Singing antiphon verses as a choir
  • We've been using the Communion Antiphon from the Simple Choral Gradual at the choir Masses, and I just wondered...is there a better way for me to conduct the psalm tone verses? I struggle with finding the ictus when there is a sentence to be sung on one note. (I guess it's not really there...) I'm sure this is somewhere between chironomy and modern conducting.

    It's difficult to make sure that we can all sing the words clearly and together, and especially without it all sounding like a dreary dirge. I want to make sure that the congregation isn't turned off by antiphons just because I can't conduct musically!
  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,465
    Great question, Angelina. The only rule I know for finding the ictus marks on a psalm recitation is to count backwards by twos from a known ictus mark or a dotted punctum. It's much easier (for me at least) to locate the ictus marks in melismatic chant.
  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,465
    I have to place the ictus marks on the verses for the Lumen ad revelationem antiphon for Sunday, and this is what I came up with (in red) following the rule above: counting backwards by twos from a known ictus mark or a dotted punctum.

    Maybe someone else knows a better way?

    image
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,428
    This doesn't feel right with the textual accents.

    I can never remember if I'm supposed to be super worried about respecting the textual accents or if I'm supposed to think that aligning the textual accents with the musical accents is the worst thing ever.
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  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,465
    It doesn't seem right to me either--- esp. the Sicut erat, but that's how it comes out if you count backwards by 2 from a known ictus mark which in this case I'm assuming would be the dotted punctum at the end of each phrase.
  • The original poster asked about practice with English psalmody. It seems to me that using the two-three method and looking for the "ictus" and worrying about textual versus musical accents is all for Latin chanting, not English.

    I find Richard Rice's antiphons have a pleasing alternation between twos, threes, and occasional fours, according to the English stress patterns, and mostly ignoring the bar lines. And I think chanting the verses which go with those antiphons sounds best by respecting the English stresses: give a slight impulse to the stressed syllables and pace them fairly regularly, so that the unstressed syllables in-between vary in speed in a natural way. Doing this doesn't work for Latin at all. And of course you have to decide, for the whole psalm, where the stresses are, including often a downbeat before the first syllable of a line.
  • .
  • This doesn't feel right with the textual accents.

    I can never remember if I'm supposed to be super worried about respecting the textual accents or if I'm supposed to think that aligning the textual accents with the musical accents is the worst thing ever


    Same here. I tend to follow the words and their natural stresses, because at the end of the day, chant is glorified speech, in every sense of the phrase. However, like you said, I don't know if that's proper practice. It sure is different with English though....

    Thanks for the great tips, though, everyone!
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,115
    I still don't know enough to talk about counting back and the ictus and such, but I always speak the text, the find the natural accents in the texts by listening to it spoken/speaking it myself, then applying those accents to the sung text.

    Or, in a single phrase, sing it like you speak it.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,674
    I tell my choir that chant is speech set to music. If it sounds odd when spoken, it will sound even more odd when sung.
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 992
    I also have had much more success focusing on the stresses in the text. It seems much more natural to people, even those who aren't sure what I'm doing with my hands.

    I also point out that we don't speak in a metrically accurate way. Words and phrases are slightly drawn together. So we try to pick up some of that in singing a reciting tone.

    Speaking the sentences out loud, English or Latin, helps this become more obvious to the Schola.
  • mrcoppermrcopper
    Posts: 653
    Maybe because I don't face this on a weekly basis: but surely there is a better way than the above rubrics. Not one of them seems either sufficiently rigorous or sufficiently useable. Has no one had success in 'conducting' these?
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  • I'm like Carl. I would even call myself rebellious, in that, despite having read most of the materials on the development of the notation in the LU and on chironomy, I mainly ignore the vertical episemas and the counting-backwards business and go for the word accentuation and count forwards in twos and threes. I figure, why do most chant books have the Latin accented very clearly if not to inform us?

