How does one teach semiology?
  • Coemgen
    Posts: 34
    I want to 'raise awareness' among my friends of medieval performance of plainsong. I imagine the best starting place is in the paleography of the medieval notations, but I have a hard time deciding what to communicate in what order. No matter which angle I approach it from, it's just too easy to get mired in details that don't matter to the unscholar.

    Are there teaching tools out there, tutorials, curricula, that kind of thing, actually accessible to the public? I've read in articles mention of Cardine's and Agustoni's methods of teaching their students about this stuff, but where can I learn those methods of pedagogy so that I can reproduce them? Ideas?
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  • Hugh
    Posts: 187
    I base my semiological interpretations on Ensemble Organum's rendition of the offertory antiphon "Tui Sunt Caeli" which is on their recording "Messe du Jour de Noel" (youtube has this). I don't know if it's authentically medieval or not, but I love it, so what the heck.
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  • Priestboi
    Posts: 154
    I would be happy to assist putting a brief curriculum together, but that would mean that you will have to guide me on what the outcome is and take it from there. I am sure that i would learn a great deal, so i am very keen. PM me when you have a moment.
    Thanked by 1Jes
  • JesJes
    Posts: 544
    I often use this poster when looking at my triplex. Which reminds me I have to send this on.

    I read up on cardine but follow Hugh's inspiration so my posters are based on cardine articles but I sing the chant based off what Hugh taught me.
    I guess the thing that helped me learn from him was that he was consistent in his approach to episemas etc. it was easy to get a hang of that way. Now I'd rather follow a semiology conductor than a solesmes one.

    2448 x 3264 - 2M
  • VilyanorVilyanor
    Posts: 382
    What? No repercussions? This will have many repercussions!
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  • When you write a mordant or trill sign under a round note in five line notation, it means a trill. Only in transcriptions of Gregorian have I seen it used for anything else -- namely "do here whatever you him a quilisma is".

    Why not interpret the quilisma a bit -- at least write a tiny round note, like an appogiatura sign -- to suggest the usual performance?
  • Priestboi
    Posts: 154
    I like both Solesmes and the many other ways of singing chant. I feel that we need a standard and then allow for "local custom". I generally like using Solesmes notation, speed it up, move towards the highest note in a quilisma and only really pause on a dotted note or "grow/swell" on an episma. Probably not a great way to do things, but the result is pleasing. Unfortunately 99% of chant that I hear is way too slow, no wonder people do not enjoy it. Allow the words to speak and the melody to ebb and flow as it wishes.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,308
    Why not interpret the quilisma a bit -- at least write a tiny round note, like an appogiatura sign -- to suggest the usual performance?

    Since the quilisma predates the modern-notation trill symbol, it is not obvious that the latter gives us a model of how to perform the former.
  • "99% of chant ... is way too slow." The Solesmes books indicate an approximate tempo of 144-160 notes per minute, depending on the chant. Is this too slow, or are choirs you are hearing singing slower than this?
  • "99% of chant... "
    Much of it is indeed too slow. Not actually 99%, but quite a bit. Especially that which often is heard being done according to what is supposed to be the so-called 'Solesmes method'. Chant done by this method does not, really, have to be slow, but very often it is sung at a snail's pace - and it is astonishing that, inspired by its glacial tempo, snickers are not heard. (Is it any wonder that people don't like chant when this is what they hear? [No, it isn't!].) Further, any books that suggest 'an approximate tempo of 144-160 notes per minute' is inviting a kabuki-like performance. This is as ridiculous in respect to chant as it is for a Beethoven sonata. Chant, like any other music, must live and breathe. There is elasticity in every chant, often within a single word. Imposing any tempo norms on it is to put it into shackles. Weather, the room, acoustics, the text, its meaning, message, or tale, the voices singing it, the choirmaster's expertise, the occasion, and on and on are the arbiters of chant tempo - NOT the metronome, nor any book's presumed parameters.

    The title of this thread is 'How does one teach semiology'. If the CMAA were really interested in real chant, it would have Fr Columba teaching semiology at its colloquia, and be publishing his chant literature and chant. It would have daily lectures and study sessions on Cardine's Gregorian Semiology. It would feature the likes of Marcel Perez and Alberto Turco at its colloquia. It would stop perpetrating the in-credible fiction that the 'solesmes-method'-that-isn't-the-Solesmes-method represents the last word in scholarship and anywhere-near-'correct' chant performance. Like Medicean chant, so called 'Solesmes method' chant is a period piece, that and nothing more. The last place to look for scholarly, authoritative, chant tutelage is in Liber Usualis.

    (I wish that I could place that passage in which Dom Saulnier defines 'the Solesmes method'. It sounds like semiology and would immediately discredit any claim on the Solesmes name by those who like to bandy 'Solesmes method' about as if it legitimised their academic cul de sac.)

    Back to learning semiology - look up Fr Columba's week long workshop at St Meinrad's Archabbey this summer and go to it. There is a bonus if you are an organist - you will get to play the abbey's large Goulding and Wood organ - a treat!

