you ask. Deal with it...:)

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    Many languages are actually quite static with how they follow rules--and the second part of your answer is internally inconsistent. – NReilingh Jun 28 '12 at 16:30
  • Well, all i can say is that PEOPLE are internally inconsistent too :) Which leads music to act similarly (sorry:) – Stephen Hazel Jun 28 '12 at 17:57
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    Stephen Hazel, have you never sung in a choir? In a choir, you've got 35 people and they all have to rehearse how to pronounce each troublesome syllable exactly the same. If you have 35 people making independent decisions on how to pronounce a certain syllable, the sound they produce when they sing together is awful. Choirs and choir directors singing in English usually spend a significant percentage of rehearsal time making sure that all the singers are pronouncing all the syllables the same. – user1044 Jun 28 '12 at 23:39
  • Fast and loose with the rules, yes, but that is another of those rules! Some composers are very strict on how their work is to be executed, some aren't. – reinierpost Jun 29 '12 at 8:59

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