Posted tagged ‘chant’

Chant from the ground up

February 4, 2009

One of my other recent projects that has kept me from regular blogging was the organisation of a neighbourhood ‘chant’ group. Since attending the Sacred Music Colloquium 2008, I wanted to spread knowledge of chant to other Catholics. Thankfully, South Bend, IN is not wanting for Catholics, though it is wanting for chant opportunities.

Now, I’m talking very small steps here. I began simply by inviting some of my friends from my local parish, which would not traditionally be understood as traditional, as well as other friends near my neighbourhood. There are about twelve of us and we will soon be having our fourth meeting. The goals are small: to chant vespers prayerfully, praise God in doing so, and introduce more Catholics to an inestimable treasure of the church. 

At our first gathering, we sang compline which, except for the Salve Regina, was entirely in English. I used a simple setting I received at the Sacred Music Colloquium. After that, I took some time to put together a ‘Vespers for the Pauline Year.’ The general format is of the new breviary, with three psalms and the hymn at the beginning. The antiphons are in Latin, and borrowed from the old calendar’s Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, as well as the Feast of St. Paul (which is the day immediately following Sts Peter and Paul in the old calendar).  The psalms themselves are in English, the Our Father in English, and the Magnificat in Latin. For those interested, I would be happy to share this via e-mail, with the caveat that this is my first pointing of psalm texts (simply send me an e-mail request).

Compline, at our first meeting, went really well. The group is mixed musically – we’ll not be a schola anytime soon, but that’s not really the goal. One member has a degree in vocal performance, while most of the rest of us are really in various levels of the amateur category. None other than myself really knew how to read chant notation to begin with, so it is instructional as well. 

Our next meeting which was our first attempt at the full Vespers was a bit more halting. But the session after that we definitely made significant progress. As anyone who has played or sung in an ensemble knows, there is such a difference in singing by oneself compared to lending your voice to the whole. And of course, the same can be said for praying where two or more are gathered.

And so in some small way, I hope, and hope that our little group, can contribute to the growing resurgence of chant. I will have more posts as our group continues.


Just outside St. Blog’s

July 3, 2008

I was doing some internet surfing, and I am now giving thanks to God for the invention of the staff (four or five lined!).

This is Byzantine Chant notation, and those be neumes!

I hate to say – but it’s Greek to me!

Peer to peer music sharing…

May 11, 2008

Over at Argent by the Tiber, there’s some great music available, starting with a piece by Maurice Duruflé, a french composer who wrote beautiful sacred polyphony in just this last century. But I encourage you to check out Argent’s recent posts, both today and throughout the last week, as the music is beautiful.

But before you head over there, a bit more on Duruflé and sacred polyphony in general. The first works of sacred polyphony grew out of Gregorian Chant. If you listen to the Miserere by Palestrina, or say, the Missa Pange lingua from Josquin Després, it’s pretty easy to hear this. Another beautiful mass that grew out of a plainchant hymn is the Missa Aeterna Christi also by Palestrina. 

Duruflé was echoing this tradition when he wrote his Variations des themes gregoriens several hundred years later, one of the most beautiful of which is his Ubi Caritas, as heard here:

If you like Duruflé, you should also check out Francis Poulenc, another French composer of the 20th century. Finally, all of the music mentioned here is available for purchase from iTunes 🙂 So be legal… (I recommend the Westminster Cathedral Choir recording of Missa Aeterna Christi Munera especially).


How to chant II

April 28, 2008

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.


How to chant

April 27, 2008

Are you Catholic? Do you know how to chant? What, they didn’t teach you in your local parish?

All Catholics should know how to chant – Vatican II says so! His Holiness Pope Paul VI (promulgator of the Ordinary Form) said so. Even the USCCB says so.

But where to start? The St. Cecilia Schola Cantorum web site has several resources. Start with An Idiot’s Guide to Square Notes – this will teach you how to read the special notation chant has, as well as give you a primer on Latin pronunciation. For the initial chants every Catholic should know, use the “said so” link above. And then – show your friends and parishioners.