Consonants, please

I’m traveling this morning and so am spending some quality time with my iPod. And you know what? Southern gospel singers need to articulate their consonants better. And if they can’t, won’t, or don’t know how, their producer needs to make them.

Just because it’s playing as I type this, I’ll use as an example the Perrys, “Until I Start Looking Ahead,” or as it’s sung: “until I start looking aheehhhhh.” Libbi Perry Stuffle on the verse: “a place where there’s joy, peace, and rehhhhh.”

And now the Hoppers are playing. “Its taste is sweeeeeee.” … “Calvary’s fountain will reach the barren soyyyyy.” And now Mark Lowry with GVB, “and then he drew me up to his syyy.” You get the idea.

I’m sure I’m hearing this more right now because the chorus I’ve joined is led by an artistic director who relentlessly dogs us (as she should) about properly articulating consonant endings. Now, gospel music isn’t choral singing and shouldn’t be judged by inapt metrics. And it is possible to overdo it (especially by lisping or sizzling your S’s, as JP Miller proved during First Love’s shortlived time together). But gospel singers could learn a little something from good chorus singing about carefully over-enunciating certain hard consonants at the end of key words and phrases so that important syllabic ideas are completely rendereduh.

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Comments

  1. quartet-man wrote:

    That’s one of the things I dog my choir about when I can. Another is communicating with your face what you are singing. The correct notes take precedence so I don’t always have time to dog them enough about it, however it really changes the meaning of the song to sing Jesus is the lie instead of the light. J.D. once said in a book that whn Donnie Sumner produced them he would have just one of them put the consanants on so it would be together. That has its meriits, but it is better to all do it together.

  2. Kyle wrote:

    I’ve actually had consonants covered or hidden by music tracks. I’ve gone back and listened to the vocals individually and hear the cut offs, but when the music is played, they’re cut off by a cymbal crash (most often, it’s an “s” sound).

  3. volscot wrote:

    This is one of my pet peeves also. I sing in a local group and we have recorded two CD’s. We always make sure we sing the word-ending consonants and that we cutoff together.

    The only time I think it is best NOT to enunciate or even sing them is when you are recording stacks. It’s just as bad or even worse to hear “sweet-t-t” because you don’t cut off the word at exactly the same time as on the main vocals.

  4. cdguy wrote:

    This has been one of my pet peeves, too. I used to notice it a lot when Michael English was with GVB. He seemed to be bad in this department.

    Not so bad in most others, though (singing, I mean).

  5. Aaron Swain wrote:

    A recent example of this: When Billy Hodges takes the lead on a chorus of “I Want You To Know” on The Kingdom Heirs’ True To The Call album. On the phrase “I want you to hear”, he doesn’t sing the last consonant on “hear”, so it sounds like “I want you to heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.”

  6. irishlad wrote:

    Well Ave it’s sg we’re talkin’ and i’m sure the average sg fan couldn’t give hoot about correct pronounciation. Done properly it just wouldn’t quite be sg would it?

  7. Bari-Tone-Def wrote:

    I’ve also heard it said that singing is making vocal sounds that are interpreted as words when heard. (Or something like that.) Most people wont even notice if light is sung lyyyy, they still here light. It’s only the well trained, highly tuned ear that picks up these petty little nuances. ;)

  8. Bob wrote:

    Ooh - this is a pet peeve of mine as well. One popular P&W song is “How Great is Our God” by Chris Tomlin. He sings it “How Gray is Our Gahhh”. Sadly a lot of worship leaders emulate this. The words are so beautiful - at least pronounce them correctly!

  9. Granny wrote:

    I just can’t resist this one. I don’t remember the group, but I’ll never forget the song they sung, “Once upon a heel” meaning hill. I wanted to scratch my nails across a blackboard every time I heard it. The song was popular and played often. (goodnight Charlie Brown) how could anyone have enjoyed it, I don’t know.

  10. Revpaul wrote:

    Sheri Easter drops terminal consonants and wallows over every possible vowel sound before finally landing on one. I have seldom understood a word she sings until about the fifth time listening. I’m not so sure that “the correct notes take precedence” if the words are obscured. This ain’t opera ya’ know.

