TRACT: Why Read Square Notes?
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    This is rough. It needs additions, as you can see. Examples, too.

    Many of the Roman Catholic Church’s sacred melodies have been written in calligraphy. Printed in codices dating back to the late eighth century, this medieval calligraphy specifies notes to sing by means of special marks called ‘neumes.’ Since around the tenth century, they have been drawn on a group of four parallel lines, with text underneath, and they often have the appearance of hand-drawn squares and diamonds. Hence the term ‘square notes.’ Isn’t this form of music notation obsolete? Why bother learning to read square notes? Here are three good reasons.

    1. Square notation is easier to learn.

    Modern notation is a development of chant notation in that it uses lines and notes but specifies more musical information. It developed out of a need to notate polyphonic music. As the latter became more and more complex, it demanded more and more notational information and precision as to duration and rhythm. Advances in harmony also required a more precise way to indicate pitch. Expressive marks became fashionable. Key signatures were added. More and more was added to specify everything exactly.

    Modern notation is harder to learn because there is more to learn.

    To sing chant, you simply don't need all that information. With square notes, you have only four lines for a staff, never more than one ledger line (above or below the staff), no key signatures, no subdivided beats and the graphical variations necessary to represent them, no rests, no repeats, and none of the phrasing, articulation, and dynamic markings that attempt to determine musical expression down to the smallest detail.

    2. It is easier to chant better from square notes than modern notation.

    It is harder for modern notational literacy to result in better-sounding chant. [explain]

    3. It gives you unmediated access to centuries of beautiful melody.

    Modern notation gives you only partial access to the chant. Knowing how to read diastematic chant notation (i.e. notation with lines) gives you immediate access to a vast world of sacred melody. Essentially, you can sing from whatever diastematic manuscript you find. You can look at them on the web and simply sing from them. If you only know modern notation, you are limited in your access to the song of the Church. Yes, there are modern notational translations of the chant repertoire, but you'll find that these are approximations -- and many of them include square note neumes (such as the quilisma) because of modern notation limitations (at least, the limitations of "modern chant notation" conventions).

    Square note literacy represents a continuous and unambiguous Roman Catholic tradition of sacred music.

    Finally

    Square note notation is beautiful.

    Of course, modern notation can be beautiful, too, being a marriage of science and art with the beauty of proportions (see lilypond.org for a good discussion). But it is only one kind of beauty. Square notation was hand-made and calligraphic, like a form of writing. At its most artistic, it is clearly gestural and vivid. In the old sources, this beauty was an integral part of an overall, encompassing art of textual illumination.

    To Learn More

    [references]
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I disagree with points, but all that means is that I wouldn't use it myself. Specifically your first point: chant notation in fact gives more information, not less, than modern notation. The information is relevant to the chant, yes, but it's easier to get the notes with a bunch of eighth notes and slurs. That said, I see that as a point for using it for a schola (I vehemently reject its use for a congregation, but that's neither here nor there).

