Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Is Chant Like Folk Music?

Great article in Crisis Magazine from Jeffrey Tucker (of the Church Music Association of America). Our parish in Sugar Land (a large suburban parish with more than 5000 families) is one of many across the country that has put together a great program of Gregorian Chant that is used at most liturgies on Sunday -- in full conformity with the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Some points from the article (emphasis mine):
If you look back at the roots of chant, and even just take time to understand what it means from a musical and historical point of view, you quickly find that it has nothing to do with music conservatories, stuffy performance venues, and rule-bound authoritarians. And, moreover, it has nothing to do with social class, taste, and educational level. The issue of the chanted Mass is really about whether the liturgy is going to be permitted to be what it is or whether we are going to replace its authentic voice with something else.

Maybe people forget that Gregorian chant is premodern in its origin. It was not somehow invented in the age of winged collars, top hats, and mutton chops. It arose from the world of the first millennium—before there were universities, conservatories, cathedrals, or individually owned books. Chant arose among people poorer than is even imaginable to us today. The singers were from the lowest class. The composers too were monks drawn from every strata of society. They did not write their music down because no one had figured out how to write music. That only began to happen in a coherent way about the 11th century. The work of the chant composers continued for many centuries and the results have been handed on to us today.

This is why chant is what it is today. And if you look closely, you can discover that first-millennium sense about it. The more you sing it, the more you discover its humane qualities—written and sung by people just like us.

At the same time, it is a window into a world we do not know. The sensibility of chant is spontaneous. It tells stories in the folk vein. It emerged out of a culture of sharing. It wasn’t about musical theory and technique. In those days, people couldn’t write music. Mostly, the people who heard it couldn’t read either. There was no point because books were exceptionally rare and only available to a tiny group. Chant came about within this world to be the most compelling way to express the faith in a worship context.
Read the whole article.


Hat tip to Tea at Trianon.

2 comments:

Angelo Cardinal Fratelli said...

I wish parishes would start using more chant. I rarely if ever hear chant in church, and Latin chant is all the rarer.

Alan Phipps said...

There's still a lot of ignorance about chant and what it takes to learn it, but I think it is slowly gaining in popularity at parishes around the country. There are so many more resources available today, particularly online, so the situation is far better than it was only 10 years ago.

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