Category Archives: Gregorian chant

Life-changing liturgy

Tonight I returned home after attending the 2009 Sacred Music Colloquium in Chicago. From Monday evening, June 22, through this morning, we rehearsed Gregorian chant and polyphony daily, sang at Mass, and attended workshops and lectures. Tuesday morning after Mass I thought, "If we participated in Masses like this every week, it would change our lives." It is impossible to be indifferent to such a Mass. Such a Mass is so profoundly otherworldly, so oriented to the transcendent, so powerfully prayerful that it is impossible to be lukewarm. One must choose whom one will serve.

If you haven’t been, you can’t imagine the joy of being with and singing with 250-some like-minded people—all of them talented singers, music directors, and/or instrumentalists—who know the church’s teachings on sacred music, support them fully, and will never say "Why do we have to sing all this Latin?"

These Masses were the closest thing to perfect liturgies that I’ve ever seen or heard. The rubrics were respected. The church’s wishes for liturgical music were respected: full Gregorian propers for every Mass (except for Tuesday, for which English propers were sung) as well as Renaissance motets. For two of the Masses choirs sung polyphonic ordinaries (Mass parts).

You can listen to some of the sound files here.

Here is the advanced women’s chant schola (including yours truly) singing "Tu puer," the Alleluia from the Graduale on the feast of the nativity of St. John the Baptist. Our conductor was Dr. William Mahrt, one of the finest chant scholars in the world. Dr. Mahrt is president of the Church Music Association of America.

Here is Cardinal George’s homily–with an excellent message for church musicians.

When the Gregorian Alleluia from today’s Mass is posted, I will post a link. It included the most beautiful solo chant I’ve ever heard, by a soprano who obviously has not only a profoundly beautiful instrument but also a great mastery of chant technique.

Did you say you are not yet a member of CMAA? Join this year for $36. Dues increase next year to $48. At any price, membership is a bargain and includes a subscription to the excellent quarterly journal Sacred Music.


An introduction to the propers

I’ve just finished a project I started more than a month ago—writing a brief introduction to the propers of the Mass. I attempt to explain what the propers are, what the church says about them, why we should sing them, and where settings can be found.

You can read my attempt on this site. I’ve also cross-posted the page to the website for the East Tennessee chapter of the Church Music Association of America.

the role of chant

Jeffrey Tucker has a fabulous post on The New Liturgical Movement , titled “When it is chant and when it is not.” Here’s an excerpt:

The famously unfulfilled mandate of the Second Vatican Council, that Gregorian chant should enjoy a principal place (principem locum obtineat) in liturgy, is finally being taken more seriously by Catholic musicians and ecclesiastical bodies. But there are many issues that are unresolved, mostly due to the lack of consciousness on the part of the musicians and clergy. The Vatican document from 1963 assumed more knowledge than most Catholic musicians and pastors currently have on this issue.
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highly recommended book

I’ve bought a lot of chant books in the past two years, but my favorite remains A Gregorian Chant Master Class by Dr. Ted Marier, available from the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Conn.

The good sisters have done us all a favor by making it possible to buy the book online. Last time I ordered a copy—in September, as a gift for a friend—I had to pay the old-fashioned way, by mailing a check.

The book offers a handy chart of neumes (the symbols used to represent the notes), clear explanations of how each one is sung, detailed examples, and a CD with a series of short lessons. If you want to learn chant, this is an excellent resource to start with.

Gregorian Chant Lives!

A friend has created a live365 Internet radio station, Gregorian Chant Lives! At the moment all but one of the tracks are from commercial recordings. One track is a Communion chant (link to pdf download: Amen dico vobis) sung by Harmonia Vocal Quartet and recorded during Mass under somewhat imperfect conditions.

The goal is to shift to chant recordings submitted by U.S. scholas. So if you’re a member of such a group and have mp3s to share, please e-mail.

In the meantime, enjoy listening.

the church has something to say

Most Catholics—including, perhaps, many directors of music, priests, deacons, and religious—seem to see the selection of music for the sacred liturgy as a private matter, determined by personal preferences and what are “our favorite songs.” Certainly the culture of American Catholicism fosters that impression. A recent issue of a diocesan newspaper included an article explaining the U.S. bishops’ new advisory document Sing to the Lord. The article correctly notes that STTL “places a special emphasis on the use of the organ and the singing of Gregorian chants in Catholic Liturgies.” It continues,

But the music directors at three [diocesan] parishes don’t see the document as signaling a return to traditional music and a phasing out of popular contemporary music. A balance of music styles is needed, the directors said, to give participants the music they find spiritually moving.

The diocesan newspaper in question is an especially good one, and I’m not slamming the editors or writers.

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yet another article about chant

Have you noticed the number of chant articles appearing in the media? Virtually all of the Catholic mags have published on the topic in the past year, and some secular newspapers have as well. Here’s a nice piece from the November/December 2007 issue of The Catholic Answer, an Our Sunday Visitor publication. The authors are Arlene Oost-Zinner and Jeffrey Tucker of the St. Cecilia Schola in Auburn, Ala. A couple of key paragraphs:

Popes have consistently emphasized that it should be studied, perfected and used, not just in religious communities and cathedrals but in all parishes. That is in part because chant embodies the pace, rhythm and transcendent longings we find in Scripture, particularly the Psalms. The tradition of Gregorian chant in the Latin rite provides music that meets the needs of all ages, classes and ethnic groups, not just in our times but in all times. The chant is intimately linked with Catholic faith and its prayer life. It takes us out of our everyday environment to remind us that we are in a sacred space. It helps us pray. For all these reasons, chant has begun to move beyond the world of CDs and movie soundtracks, entering once again into our parish lives. The National Registry of Gregorian Scholas (choirs), for example, lists more than 100 groups singing in parishes around the country.