    And I'm guessing that whomever receives this won't know to make this objection, but I'll say it: why can't this same logic be followed to reading the original neums, a la Triplex? If you want to follow all your points (except the first) to their logical conclusion, you should get to your local college library and run off some copies out of some old codices.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    Is that all? At this rate, I'm going to get you to agree to pass out copies of the Triplex to your local congregation with flowers in your hair!
  • Mark M.Mark M.
    Posts: 632
    Gavin, you "vehemently reject" providing square note notation to the congregation? Even relatively simple material, such as Arlene's wonderful responsorial psalm settings, or some Mass ordinary parts? I'd be curious to hear more of your thoughts here. I recall Jeffrey advocating square notes for the congregation, in part simply because it's beautiful and that it lends toward understanding that this is special music, unlike what they'd hear or sing elsewhere, meant for a most sacred purpose.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    I give the congregation chant notation. I don't expect they will read the notes any time soon from the notation, maybe never. (Most of them don't read modern notation either anyway.) They might feel very foriegn to them at first, but they will get used to seeing it. I give them every week. I even hand them out personally with smiles, if somehow they didn't get them. I want them to get used to seeing them. Just help them to familiarize with the chant notation. I started to notice that some are trying to sing ordinary parts from the chant notation. If people are chased away because of the notation, they will be chased away by the chant singing too. My belief is that chant singing goes with chant notation, not seperable. ( I know I'm very stubburn, but only in certain things)
  • I have been told innumerable times both by people who could and could not read music that square notation was easier to read or to follow than modern notation. Those who say that they, or congregations, or choirs cannot read chant notation are asserting the groundless. Chant notation continues to be printed in The English Hymnal where it presents no problem in being deciphered. Not so long ago the St Dunstan's Kyriale was found in very many Anglican pews, where congregations numbering in the hundreds read and sang all the plainsong masses put into English with square notation. Many of these congregations knew the entire repertory of the Kyriale and sang a different setting with each liturgical season. There is nothing inherently difficult about reading square notation; and, anyone who thinks it is strange must have been living in a cave. I learnt long ago that when people say 'I can't', they mean 'I don't want to' if not 'I won't'. What, exactly, is supposed to be so hard about this notation?? Surely, if people of generations ago could pick this up it is not beyond the capacity of twenty-first century people! Particularly since it is part and parcel of our culture.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Now I should temper my remarks to say that I'm not here to condemn anyone who does distribute neumes, nor will I rip up a bulletin and storm out of a church if given a worship resource with neumes. It's a matter that, unless my mind is significantly changed, I will never distribute neumes to a congregation. My order of preference is 1) good modern notation (noteheads only, open and filled) 2) bad modern notation (see WLP's chant hymns) 3) text only 4) neumes. That said, Pes's views on what he'd give a congregation mean nothing to me when evaluating the tract, which I find exceptional. He might pass it out to people in his congregation, I would pass it out to choristers only, as I've often gotten complaints about reading neumes. My reasons for opposing neumes for congregations are as follows:

    1) Lack of familiarity. When people see something they don't recognize, their first thought is "I won't understand this" and they don't try. We see this with Latin. Perhaps many here have superb parishes where people's faces light up at the sound of Latin, or maybe some live in a fantasy land, but in parishes I've been in, a hymn in Latin means the hymnal gets opened up, glanced at, and then slammed and put away while the congregation pouts in the pew. And that's just Latin. It's understandable somewhat, I'd probably react the same way with Japanese (actually I wouldn't, but I'm also more intellectually curious than the average American). Chant notation adds another level of offense and intimidation for people. Even for congregations that do want to sing chant (no one sings from the pews at an EF Mass, but let's pretend they do) it still sends that intimidation message. Modern notation says "This is just like any other music you sing at Mass, if you can sing that, you can sing this," and that's a message I want to send.

    2) It's not that easy. If it were just squares on lines with a C in the beginning, that's easy. But you have to deal with the porrectus, pes (pun intended), porrectus, flat (which someone might think is a note), pressus, liquescents, et cetera (as in and so on, not a neume). Yes, one can easily be taught to read these and even interpret them well. And how many people in your congregation are willing to take a class in how to read music? If you can get a majority of them to sign up, I'll grant you your square notes.

    3) It impairs progress in learning modern notation. I have a theory that if one were to lock a person in a room with music playing and a score of the music, they would learn to read the notation (and maybe pick up perfect pitch) although it may take years. Unfortunately the conventions surrounding torture forbid me from carrying out such an experiment, but I think it parallels how we learn language. I can't suspect it would help a child learn English if they have a parent that also speaks Japanese, although again this is something that should be tested if it weren't for the darn ethics. No, I don't believe church is the place to learn music, but it doesn't hurt and we shouldn't go out of our way to confuse people.

    4) Neumes are superior for the amount of information they convey, however this information is irrelevant to the congregation. Pitch suffices, and it matters not to any pew sitter whether there is a quilisma or a scandicus, they may easily follow the schola and/or organist. We should always give enough information for the congregation to participate, but probably not more. For example, we don't pass out scores to the congregation when we sing a motet, only (HOPEFULLY) the text and a translation.

