Thursday, July 28, 2011

Chant and Metrical - taste the difference

This, acording to Chant Cafe, is a very instructive video that illustrates the difference between plainsong chant and metrical renderings of the same text. It is.
Some of, most of, actually all of the metrical stuff is irritating, and hardly conducive to prayer but then not everyone thinks the Liturgy is prayer.


pelerin said...

One flows continuously conducive to prayer - the other does not.

Ann-Marie said...

The mediæval church did not like anything with a rhythm or a beat as this encouraged movement and excitation.

An arhythmic rendition is cetainly more conducive to prayer but can be joyless.

However, repetition of sung rhythm as in some meditation practices does encourage prayer. The mind should be calmed making prayer easier after the meditation (during which thought should be minimal).

The spoken rhythmic repetition of "Pray For Us" also has this effect.

Physiocrat said...

Interesting, yes the chant is obviously more "right". These examples are about as good as English can get in the Catholic liturgy. But it still does not avoid the Germanic complex vowels characteristic of English. Latin has only the pure vowel sounds.

Anonymous said...

Well Father, as Sister Bernadette was only telling us the other day, the rhythm of any piece of liturgical music should come from the rhythm of the words not from the formation of the notes or the neumes. This renders any type of notation, be it metrical or free-flowing problematic. Anyway, chant is metrical to a certain extent as can always be divided into twos or three.
Anyway, I'm not really sure what the point of this video is given that all the Chabanel Psalms are available in square notation and five line, and as soon as you accompany their psalms, you use the metrical 5 line organ accompaniment.

I do think the Chabanel Psalms are a great project and the online resources are fantastic but sadly in practice we have had very little success with them here in our own parish. You might be able to sing them 'metre-less' but our congregation just don't seem to respond very well to the melodies. The other problem we have is that they use the texts of the American Missal so none of our congregation will have the same translations in their Missal.


Physiocrat said...

From the comments it sounds as if it is best to play safe and stick to Latin. Which means that the people will need to have the opportunity to get familiar with it. Starting with the children? They could have a bit of fun learning that instead of colouring in pictures when they go out at the beginning of mass.

Evagrius Ponticus said...

Physiocrat, I'm going to disagree with you about those metrical psalms. I think them the most banal psalm settings I've ever heard. Aren't there are some better Anglican settings? I thought Gregory Dix wrote a whole boatload, but I may be mixing him up with someone else.

I'm also still very unhappy about putting everything into Latin. The Ordinary is one thing, as that's fixed, but expecting people to pick up enough Latin to master the changeable parts as well?

I have been chewing over the idea that Catholic children should be thoroughly drilled in Latin & Greek, like Jewish children are with Hebrew. Certainly this would get around the problem of understanding. The downside, however, is that we risk turning the Church inwards and making it inaccessible to (chiefly adult) converts, of becoming a millet/ethnarchy, and of ending up in a retreat away from the world. It may only be a risk, but it's a serious one.

JARay said...

There is no doubt whatever as to my choice. The Plainsong has it every time.

Gigi said...

The plainsong is simply beautiful, soothing AND uplifting.
I agree with Physiocrat that only Latin produces the pure sound of the vowels. And yes; maybe little ones could embark on basic Latin "for mass", as well as making wonderful collages relating to the gospels.
I also agree with Claire that the repetition of meaningful words forms it's own rhythm.
I'm agreeing a lot: must be the pacifying flow of the chant.

pelerin said...

Gigi mentions the pacifying flow of the chant. I remember reading somewhere that listening to Gregorian chant has been proved to bring down blood pressure. This is good for those with high blood pressure of course, although as I have low blood pressure I'm not sure of its effect. I have not yet passed out listening to chant!

Regarding the repetition of words mentioned the Chants of Taize come to mind. And in Lourdes a few years back a rabbi sang a magnificent prayer which can be viewed on Youtube - the words Salaam, Shalom and Dona Nobis Pacem are repeated over and over.

Chris said...

Evagrius Ponticus - I think you're thinking of Dom Gregory Murray (Roman AFAIK), I'm not aware that Dix was particularly musical. The Anglican psalm tradition is completely separate, lacking any sort of antiphons or responses, it is merely a harmonised alternative to the plainchant psalm tones. When Anglicans use responsorial psalms it is entirely derived from the recent Roman model, and uses similar music if not exactly the same.

Metrical psalms, strictly speaking, are another thing again, being the texts of the psalms paraphrased in metred poetry (e.g. The Lord's my shepherd from Ps. 22/23 or All people that on earth do dwell from Ps. 99/100). As such it is beyond the point of this post, which is contrasting metred music with the freer rhythms of chant.

stmarymagdalenchoir - Which form of notation is used is not really the point - plainchant in round-note, 5-line notation still doesn't fit a time signature, which is where the difference lies. I think only one of those examples included a change of time, and then it just jarred because my mind was settled into the rhythm. For the most part the rhythm and flow of the text was made subservient to the demands of the time signature - truly great composers can and do avoid this, but, alas, few if any psalm responses have been written by great composers...

Physiocrat said...

Gregorian Chant in 5-line notation, my bete noire. It is 20% more difficult to read before you start. That is an important consideration on a Sunday morning if the choir has had a few drinks on the Saturday night and the page is swimming around a bit. If like me, you never learnt how to read music in 5-line notation in the first place, beginners will find it easier to sing Gregorian Chant from 4-line square note scores.