    Even my most Latin-phobic chant-loving scholista handles that attitude with aplomb. The gungho Latin-loving adults are just fine with that, and the homeschooled Latin-learning-and-loving teens try to be the first to point out when the accentuation changes in a repetitive chant like an office hymn (e.g., Jesu dulcis memoria). They will also parody themselves if they chant a line and put all the Latin accents in the wrong places.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,100
    I don't believe in the 'ictus' in a mechanical fashion like that that separates the musical from the textual accent, therefore I don't use it. (My theories on this are very embryonic and hard to consolidate at this point - don't ask me to elaborate.)

    When directing psalm-tones, whether Latin or English, I always place the 'ictus' (if you want to call it that) on the accent of a word or on an important accent in a phrase - especially in English where there are so many monosyllabic words - and try to show the flow of the text. I have found that the only way to get people to chant a psalm-tone together with the textual accents correct is to get them to recite it together (without music) first, with with proper declamation, and fit the music to that pattern. It's the only way I've found that works. And make sure - especially in English - that the length of the words are roughly what they would be in good spoken language, if all of the puncti are exactly equal, it sounds robotic; as many chant scholars have said: They are equal, but some are more equal than others.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,674
    I often have to say at choir rehearsals, "I hear robots again!" They understand that their words sound too mechanical and are not like speech.
  • Salieri, I wish there was a super-thank button. You have taken the time to phrase the idea most eloquently, mille remerciements.

    CharlesW, My phrase is, "No robo-chanters, please!" Alternately, if they fall into the too-metrical cadential figure and rush over text (I'm talking Anglican chant here), sometimes I actually say, "Square--square--square" to stop the rushing.

    I do find that demonstration of what I want to hear (sometimes preceded by demonstration of what not to do in a humorous way) is very effective and least time-consuming.
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  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,100
    There is nothing more deadly that robotic chant. This seems to be a problem with chant performed by professional ensembles, who are trying to sing chant strictly following the 1-2-3,1-2-,1-2, counting rules of the Liber; they get the notes right, but the chant has no life. If you have never heard a beautiful melismatic chant like "Christus factus est" sung with every note either the same length or strictly doubled... please don't and spare yourself the pain.
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  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,465
    I have found that the only way to get people to chant a psalm-tone together with the textual accents correct is to get them to recite it together (without music) first, with with proper declamation, and fit the music to that pattern. It's the only way I've found that works.


    This makes eminent good sense.
  • I had a fantastic choir director in college who emphasized the importance of "melodic line". I've done my best to emulate him on this. Everything works in twos and threes in my world as far as when my hand moves, but stresses must be given where due. I also try to demonstrate where I want things held out longer with my funny hand gestures. I plead ignorance on the proper conducting of chant, but for my small schola, the hand waving combined with emphasizing accents has worked. I'll also point out that right now we are not doing anything polyphonic, so I don't know if that would immediately fall apart once we started singing different pitches.

    I'm really hoping to learn lots of things about this at the Colloquiem this year!
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,115
    I also have the singers speak the text together whenever we have trouble staying together. It works wonderfully.
  • This is great! I think I will definitely have them speak it first. I think I personally need to take more time with the antiphons in general, and not try to hurry along to just the stuff that I want to do (motets!!)
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,428
    Someone who knows this stuff better than me can comment - but I understand that one of the "Old Solesmes" ideals (from whence the "rules" above originate) is precisely to remove the musical accent from the textual accent.

    This - from what I can gather - has something to do with some ideas taken from medieval music and rhetoric rules, which were taken from Classical Roman rules, which were taken from Classical Greek rules.

    I don't have the academic credentials to make a legit case - so I don't make it a big crusade or anything - but I think the whole thing is ridiculous. The musical and the textual accents ought to align, otherwise you're singing nonsense. It only doesn't feel like nonsense because we aen't native speakers of Latin. If we sang English like that, it would sound ridiculous - and NOT because English is so different than Latin. It would be because we know what English is supposed to sound like.

    THE lord is MY shepHERD there IS noTHING that i NEED.



    Whenever I mention this, some fussbudget chides me for not understanding Latin accents, and how totally different they are and how Latin is ictic instead of thetic or some other nonsense. I usually get told that my opinion is based on "not knowing" something or other.

    No. I know. I just disagree.
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