    I should add that, in an ideal situation, I would give the neumes to the congregation since they would know how to read them. This would also be my ideal situation where the congregation could all sing together the chants of the Roman Gradual and probably a couple polyphonic motets. And neumes should absolutely be taught at schools, and used for all school Masses from elementary school to DEFINITELY at colleges. But given the current situation, I don't think it's pastorally prudent.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,526
    I wouldn't give neumes to the congregation, either. And I don't buy the argument that they are any easier to read than modern notation. It takes a bit of effort to learn to read either one.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I really don't want to continue on this topic as it's a distraction from Pes's wonderful tract and I'm certain will affect what a grand total of zero people do in their parishes. However, these are good points worth responding to:

    "I have been told innuberable times both by people who could and could not read music that square notation was easier to read or to follow than modern notation."

    My experience does not mirror yours. I have been told by choristers that it's unreadable. And by children. And by choristers who sang under me with that notation, with an explanation each and every time on how to read it, for two years. So maybe it was the rural locale, or my state is terribly stupid (it is a blue state), but I have never been told that it's easy to read or follow. Oh yes, and let's add in college-level music students.

    "I learnt long ago that when people say 'I can't', they mean 'I don't want to' if not 'I won't'."

    We're actually making the same point, towards different goals. People will say "I can't" and they always do mean "I don't want to," which winds up as "I won't." That's why I take away their excuse when I encounter that. They can't sing chant in neumes? Fine, I'll put it in modern notation. THEN explain to me why you're sitting in Mass reading the bulletin (I think Fr. Z calls that "participatio actuoso") instead of singing. When you use modern notation, you take away their ability to make a rational objection to chant.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I would like some reaction to my final challenge to Pes: if the goal is to give the maximum amount of information, why doesn't the logic apply to the neumes of the various codices? Heck, run off copies of chants from 3-4 codices and give them to you schola! It's more beautiful, more Catholic, makes it easier to chant better!
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    Gavin sorry, but I'd like to respond to Pes' topic 'Why Square Notation?"
    I don't think we can focus on which one is easier.(the argument will never will resolved even among the musicians.) It's about helping people getting familiarize with it and continuing the tradition in what you see and what you hear. I'd like to have our next generation know there is such thing as chant notation too.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    Gavin, my hands are full at the moment. I'm very happy to have your responses here and always find them valuable. I'll have time to think and respond tomorrow.
  • I do use square notes exclusively in the Music booklets we distribute to the faithful... I think the only thing that is not fairly intuitive about square notes is the podatus. I include a short instruction on reading a podatus on the back of the booklet because of that. I haven't had any complaints so far. I think they are easier for a non-musician to read than modern notation and they also take up a LOT less space in the booklets.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    Janet, how about 'music ministry coner' in the church bulletin and explain one neum each week. You can even quize them how many they can find the neum of the week in the chants they sang or heard that week from the music booklet? For example, how many podatus do you see in Agnus Dei? Give the answer in the following week. Even some children might find ineresting and look at the bulletin. i would even list the name of the people who got the right answer. (email the answer to so and so) The children will get kick out of this and the parents will help them. Anything to make people get interested in the chant notation. (I hope no one argues about this word 'anything'. i meant within reason.)The chant notation belongs to all the faithful, especially these days, not just to the schola. How much and how many can really learn to read is a second step. Maybe that's not even in our control. People need to see them as often as they can, that's the first step, and the musicians can help them.
  • Chrism
    Posts: 697
    I include a short instruction on reading a podatus on the back of the booklet because of that.

    Janet, since you've already done it, would you mind posting a graphic we could paste in a Word document?
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    "Even for congregations that do want to sing chant (no one sings from the pews at an EF Mass, but let's pretend they do)..."

    The EF Mass here, Dominican Rite, they sing chant from the congregation. All the Ordinaries--including the Creed! Now, the ordinaries are in the hymnals in that weird modern chant notation, where it's black and white whole notes, and in the little booklet you get at Mass they just have the hymn numbers for ya. But the Creed is in the booklet in chant notation. Granted, only about a third of the congregation sang the whole Creed, whereas a majority sang the other ordinaries, but still. Also in the booklet all the congregational responses ("et cum spiritu tuo," "gloria tibi domine," "deo gratias," etc.) were in the booklet in chant notation, and the congregation sang all of those, too. They never quite figured out the "et cum spiritu tuo" -- always did a wrong interval at some point, but I think the priest was off-key for the "dominus vobiscum" most of the time, too, so you can't blame 'em.