  11. Leebob wrote:

    Another side bar when it comes to consonants is energy. We really show our laziness when we don’t finish our words. This is also prevalent in secular music as well. The general public is lazy anyway and know what you mean so I guess they don’t really care too much until they hear a group that is dynamic and they are trying to figure out why they like this group so much (i.e. Booth Brothers: listen closely to the solos especially to Jim Brady)

    Then there is the ever popular proper pronouncing of the vowel. Some fine tuning of the vowels will eliminate the need for fine tuning the chord.

  12. Brian wrote:

    9 -Granny, uhhh, that would be Gold City. I guess I might question your judgement on singing if you don’t even know that simple piece of SG history.

    I am going to defend my SG brethren for a moment. Doug, I think that you have become such a critic of the genre that you have forgotten how to enjoy the music. Critique is a good thing and helps the genre as a whole. But to my point…you are absolutely correct about one thing. SG sangin ain’t Choral singing. I also find it very interesting that the Perrys, Hoppers and Mark Lowry, three of the top SG names today, and who most certainly hire the best producers available, are all doing it wrong. Maybe, just maybe, they are right…I know how big a blow that must be for you, but maybe, just this once, the artist know what they are doing. Look, opera isn’t country, country isn’t rock, rock isn’t jazz, jazz isn’t choral and choral isn’t SG. I have been told to do just the opposite of what you are saying, by a well respected vocal instructor. I have been taught to never sing consonants and if you absolutely must complete the word, do it lightly. Anyway, doesn’t make me right, but there is teaching out there that is teaching this technique and if the Hoppers, Perry, Lowrys are practicing the technique…well I guess it is just a matter of taste.

  13. quartet-man wrote:

    Rev, I see your point about the words if they cannot be understood or figured out. I realize the message is important. However, if people sing wrong notes that don’t fit the chord, many could be distracted by it and not able to listen to the message anyway. :) Generally, if the music stinks we might as well just read the lyrics as a poem. :)

    No, this isn’t opera, yes some genres have different rules than others (i.e. you sing through your nose in bluegrass, but not choral singing etc.), but certain things are standard in each or should be. Understanding words is one. Pronunciations can be different. Country singers can twang it a bit, sing cryin’
    instead of crying and such, but let’s not strive for our best simply because we think Opera is a more respectable form of music.

  14. jb wrote:

    #12: Thank you Brian, someone finally said what I was thinkin…..

  15. Videoguy wrote:

    Casting Crowns has a song that says, “I need you, Jesus”. It, instead, comes out, “I need Jew Jesus.”

    I didn’t know there was a choice.

  16. Videoguy wrote:

    I’m sorry, it’s Newsong, not Casting Crowns.

  17. Wes wrote:

    I agree with Brian.. we all sing different, does it mean that we are wrong? I think not. Some people pronounce some words a little different than others. Here is something to think about. What correct pronounciation are we going to give for critizing one another on judgement day. I can guarantee you that when judgement is handed down that there will be no mistaken on pronounciation then.. If thats all I had to do was to sit and listen to see if singers are pronouncing their words correctly then you have a sad life. You need to take a position to where you can Exhort one another daily. What does it matter if they say ” sing or sang ” If you dont like their singing, dont buy the CD. Pretty simple huh? There are some things that matter and somethings dont.. This dont !! Just like everything else on here.. So get over it .

  18. Matt G. wrote:

    I’m going to have to disagree with number 12. Just because it’s southern gospel music, doesn’t mean it should be held to a lesser standard of musicality than if it was opera. That right there has a lot to do with why the genre is suffering. I would question a vocal coach’s credibility if they told me NOT to sing the consonants. We need good consonants to get clear diction so we can understand what’s being sung. Other wise it’s just a bunch of nonsense sounds.

  19. Jim2 wrote:

    2 quotes to think on
    “Holy shoddy is still shoddy” - Elton Trueblood

    “The problem with music appreciation in general is that people are taught to have too much respect for music; they should be taught to love it instead.”
    - Igor Stravinsky

  20. Chris wrote:

    I travelled with Daryl Williams for a short while back in the 90s and he pointed out that this phenomenom was occurring back then. He explained the reasoning: that vocal coaches were going into the studio with certain groups (in this particular story, Steve Hurst with Gold City) and cutting consonants at the end of phrases to give a more polished sound. Sometimes it sounds good, sometimes it doesn’t.

