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.
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.
Our idea in starting the schola is that we will have no tie to any particular parish and no expectation of singing at any particular Mass. We would sing at Mass and prayer services (e.g., Vespers) by invitation and at our own concerts or in conjunction with other artists. Why? Parish affiliation can be both a blessing and a challenge. Ultimately, the only way to maintain artistic freedom is to be independent and to offer our services to parishes that are interested in what we have to offer. Of course, many of us (those who will be members and just don’t know it yet) will have parish commitments on Sunday mornings—with Catholic or other churches. Prime opportunity for us to perform might well be Saturday evening vigil Masses. Nota bene: perform is not a dirty word. Check out the first two definitions in the American Heritage Dictionary:
- To begin and carry through to completion; do: The surgeon performed the operation.
- To take action in accordance with the requirements of; fulfill: perform one’s contractual obligations.
—————- Now playing: Stile Antico – Libera nos I & II via FoxyTunes
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.
Here’s an intriguing article by Michael Knox Beran, discussing the pope’s beliefs on the significance of music in the liturgy. And it’s not just ear candy. An outtake:
The pope adheres to old Greek belief that words and sounds — and the rhythmic patterns in which they are bound together in music and poetry — have a unique power to awaken the mind. He has spoken frequently of the power of rhythm to prepare the soul to receive truths that would otherwise remain unintelligible. In 2002 he described the experience of listening to music as an “encounter with the beautiful,” one that becomes “the wound of the arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes.” He went on to say,
For me, an unforgettable experience was the Bach concert that Leonard Bernstein conducted in Munich after the sudden death [in 1981] of Karl Richter. I was sitting next to the Lutheran Bishop Hanselmann. When the last note of one of the great Thomas-Kantor-Cantatas faded away, we looked at each spontaneously and right then we said, ‘Anyone who has heard this, knows that the faith is true.’ The music had such an extraordinary force of reality that we realized, no longer by deduction, but by the impact on our hearts, that it could not have originated from nothingness, but could only have come to be through the power of the Truth that became real in the composer’s inspiration.
For Benedict, the music and poetry of the liturgy are not merely ornamental; they are essential to the education to the soul. “How often,” the pope exclaimed, in October, to members of the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music, “does the rich biblical and patristic tradition stress the effectiveness of song and sacred music in moving and uplifting hearts to penetrate, so to speak, the intimate depths of God’s life itself!”
The selection of music for Mass can be a highly charged topic, in part because we usually become fond of whatever we grew up with. The church calls us to a higher wisdom and offers a great deal of guidance. Most Catholic musicians don’t realize that the church offers guidelines and preferences for the choice of music. If you aren’t sure that the church’s ancient music is still relevant today—and preferable to most of what has been composed in the last half-century—have you read the documents? Two good places to start: the Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. I plan to post links to more documents in the coming weeks. But you couldn’t do better than to start exploring the documents linked to on Adoremus.com and Musicasacra.com. In addition, I will gladly e-mail copies of a document I created that summarizes the church’s preferences. Just drop me a line. —————- Now playing: Alexander Blachly & Pomerium – Nuper rosarum flores via FoxyTunes
Well, we hope to find out. Watch this space early in 2008, when we will announce one or more meetings for people in the Knoxville area who might be interested in joining us. Knowledge of Gregorian chant is not necessary, but prospective members must be able to read music and to blend with others in unison singing. Within the next week or so, I hope to add information on how potential members can join our Google Group.