    Just throwing that out there.
  • i'll read this thread more carefully later but let me say that I love print neumes for congregation precisely because they look different. The complex neumes don't appear in the people's chants anyway.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,526
    There are eastern notation systems that are far more arcane than neumes. I suspect those older systems were dropped for good reasons. They don't convey information as thoroughly or accurately as modern notation. I don't use any of them, because I consider them an anachronism. Perhaps they are just one of many things of interest to academics, but not to ordinary people. No offense intended toward neume enthusiasts, but folks who have tried to sell me on them always seemed like the Amish telling me to junk the car and get a horse. Neumes are just too archaic and strange to put before a congregation. I wouldn't do it, for the same reason I wouldn't give them anything written on a C clef. I can read it, but I find no good reason why the congregation needs to.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    If you show the neum of the week in the bulletin, make sure it's in good size. This is not about whether I like the neum or not, or any individual. If this is not something you don't want to do , you don't have to. But if you want to help people to know that the chant is sung from the chant notation, there are many things you can do. I know it's more work, but people appreciate it. This also is not matter of easy, or not easy. Many people who don't know how to read music , I think, find it easier, people know how to read music get a bit confused at first. let them see it first. And let them see often as possible. If people don't even ever get to see it, how can they even think whether it's hard or not.
    It's matter of familiarity. And if they are not familiar with it help them to be familiar with it. Most don't really sing from it, like they don't sing hymns from modern notation either. First thing is to make them familiar with it. If the chant notation is archaic, the chant is also archaic. Our tradition is archaic. It's like body and soul, cannot be seperated.
  • I'll upload an example of the graphic description of the podatus (that I cut from the online liber usualis from CMAA on page 20). I typically insert this along with a verbal description like this:

    Musical Hint: When singing Gregorian chant, two ascending notes are sometimes written on top of one another, called a podatus. The bottom note is sung first. See the equivalent in Gregorian versus modern notation below.
  • Here is a handout we used in Shreveport as an insert to the bulletin one week when our schola was singing for Mass each week. It is intended to be used as 1/2 of an 8.5" x 11" page.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    The tips looks great. Is there any chance you can do this one neum at a time eveyweek, I mean really eveyweek ? I feel that the amout of info might be too much at once for many. And keep doing it takes lots of effort, but it helps to get more people to notice. But it's just my 2 cents suggestion.
    ( I think helping them to get the general idea of how melody moves, direction of the melody would be a big help to start. I believe people who look at the modern notation do the same. I don't know how many of those people actually reads the notes when they sing, but they get the general direction of the melody. And even start to notice some notes are longger than others by looking at the notes and hearing and singing them.)
  • Archaic?! Our lives are full of archaicisms, are they not? Because the custodians of our Culture and our Faith passed them on to us our lives are filled with and inestimably enriched by what only a philistine (present company excepted) would call archaic, anachronistic. We look at Fra Angelico, da Vinci; we listen to, sing or play chant, Perotin, Tallis, Monteverdi, Bach, and Mozart; we read Plato, Aquinas, and von Balthasar - or Homer, or Dickens; we go to see and hear Shakespeare or the opera, or chamber music; some among us may live in an archaic house; some go to ball games; some sculpt, paint or write; we all partake in a great number of societal rituals which would be anachronistic save that we value them and treasure our past as well as our present. We participate in a two thousand-year-old ritual called the Mass. A thing cannot be cast by the way-side simply because the few vociferous ones hawk that it is 'archaic' or 'hard'. We are the custodians of our musical heritage and it is not for us to deem an important aspect of that heritage out of date, but, with all our skill and love, to pass it on, teaching people to value it along with what is new that is worthy to stand in its shadow. With an appropriate attitude and approach it is astonishing what people can learn in spite of the noisome nay-sayers - and, they are pleased as punch at having learned it. Now, reading this notation is not really all that difficult.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    M. Jackson:


    What you just said, except replace four lines and square notes with the original squiggles above the text. Reading that notation isn't really all that difficult, and you can't have the Catholic faith without it. Or better yet, don't be a heretic with the papers, but rather teach the chants by oral tradition. Oh yes, you're also denying the faith if you give people hymns that aren't in Franconian notation.