  21. j-mo wrote:

    Wes,

    If you don’t like this site, please take your own advice and stop visiting.

    By the way, if there is a judgement of overly critical thinking, don’t you think you’ll now be in line right next to Doug and the rest of us for your comments in this section?

  22. Leebob wrote:

    Woe….simply opinions man, settle down.

    There is a reason SG has experienced a down turn in audience attendance. Perhaps the gospel isn’t as popular as it once was. Perhaps people are turned off by the arrogance of some of the groups. Perhaps we don’t have a clue as to why the audience numbers are down. I do know that consonants are probably not the ultimate reason of SG being down due to the overwhelming popularity of CCM and we all know they are not just an overabundance of proper enunciation.

    However, we can help ourselves out a little bit if we remove just a little bit of the twang from a perception standpoint. One of those ways is a little more concentration on the enunciation and the vowel sounds within the group being similar. Something about the combination of our style and the lack of enunciation gives the perception of laziness among many groups. Paying attention to these small details without going overboard will produce great rewards when it comes to acceptance among younger listeners that happen to attend when you sing.

    Brian - Mark’s popularity has much more to do with his comedy and much less to do with his music I am sure and The Hopper’s just aren’t the Hoppers without Kim.

  23. cdguy wrote:

    If what distinguishes Christian music from any other music is the lyric, then the lyric MUST be understandable. If singers are cropping final consonants, changing vowel sounds, etc, then the message will not be as obvious as it needs to be. If you have to listen to a song 5 times to tell what someone is saying, it’s not good, no matter what genre.

    I, too, have to roll my eyes when I hear a gospel singer sing “heel” for “hill”, or “hee-um” for “Him”. But even worse IMHO are the ones who sing “may” for “me”. This happens a lot with younger singers, and I think it’s copying some pop singers. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

  24. art wrote:

    I hadn’t noticed the transgression that Avery pointed out.

    I like a little genuine twang in Southern Gospel music. That’s how I know it’s southern.

    True, diction probably isn’t the cause of the decline of SG popularity. More likely, it’s the evolution of public tastes. I don’t know of any XM channel that offers “all minuets all the time.”

  25. BL wrote:

    Most voice teachers warn students not to anticipate consonants, and in adhering to this warning a lot of singers tend to avoid the consonants all together. Most singers find it easier to sing open vowels; they’re able to maintain better pitch. I’m not saying this is a correct practice. Just wanted to point out that it normally, although sometimes it does, has nothing to do with laziness on a singer’s part.

  26. Faith wrote:

    I think that Steve Hurst’s recordings/teachings have a LOT to do with SG’s lack of proper pronunciation. Seriously, have any of you heard them? They ENCOURAGE mispronunciation, mentioning certain sounds as “easier on the singer” than others. And furthermore, do you realize how many of today’s sg singers he has taught/mentored? Make the connection.

  27. Jesse wrote:

    In my years of being a choir director, I was very hard on what people did with consonants. I love southern gospel music, but I have noticed the same kinds of things in the professionals. Because the pros do it, the amateurs pick up on it and bad habits are learned. Also, it bothers me more when I’m listening to headphones than speakers.

  28. Al Locke wrote:

    #26…Amen! When it is done properly, it IS better and unnoticed.

  29. Ed Butler wrote:

    Great topic!

    Into his 70’s - Jake Hess sang each word clearly. I heard him in an interview once and I cannot quote him exactly - but his statement essentially said the message was irrelevant if the listener could not understand the words.

    Quartets may be the worse overall - especially with up-tempo songs. However, you understand every word McCray Dove and the Dove Brothers sing. Ben Harris with Southern Sound Quartet is also exceptional. There are others.

    I think it is a valid issue. Makes me miss ole Jake even more.

    JEB

  30. Wes wrote:

    J-Mo,

    Let me guess, You like to critisize people because they pronounce their words different than you? Oh yea , I remember that you were the one who wrote the dictionary on how to pronounce your words properly.. Thats right and sold 1 copy of it, and it was to yourself.. Its not a judgement of overly critical thinking, because You dont think!!

  31. Amanda wrote:

    I can’t believe how petty some of these comments are. I know that we all have our own pet peeves, but my goodness! And this “problem” is not exclusive to Southern Gospel. I’m a huge country music fan, and guess what? It happens all of the time in country music, too. I think some people just get their kicks picking on Southern Gospel singers.

