How to chant II

The reciting tone… In chant, particularly for psalms or any lengthy text set to chant (like scripture readings or prayers), you’ll encounter the reciting tone. It looks sort of like this: open neume.

This indicates that several words are sung at this same pitch, until you reach the inflection point. The inflection point is usually identified by italics. Let’s look at an example:

Psalm 148 - chant

Now – this is a setting I wrote, and it’s not particularly good, but it will at least suffice for this demonstration (and copyright purposes). Let’s ignore the antiphon for now, and just look at the second set of lines – starting with the text “Praise the Lord from the Hea-vens, praise Him in the heights.”

The reciting tone covers “Praise the Lord from the” – all these words are sung at that same pitch. The first syllable of Heavens is italicized and indicates when you change the pitch to the next note, or neume. The | indicates the change to a different phrase, which, though different notes, behaves the same way in that “praise him” is sung at the reciting pitch specified for that phrase, and “in” is the inflection point. Simple, eh?

Now usually the text isn’t written next to the music – you would see the musical phrases, followed by the text in its entirety (with italics to mark the inflection points, and * or / to indicate the transition to the next phrase). At the end of the line, you simply go back to the first phrase. (Or possibly go to the anitphon).

For examples of this, and for an easy introduction into group chanting – I highly recommend the Mundelein Psalter. It allows you to chant the daily office in English with simple style chants similar (though far better) to the example above.

N.B. The antiphon, while written in chant notation, probably isn’t truly in the gregorian style (it’s too much like a polyphonic melody). I wrote this for our nuptial mass, for which the closing hymn was “All creatures of our God and King.” I wanted the antiphon to echo that melody, particularly since the text of this psalm (and the psalms immediately surrounding it in the Book of Psalms) is influential to the text of the hymn.


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2 Comments on “How to chant II”

  1. Argent Says:

    In a previous parish where I worked, the resistance to plainchant was mostly from the choir. Whenever the Kyrie or Sanctus (Mass XVIII which is amazingly in the OCP missalettes) was programmed for that day, the congregation sang pretty well. Even unaccompanied. There is some primordial instinct that causes even the most reluctant singer to respond with the chant.

    What I found interesting is that when the Ordinary was changed back to Haugen’s M.O.C. the congregation stopped singing and watched the choir instead. The choir was quite happy with M.O.C. because they were able to jazz it up and sing the wretched descants with full-on coloratura. All with over-the-top amplification…a mic for every two people….thus fulfilling Thomas Day’s “Why Catholics Can’t Sing” scenario.

  2. arscatholica Says:

    I’ve had something of this experience at Notre Dame, actually. Every Holy Thursday the Folk Choir sings Pange Lingua Gloriosi during the transfer of the Holy Eucharist. It’s actually plainchant both in Latin and and English (alternating verses). It may sound a bit funny, but even though I had never had Latin or at the time knew how to chant when I first heard this, I felt it was in my veins somehow. Now at ND, the congregation is always very good about singing, but every year I have to go to the Basilica on Holy Thursday for this one moment.

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