    Or rather maybe we provide music for the church and not for the Society for Creative Anachronisms. It seems to me ascribing value to a thing just because it's old (although solesmes notation POSTDATES even our modern looking notations) is as much "chronological snobbery" as ascribing value to a thing because it's new.

    I realize I said I wouldn't pick the "Neumes for laymen" fight, but it's part of a larger principle. If you want to pretend to be in the 16th century, go to the Renaissance festival. If you want to do the Church's music, which includes chant first and foremost, it doesn't mean you have to ride around in a horse-drawn carriage.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    Gavin, I'm a bit surprised, because you are a guy who are not timid, at least what I read from this forum. You don't like 'brick by 'brick approach, you said. You are the most energetic and break the wall with all might you have,and I admired that. If it's not so hard and some will get it and some don't ,like many other things. What are we afraid of?
    The PBC, the PARISH book is in chant notation.
    We are proud of our most sacred music, Gregorian chant. We sing Chant from chant notation. I want to share that beauty and joy without disguising it. I believe people will worry about a lot more difficult things in life than chant notaion.
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    Ouf, have to play catch up here...

    chant notation in fact gives more information, not less, than modern notation

    Not so.

    can't this same logic be followed to reading the original neums, a la Triplex?

    No, because the earlier neumes are adiastematic, i.e. not enough info. Square note notation is just enough. The argument isn't that "less information = good! and more information = bad!" It's that square notation gives just enough and no more to achieve a good end. It's design is 'clean', given its purpose.

    reject its use for a congregation

    I agree it's a judgment call. Some chants have more complex calligraphy, so that might look like a a steeper curve. If you stick to square notes, I don't see how that's more off-putting. I like the "this is special music" suggestion.

    it still sends that intimidation message

    I completely agree that just dumping it on them is unwise. We have to educate. But think of the benefits here. If we can get more people to read music with a movable clef, we are really making them literate! (And we'll finally get someone to play the viola!)

    Actually, that's another argument in favor of chant notation: it makes reading other clefs much easier.

    It impairs progress in learning modern notation.

    I can't imagine this would be the case, but I have no test case.

    given the current situation, I don't think it's pastorally prudent

    I agree that it is wise to assess the local situation.

    When you use modern notation, you take away their ability to make a rational objection to chant.

    This is a good point. I think it depends on the congregation.

    how many people in your congregation are willing to take a class in how to read music? If you can get a majority of them to sign up, I'll grant you your square notes.

    Deal. Personally, I think all these names for neumes is totally intimidating. My plan would be to boil down the neumatic calligraphy to just the elemental ones. The big complicated-looking ones with forbidding Latin names are just composites. Teach the people the elemental neumes, and then say they get combined in attractive ways.

    neum of the week in the bulletin

    Wonderful idea.

    If you want to pretend to be in the 16th century, go to the Renaissance festival

    Too modern. I'm looking for the Amalarius of Metz Festival.

    I jest. This is not anachronism for anachronism's sake, at least not for me. I think square notation is, from a programming perspective, "design elegant." It does just what it needs to do, and no more. The learning curve is not steep. It's calligraphy. People still write in cursive. This is musical cursive, for this special kind of music.

    Behold! I make all things neume!

    Be ye reneumed by the reneumal of your musical lines!
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Fair point regarding no pitches on the early neumes, and I accept your point that the notation was designed to do what it does, and I would say it is unbeatable for the "ictus method" of chanting. On the other hand, the Triplex preserves the pitches and the early neumes. Now, I reckon most here would say the early neumes are as irrelevant to quality chanting as can be. And that's a valid point of view, which I am presently inclined to agree with. I only point out that with the modern notation that former choirs of mine would want (but not get), they would have too little information; and a semiologist would say the same with our non-triplex copies.