    Semiology is what Mocquereau would have developed had he outlived his times. It is the answer to his on-going studies that his successors discovered. Paleography leads ineluctibly to semiology. They are inseparable.
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  • VilyanorVilyanor
    Posts: 382
    Aye, MJO. As Cardine repeatedly says, the tempo of chant is inherently contingent upon the rhythm of the text and of the syllable thereof.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • Coemgen
    Posts: 34
    Such colloquium would entice me for sure! I have heard Fr. Columba Kelly has English materials. Has he provided any decent 'starter' material? I've seen his translation of Agustoni's book, and it's not bad but still a bit too academic.

    I am really more interested in ascertaining how to teach a semiological interpretion to newbies from scratch, on its own merit, than basing it on a constant comparison with the Solesmes method like many people seem to do (admittedly, it's too easy to do so). For instance, I can teach basic neums, and build up the complexity, but simple orderly examples are scant. Paleographie Musicale doesn't exactly make for a good "semiological chant starter kit". The Antiphonale volumes might give something to start with if Solesmes had only included the neums, and then I could draft a gameplan from it.

    Jes's chart is nice and simple, but would like to see things taken further than just the rudiments.
  • JonathanKKJonathanKK
    Posts: 465
    Historically, the system of chant theory which involves the rhythmic signs (ictus, etc.) and the arsis / thesis chironomy was promulgated and jealously guarded by the monks of Solesmes, and was in fact known in that time as the "Solesmes method".

    If you wish to say "old Solesmes method", well and good: but that the system proceeded forth into the world under the banner of Solesmes is undoubtable; this is borne out by the editions themselves, as well as by the literature expounding these ideas.

    * * * * *

    A strong point of this Solesmes method is that it really is a method.

    This method is comprehensive, flexible, follows a certain logic, and is also simple.

    This is possible, because it is theoretical / philosophical, rather than being strictly a historical reconstruction; nevertheless, this method was meant to be applied semiologically, and this is indeed possible.

    * * * * *

    But really, in what does this "Solesmes method" consist? Fundamentally, I think it is just a way of understanding 1) the idea that you must always have some kind of alighting point somewhere, lest you have a string of single pitches, with no hierarchy; and 2) that you must always have in the motion of the chant at least some kind of distinguishable rise and fall, lest you sing in a manner without life.
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  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,221
    "The title of this thread is 'How does one teach semiology'. If the CMAA were really interested in real chant, it would have Fr Columba teaching semiology at its colloquia, and be publishing his chant literature and chant. It would have daily lectures and study sessions on Cardine's Gregorian Semiology."

    Absolutely true MJO, they are not interested in recent understandings of chant, they are stuck in 1952.
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,221
    What we really NEED imho is an approachable book which describes in a very clear and concrete way the musical interpretation and performance of the St. Gall and other neumatic systems. Yes the Cardine book is a great accomplishment, but it is not practical, in that is is performance treatise. I would buy such a book and I am sure many others would too. How bout some of you brains on this thread doing this?
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  • Chant, like music more generally and speech, is composed of phrases. Learning how to put the phrases together, to put the proper punctuation in, to put the emphasis correctly, and not put the ac-CENT on the in-COR-rect syl-LA-ble is, for those with a musical ear and basic reading ability, not super difficult. To go from accurate to beautiful is harder.

  • We have several chant directors who have used the semiological signs quite a lot in recent years, while sharing this information with the choir members at CMAA Colloquia. Also, we have had semiology training by Dr. Ed Schaefer for several years -- always very popular. I must admit to being surprised to hear that you believe the CMAA is stuck in 1952. LOL.

    We had a very nice and lively discussion on the merits of Mocquereau vs. Cardine at this summer's 4th of July panel discussion...

    An interesting little factoid... we have sold out of our Graduale Triplex books at the book tables the past couple of years, with leftover Gregorian Missals remaining... I think this is all due to the new emphasis many directors are placing on understanding the semiological signs with the Colloquium choirs... I'm increasing my Triplex order for next year :)
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,221
    Ok... I can be humble enough to be corrected. Thanks for the info.
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  • I, too, had gotten the impression that the so-called 'Solesmes Method' was the CMAA's 'in house', official approach to chant and chant paedagogy, against which other 'methods' were judged to be outlandish innovations. One can be forgiven for being of this impression when noting that The Parish Book of Chant and other 'official' CMAA publications include the spurious markings and tutorials based on 'Solesmes' and no other. This is regrettably poor, very poor scholarship.