    Granny (#9), I LOVE that song! That’s one of my favorite Gold City songs.

  32. Laughing Aloud wrote:

    I am laughing extremely loud as I read this stuff. It’s like people who can’t, telling the ones that can how they should change. HEEE HEEE! Next can we talk about the best dressed in the industry so that one can tell them how to dress better. HEEE HEEE!

  33. Dexter wrote:

    I have a serious question…as far as Libbi Perry goes…do you think her hearing loss has anything to do with some of her word slurs? Every once in a while I notice that..like in “I Will Find You Again” when she says “I know you’re schome place better…” Don’t get me wrong…I LOVE LOVE LOVE Libbi and all The Perrys…just a thought I’ve always had….

  34. quartet-man wrote:

    One problem we have is that hateful, destructive criticism and constructive criticism all get lumped together as being mean and hateful. There is a difference. People also tend to want to not give their best and then when it is pointed out, cry foul and say they are doing it for God and we are being too picky. Come on. Shouldn’t God get our best? Should we just do our own thing no matter how it is understood by others or how it is looked at from those whose tastes are higher? This isn’t for those who are doing their best, or don’t know better. This is for those who somehow think that almost is good enough instead of striving to be better. Would you wqnt someone almost taking care of your children, or almost building a bridge right and then get offended if you pointed out how they could do it better? I don’t think Doug brought this up to be mean, but even if he did, there are some valid points. I do not mean to imply everyone has to sound like an opera singer, but at least get the words where they can be understood. If we are not communicating the lyric, we might as well be just pretty instrumental music instead of singing lyrics.

  35. RF wrote:

    REgardless of what you think of him, the greatest vocal musician might have been Frank Sinatra. He always stressed enunciation and sometimes it was to the extreme. Listen to some of his recordings where he emphasized the ending of words.

    I assume that Avery started this blog to discuss the *quality* of the music and this is one aspect that should be considered. It may bless your soul, but it may also take three or four listenings to tell what they said.

    Jake Hess, one of the greatest of the greatest took pride in letting the people know what he had sung lyrically. That should be a lesson to all of us. Maybe it’s why Jake was beloved by almost eveyone until the day he died.

  36. Jeff wrote:

    Re: #29
    I can’t even begin to understand the statement that “you can understand every word” McCray Dove and the Dove Brothers sing. McCray Dove has some of the worst diction I have ever heard in any genre of music. Have you ever heard “Didn’t It Rain?” Someone else please chime in and let me know I’m not living in another paradigm.

  37. irishlad wrote:

    The talented singers who do their best tend to rewarded the most financially for their efforts. Pleasing God is the icing on the cake. Should not be the other way round?

  38. irishlad wrote:

    #35 I am re-typing the comment. I use a cell phone and mistakes are easily made……The talented singers who do their best tend to be rewarded the most financially for their effort. Pleasing God is the icing on the cake.Perhaps it should be the other way round.

  39. Derek wrote:

    #33 I’ve noticed that with Libbi before as well…and I wondered why. Now that you mention a possible hearing loss it makes me wonder. I’m not being critical in any way, and I’m not bothered by it, I just noticed it before and wondered. I chalked it up to that’s the way she does it and that was the end of it. Of course after 18 years in radio, I notice lots of things that the general public couldn’t care less about! LOL

  40. Bari-Tone-Def wrote:

    Why don’t we all just hop on the Avery Bus and start singing SGM “properly”. Avery word, I’m sorry, every word must be enunciated properly and we cant dance around on stage and have fun. We are forbidden to actually try and live a financially secure life while on the road, no breathy voices will be allowed, if you happen to win any award, you are not to accept it because the folks at Singing News, Dove, etc. have no clue what they are talking about. We will not use tracks, live music only and they must all be graduates of some world renown school of music somewhere in Europe, because we all know that good musicians are not produced in the US of A. No country twang will be present in any music that is sung by Avery and The SGM Enforcers. We will not attend any event in which two or more groups have gathered under the same banner such as NQC, I dont know why, we are just not going to do it. Oh, our bus will not be a bus at all, we will be traveling by covered wagon, we all know that SGM artists should not spend that much money on a bus when all you really need is a rock to rest your head on and a nice warm cup of stream water in the morning to get you going. Thats assuming SGM artists are smart enough to start a fire.