    I still wish to maintain my point about chant conveying more information, not less. I should correct myself, however: more RELEVANT information. The only musical information one can convey in modern notation (at least as I use it) is pitch and a tiny bit of relative duration. On the other hand, in chant notation one can express pitch, rhythmic values (depending on one's theories), shape of the line sung, stress, and so on. That's more of relevant information than one can notate using modern notation typesetting.
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 992
    This has been a very interesting and informative discussion! Personally, I've transcribed all my materials for the congregation into modern notation, in very simple key signatures. My intention is to keep it as simple and familiar as possible.

    But I'm very glad, and impressed, that there are those who are actively promoting chant notation to their congregations. No doubt they'll find some techniques that work very well - perhaps simplifying the podatus and such.

    My suspicion is that the biggest progress won't be made in the actual handouts themselves - but instead with how the people are prepared to accept a new idea. Maybe it has to do with implanting the idea that learning things can be fun - that works pretty well with kids. Some people might respond to "this is the deep and honored church tradition." But I fear that 90% of the people aren't attracted by either of these, and I'm not sure what would work.

    Maybe we need to create an iPod that plays music in chant notation. Would be very novel, at any rate.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,526
    " We participate in a two thousand-year-old ritual called the Mass. A thing cannot be cast by the way-side simply because the few vociferous ones hawk that it is 'archaic' or 'hard'. We are the custodians of our musical heritage and it is not for us to deem an important aspect of that heritage out of date, but, with all our skill and love, to pass it on, teaching people to value it along with what is new that is worthy to stand in its shadow."

    I am no fan of current church music. But things come into being, are useful, then die away and are replaced by something else. There is no two-thousand-year-old mass. Councils and popes have mangled and rewritten it numerous times. And with chant, we really have no idea what it sounded like. We sing it with modern voices and modern methods of singing. To our ears, hearing it as originally performed might be a horrible experience. It could have been beautiful, but it could also have been wretched. I think all here do try to pass on the sacredness and reverence of church music. But structures come and go, and sometimes they go for good reason.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    Carl D. You said 90 % will not take. 10 % is a big number. I'm not sure I'll even get that much. Chant Intensive and Colloquium started with small number. But evey year it's mutiplying. When Mother Teresa started her work, she said saving one person is worth of all her trouble and risk. just one person. You need both, we need to tell why tradition is honored and so on, and also do something fun to help them actually to learn. Why not? Assuming that you have Gregorian chant schola singing every week.
    If you analyze too much, it gets too complicated than it is. Mother Teresa left her order one night by herself without knowing what will happen next. She trusted God will lead her and He did. Many people, especially young people value our tradition, but they don't get to experience it in the local parishes, because nobody presents them and challenge them to learn.
  • Chrism
    Posts: 697
    Carl, if only 2% of Catholics take to liturgical restoration each year, we'll have the Church fully converted back in 50 years. Not bad! (And that's even without any compounding.)
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    I'd like to share my (new) observation here. Please look at a chant in modern notation, without any preconceived ideas, or preferences since you've been doing and so on. Just give one fresh look .
    We musicians know that MUSIC WITHOUT RHYTHM is a dead music, even chant, I should say especially Gregorian chant (Rhythm is the main element of the vigorous studies of Solemes and semiologists). Look at the note heads (round notes) lined up without body. I woudln't even call it a modern notation. I wouldn't know what to call it. Some even try maybe 8th and quater notes (I heard of them, coudn't find in my hymnal), boring!
    The music with note head-only gives people only bad impression, or even a horror to musicians. They are not going to feel , oh this is easy. They look at it, will say this is such a boring music or horrible music with just note heads without body. People are use to seeing modern notations with various rhythm markings. That's what the modern notation does, more various rhythm markings with note stems, mostly in addtion to bar lines and time signatures ---. Chant in note head-only is a complete turn-off.
    Chant in note head-only is a dead music and that's what you will hear. Only chant notation can give a life to Gregorian chant. (which chant notation is better is not the issue here.)
    Do we really want to present this beautiful music as a dead, lifeless music?