    I am so very glad to know that that is not (or is no longer) the case. The so-called 'Solesmes Method' is an historical curiosity that has as much validity as late mediaeval corruptions, or Medicean chant, or XVIIth century French plain chant musical, etc. It can be self-referentially beautiful when knowledgeably done, should be taught and preserved as one in a cavalcade of historical methods, but not paraded as the last word.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,596
    The thing is, Ye Olde Solesmes Methode is the "canonized" method of the FSSP and the ICKSP, and many of their parishes require their Directors of Music to use that method, to the effect that many EF priests and layfolk erroneously believe that Mocquereau is the only permitted method of interpretation---Remember the "Dubia" submitted to PCED by that Polish priest? Among his questions was whether or not other methods could be used at Mass; the answer was : Yes, other interpretations can be used; no-one is bound to use the Solesmes method.
    Thanked by 2Elmar Adam Wood
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,983
    I am struck by what as I write are the latest posts before and after this one. In one about contemporary church music composition we have
    I can't help but make another comment...the "New Church' is so big on participation and "giving the voice to the people" etc. etc. But the music they write is so quirky, bad and irregular that it's impossible to sing. One suspects: is all this pile of music really written for the "voice of the assembly" or for their own concerts, recordings and performances?
    and in the other a pointer to Richard L Crocker, which I followed to the recommended sample of a gradual : Universi here.
    And I think "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose".
  • CharlesSA
    Posts: 110
    Regardless of what the scholarship is, it is simply practical to have an actual "method" to teach. Sticking to the "old Solesmes method" is a concrete way to do this. Study of the chants is fine, but when we subject the chants to constant change based on the continually advancing study, in my opinion we do the same thing as we have done to the liturgy (and the chants ARE the liturgy as liturgical texts) the past 50 years - making it unstable and subject to the tastes of the director/singers.
  • I've taken the course taught by Br. Mark Bachmann, choirmaster at Clear Creek and found it to be immensely helpful. I do believe that having a fundamental understanding of the old Solesmes method would be helpful to any singers of chant. His Laus in Ecclesia book is very thorough and quite helpful. And the beauty of the singing of the schola at Clear Creek demonstrates that this method can achieve fantastic results.

    Whenever congregational singing of the ordinary or traditional chant hymns are done, the Solesmes method is a very simple way for them all to keep together, without the necessary understanding and study of semiological markings, which is also very practical for beginners. I do believe having the basics of understanding the Solesmes markings and rhythmic groupings can help a great deal... then with that foundation, the singer can move on to discover more and more about the chants and apply that knowledge to move forward in skill level and interpretation.
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  • CatherineS
    Posts: 460
    It's interesting, I think, to adjust from understanding notation as a fixed system of rhythm and melody, and approach it instead as a mnemonic device to remind one of the song that one is learning by ear. If I teach someone here (Brazil, in a parish) a song/chant, they are like to listen and imitate, even if they are holding sheet music. They will memorize the rhythm and melody by ear, while using the paper as a reminder of the words. In fact in all the parishes I've attended the hymns are only written as text, never with notation, even for the choir. What this means is that the rhythmic interpretation of a Gloria, Salve Regina, or hymn is not a problem. In other words, the relationship to written notation is very different. Of course in a schola chanting the propers or in a choir singing classical music or polyphony, reading is needed and has to be learned. But a rather large repertory can be covered without a real knowledge of reading music. This then simply sidesteps the 'old solesmes versus semiology' issue. They sing it however the director teaches them to sing it.
  • In fact in all the parishes I've attended the hymns are only written as text, never with notation, even for the choir.

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  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,109
    Well, I sometimes wonder who's the less fortunate. I heard from a former Pastor that cathedral choirs in Rwanda have huge repertoires with no books at all: they rehearse 7 nights a week.

    Medieval life might have been richer than we decadent Gutenbergers can easily imagine.
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 460
    I found it enormously frustrating for years. And then I actually learned to learn the tunes by ear (just by being constantly asked to sing things at the last minute; I would mark up the text with pencil squiggles to help remember the melody and rhythm...clever, eh? lol)
  • The regimen described by CatherineS was once ordinary even in the advanced parts of the world.
    Time was (not so long ago) when hymnals were printed with the text at the bottom of the page and music at the top. Many a gesangbuch had only the words, and one can be sure that the whole populace knew the tunes. (I have one such, printed in 1759 - words, no music). In my youth Episcopal churches had pew edition hymnals (about 3x5) which had music at top and text beneath it. I don't recall that that affected adversely the robust singing. That people have to have music and text integrated as they are nowadays is not an advance. The latest evidences of decadence and mental atrophy is the increasing presence of the (hideous) screen because oh-so-highly-advanced-and-sophisticated 21st century mankind cannot (or, will not) hold a hymnal, and very often will not sing, no matter what the incentive.

    I had a choir once who, when I asked if they knew a certain hymn (say for instance, 'Come Down, O Love Divine'), they would say 'I don't know, how does it go'. They knew tunes but not hymns. I would often come back with 'one of these days I'm going to hum a tune to you to see if you know it, and you will say "I don't know, what are the words"'.
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  • 'one of these days I'm going to hum a tune to you to see if you know it, and you will say 'I don't know, what are the words'

    Depending on which denomination you get, you will get manifold responses.

    Also - I do love me some hymnbooks with words and music separate.
  • Elmar
    Posts: 238
    Also - I do love some hymnbooks with words and music separate.
    ...especially when you have to turn pages after the second stanza... :-/
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  • Elmar
    Posts: 238
    I would mark up the text with pencil squiggles to help remember the melody and rhythm...clever, eh? lol
    Catherine, you might also appreciate this recent invention ... not mine, unfortunately ;-)
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  • The late Fr Columba Kelly OSB used these materials to teach his chant courses, along with Cardine's semiology textbook and the Triplex.