    Look, my whole point is this, if everything was “Repaired” according to what I see on this site, then there would be no SGM at all. Because, apparently, no one does it right and no one cares, except the fine folks here at AVFL of course.

  41. Ed Butler wrote:

    #36 - No - you’re not living in another paradigm. Uptempo songs lose clarity of words - with essentially all individuals and groups. McCray’s diction on ballads or slightly uptempo songs does tend to mimic the clarity of Hess. You might not like the voice - but you understand the words.

    JEB

  42. Dexter wrote:

    Libbi only has 15% hearing in both ears..she wears hearing aids..she mentions it on her about page on their website….I think it’s amazing that she has such a fantastic powerful voice and has such great pitch inspote of her hearing loss…she’s a little fireball! Love her!

  43. sockpuppet wrote:

    Wes (#30 & #17),
    I also have a copy of J-Mo’s dictionary (free because I’m in the industry) - just on general principles you might want to shell out for one yourself. It has some awesome words like “apostrophe” and “criticize”.
    You’ll recognize it when you see it - hopefully you’ve been getting royalty or some other form of remuneration for your picture right there between “morocco” and “morose”

  44. Brian wrote:

    Yes, we should always give God our best. There is no question about that at all. However, just because a handful of folks seem to think this is not the best we can offer doesn’t make it so. Also, not over-doing consonants does not twang make. In my opinion, and it is only my opinion, it is just the opposite. Hanging on Rs, for example, “I know I’m going therrrrrrrrrrrre” …not acceptable. Talk about twang. So to avoid that just don’t sing the R. And before the English police come for me, I know that isn’t a hard consonant. Just trying to give an example. Right or wrong it is very common and readily taught.
    LeeBob, Mark Lowry has an exceptional voice. Yes, his comedy is great, however,I believe he would have a great career singing if there were no jokes, and you know, you may be right. The Hoppers might not be what they are today without Kim, but they are still a top group today whether it is because of her or not.
    Lastly, I don’t see where Doug was arguing the point that you couldn’t understand what they were singing, just that they weren’t closing the word. It is obvious that there is a message that needs to be carried out through these songs, and the words have to be understood to be effective. It is all a matter of taste. Myself, I don’t care for the over enunciated, super proper singing. Don’t like twang either, but there is a middle road where I believe SG to live. Then again, that is simply my opinion.

  45. j-mo wrote:

    Wes,

    Serious question…why do you visit this site?

  46. KDM wrote:

    I heard a very interesting quote once that said “In music, no one has a corner on truth.” Music is an interpretive art form, and we all bring our own ideas and notions to our perceptions of music. People with formal training tend to be a lot more picky, because they were trained to be picky. Folks without formal training gravitate towards the “I like it because it sounds good” camp. There’s nothing wrong with this. If music were one-dimensional, it wouldn’t be an art form.

    That said, there is a great case to be made for proper diction, especially in the Christian music sphere. You’re trying to convey a very important message, and that message is lost if the listener can’t understand you. While many singers (classically trained and otherwise) modify certain vowels in certain registers to make them easier to sing, you must be careful not to warp the lyric so badly that the meaning is lost. Consonants present another problem. If you’re a soloist, you can put your consonants wherever you jolly well please and it sounds fine. Groups on the other hand, need to be much more precise. That’s probably why Hurst trains people to take off ending consonants, so that releases are cleaner. I personally think groups should take the extra effort to polish their sound and synchronize their consonant releases. Doing it right is hard, but it sounds SO much better.

    My gold star for good diction goes to Greater Vision. Although Gerald is occasionally guilty of the ‘heel-for-hill” syndrome, it’s obvious that he works very hard on his diction, especially in his solo work. Rodney and Jason put forth the same amount of effort. That’s one of the reasons why their blend is so good; every release is clean, every consonant is synchronized, and every vowel is uniform. Believe me, that level of precision takes a LOT of work. The blunt fact is that some groups are either not capable of, or interested in, that level of effort. I truly wish more were. But that’s MY standard. Instead of trying to inflict my standards on people who don’t really care, I just listen to music that meets my standards. That’s how everyone chooses the music they listen to. It’s all about taste.