    (i hope eveyone here is not taking this personally. I understand the good intention of those who use round notes, but that's not what I'm talking about here. What you do is your decision. I'm straightly talking about only music and the notaion. I'm just trying to share my meek observation that I thought could be a help)
  • Bravo, miacoyne! Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!!!

    Charles W - Thanks for your temperate and reasoned rebuttal. Of course, the Mass which we have is indeed the product of a long (and ongoing?) evolution; but, as we know, He who instituted its nucleus did so 2000 years ago. And, I have often thought, as have you, that we may not, could we have heard it, have thought the singing of early ages to have been particulaly nice. What style of vocal production was cultivated we will never know, though perhaps philologists can point us in the right direction. We may, I believe, be certain that the sound was not that of Solesmes or any other scholars or religious which we find on our various favoured CDs.The recordings of Marcel Perez and his Ensemble Organum have been informed by philology, manuscripts, Byzantine influence and intuition in the production of sound which may reasonably be thought to approach the singing of chant during the oral period.Their recordings represent much conjecture, but a highly and academically informed conjecture. You know, this entire discussion is one of intellectual honesty! Integrity!

    PS - I believe that I sent you the Sarum 'O' Antiphons. Were they successful?
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    Thanks, M. Jackson. (6 exclamation marks! That's a record for me)
    And thank you for reading 'not the most elaborate' writing. It's a bit struggle for me, who is not a native English speaker, to pick right words and say them right. Often caused misunderstandings and mistakes. Hopefully I'll get better.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,872
    I give out neumes to the congregation. Congregations don't 'read' neumes, they mostly just follow the up and down motion. That is the most basic element of singing from any notation-the graphical representation of the pitch. Everything else is a nuance added to that element.

    With the schola here, I don't present chant as something difficult to learn or to read or send them through hours of explanation or identifying neumes, etc.. I simply start them singing it and have them follow the up and down motion. No explanation is needed. If they have a question then I answer it for practicality sake out of their own curiosity. Otherwise, it is much simpler than all the 'method's of chant actually purport it to be.

    We (professional musicians) tend to make things more difficult than it need be. We study every nuance, pen mark, ictus and all the rest. Those things are good to learn, but I don't believe they should ever prevent anyone singing chant from the first moment they pick up the page.

    Oh... I forgot to say... IMHO, chant notation will always produce a better performance of chant. The shape of the square notes and the way they can touch each other creates a smoother performance of music and one can read many more square notes in a smaller amount of geographical space.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,526
    "PS - I believe that I sent you the Sarum 'O' Antiphons. Were they successful?"

    Thank you again for those. They were successfully sung by the choir, but I wouldn't have given them to the congregation. They wouldn't have known how to sing them anyway, although they did enjoy them. In my Byzantine church (I only work for the Latins) we use modern notation, but the congregation has a memory of how the chants should sound. So no one sings the rhythmic patterns that are on the page, only the pitches.
  • CharlesW - What of the Byzantine chant in your Byzantine parish? Is it really the old chant which some say remains an oral tradition? If so, is it highly ornamented or improvised upon? Is it written (notated) and then embellished by the cantor? Etc., etc.? Or, is it the rather romantic harmonised chant of more recent centuries? We have in Houston a Maronite parish, and about three or so Byzantine parishes.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,526
    It's the chant from Ukraine and Ruthenia and is rather plain and simple. If anything, the chant may have become a bit more simple over time. There's not much embellishment since it is meant to be sung by the congregation. This chant never had the complexity of Great Russian chant. It is a single melody line with no harmony. The chant can be sung in Old Church Slavonic, but it is adapted enough to fit English words and phrases.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,193
    Words are a more developed form of language than letters, expressing more than the sum of their parts.

    Notes are like letters. Neumes are like words. Therefore neumes are better.
  • Kathy is absolutely correct.

    Neumes are unique visual representations of melodic patterns. Modern notes are generic guides to melodic patters.

    And many congregations WELCOME square notes because they are only used in CATHOLIC churches. Enough with all of this be like everybody else stuff.
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    I think people underestimate their congregations a lot.

    the music director in a parish I was once a part of thought Latin was too hard for his congregation. But they sang a chant Agnus Dei during Lent completely unaccompanied and sounded great. They had the whole thing memorized. If they can do that, why not a chant Sanctus? That's just as simple. Why not a chant Kyrie? And from there, if you provide some kind of notation, why not a chant Gloria, too? They could sing songs that had Latin verses and pronounce almost everything correctly, even.

    Okay, so that congregation, during a Solemn Vespers once, didn't get the psalm tones and sounded kinda meh. That was the FIRST TIME they'd sung psalm tones this generation! ...Besides the pseudo-psalm tones that some Franciscan Friars used when they came here, a kind of intro to the concept that can be accompanied by strumming guitars. They do it that way for people, nonCatholics mostly, who are not familiar with chant at all. It is supposed to lead into the more beautiful kinds of psalm tones. Unfortunately, our choir director fell in love with it as is. :/ But I digress... with more practice, our congregation could get psalm tones. With just a little teaching about what all the pointed text means, they could totally get it.

    At the liturgy of the hours people had the "salve regina" antiphon memorized in Latin too, and it was chant.

    Just saying... a lot of times music directors assume the congregation can't learn something new... but they actually can. (Whether or not they will or want to depends from place to place.)
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,526
    Neumes are a tool, a means to an end, not an end themselves. For example, a guitar in the hands of a talented musician can produce wonderful results. In the hands of an old nun, it can sound horrendous. A screechy, off-key soprano will sound just as bad singing from neumes as from modern notation. I know, I have heard her! Any tool in the wrong hands is an invitation to disaster.
  • CharlesW - So, are you Ruthenians? I have read of Ruthenian churches in a diocese in the Great Lakes area that were closed by the bishop, who told the people that they had to go to the Roman Rite. Many of them responded by going Orthodox. What with what passes for the 'Roman Rite' these days, could anyone blame them? The leaden foot of blind, uncomprehending authority!
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,526
    I don't really know anything about the parish you mention, or whose authority it is under. I belong to the Byzantine Catholic Church in America, which is under Metropolitan Basil of Pittsburgh. The 4 eparchies are Parma, Passaic, Van Nuys, and the Archeparchy of PIttsburgh. The problem with the terms Ruthenian and Ukrainian, is that in earlier times they encompassed nearly the same geographical regions. In this country, those affiliations are more blurred. There is a diocese that split from us early in the 20th century over married priests, which American Roman bishops were trying to discourage, and over congregational ownership of churches. They are called ACROD, which I believe is American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox. In the area of the Carpathians, old grudges run deep, and factional splits are enshrined. You could get quite a headache trying to sort it all out.
  • I like to take the approach that square notes are the right tool for the job. That is, the chant notation was developed for, and works very well for chant, so it's adapted to unison singing, linking together neums/notes and syllables, non-metric rhythm, non-fixed pitch, and the relatively narrow range of most chants. Modern notation developed from the earlier notation to accomodate multiple parts, harmony, metric rhythm, a wider range, fixed pitch, etc. Yes, it's a little extra work for someone trained in modern notation to learn the mechanics of square notation, but worth it to pick up what is needed to sing chant well.

    janetgorbitz uses to this approach in the first paragraph of "Chant Notation Tips" above, which I think is good. I just wonder about the comment about the podatus taking one syllable or two, which doesn't seem right. By the way, don't forget the chant tutorial in the Parish Book of Chant.

    As an aside about tools, a couple of days after Fr. Neuhaus's death, his magazine arrived, which included this sentence: "Give a boy a hammer, and he discovers a whole world in need of hammering." This recalls a childhood episode of receiving a saw as a gift. How many things I found (many of them indoors) that needed sawing!
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 992
    Thank you, all, for elevating my spirits and courage! Indeed, my usage of round notes was based more on a fear of criticism than of actual knowledge of how people would respond.

    Certainly with my schola, we do both, depending on convenience. But anything that's chant is done using neums, and nobody has any problem with it. As long as we're open to constantly learning new things, because there's an incredible richness to this notation.

    The next time I do a handout, I'll see what happens with square notes!