  47. natesings wrote:

    #36 you beat me to it, thanks

  48. Faith wrote:

    You can understand every word the Dove Brothers sing? WHAT?!?!?!?!?!?

    I listened to two different recordings of Get Away Jordan about 15 times each and gave up. Completely unintelligible verses. My family jokes about it because it is so UNBELIEVABLY badly sung. You would swear that McCray was intoxicated or high on something.

    Having said that, Jerry Martin is an awesome singer - truly one of the best tenors in SG - and you can understand every word he sings. I wish he would show McCray how to sing properly!

  49. Wes wrote:

    Sock-Puppet, #43

    I dont know if being a Roady for someone qualifies you for ” being in the industry ” Maybe it does though. Because I would think that most people who are on stage dont criticize other people on stage. Or do you Socky?
    Anyways, If you truly are in the Industry that dont qualify you to criticize anyone.. If anything you should be helping someone. And that would be between the words SERVE and SERVANT in your free dictionary that you got form your friend.I stand corrected , there were 2 copies out. And as far as J- Mo’s comment, I visit here because no one has told me I couldnt. Was just curious Sockman , what do you do ” in the industry ” so we can pick you apart. I’m sure you wouldn’t like it huh?

  50. j-mo wrote:

    Wes,

    You clearly don’t like criticism of southern gospel music. What did you think you were getting when you came to a website where the heading says “critiscim on gospel music”?

    You’ve already stated that nothing on this site matters and you are clearly against it’s whole purpose. So, other than the fact that “nobody said you couldn’t”, why do you continue to visit?

    Your complaining and criticising of people for being too critical is all growing very thin. It’s a bit like standing in the middle of McDonalds with your happy meal and yelling about how you are against hamburgers. All it does is annoy people around you and make you look foolish. It certainly isn’t going to cause anyone to put their burger down.

    To spell it all out for you…in an earlier post you said “if you don’t like the singing then don’t buy the CD”. What I’m telling you is if you don’t like the website then don’t visit the website.”
    And if just “someone to tell you not to” is what you are waiting for then, Wes, do not come to this site.

  51. Wes wrote:

    J-Mo,

    I’m sorry I must of missed it. What do you do again for a living? Please tell me you dont work in the Industry too.. It’s people like you who hide behind Avery and want to attack other people instead of doing it FACE TO FACE !!! When was the last time you went to hear a group and told them that they didnt sound good? Let me guess YOU DIDNT .. because you dont have the guts, but yet you will come on here and do it.. Thats called being spineless… Thats what i have a problem with, If you are going to criticize, do it to their face.!!! And once you do that, then I will leave this site. But I’m pretty confident, I wont have to leave..

  52. wackythinker wrote:

    Can’t we all just get along?

  53. Ima Fan wrote:

    Leebob may be interested to know that Mark Lowry just won the Dove Award for Best Inspirational Performance for his “I Love To Tell the Story” album. Well deserved, Mark!

  54. quartet-man wrote:

    I won’t speak for anyone else, but I am debating standards here. I have not mentioned names at all. I too have problems with people who hide behind anonomity and get brave because no one knows who they are. However, if someone says it is dark outside and it is light, you can be sure I will say no, it’s light. If they say we should do something and we should’t, I will say that. My posts were not against any one artist and I like artists who probably break some of the rules. I know I do if Mark Lowry and Kim Hopper are guilty. That still doesn’t mean if the subject is broached that I won’t say the people who do that should do better. :)

  55. irishlad wrote:

    The PSQ were in Belfast a few years ago, just before Brion left the tenor position Tony Peace couldn’t make it so Jamie Caldwell filled in. They were rubbish, told them so and they couldn’t have agreed more. Imagine a professional quartet travelling 6000 miles to be told ‘you sound awful’! Sounded great since, probably just a coincidence though.

  56. quartet-man wrote:

    This is awful, but years ago when I was but a young lad, the music director and I sang a rousing version of Worthy The Lamb (if I do say so myself.) We took off the wind screens from the mics and I admittedly over did it on the consonants. An usher (and I think Trustee) came rushing up after service and never really said “hi” or liked the song or anything, but asked “where are the rubbers for the mics?” The director and I about lost it.

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