Choosing the right key for a chant
  • henrik.hank
    Posts: 97
    Laudetur Jesus Christus!
    In the Swedish hymnal Cecilia the Gloria XV is included. The first and last note is D. I guess the term is finalis.
    I think CCwatershed has a organ accompaniment with F# as finalis.
    What do we make of this? How do we choose the right key? Lower pitches and higher pitches give different feelings.
    I prefer higher pitches myself. But I am a tenor.
    For the Gloria viii I choose D and never the C as finalis. At church they use C I think.
    I often sing the chants higher than what is written in the hymnal if I sing by myself.
    I am no fan of singing as low as I speak.
    Sanctus XVIII has finalis G but I like G# better.
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 6,418
    Chant accompaniments (for those who actually use them) are written in arbitrarily chosen 'keys' which reflect a congregation's presumed pitch range. You are free to choose whatever pitch, or finalis, is comfortable with your voice. You do not have to sing your gloria at the pitch given in a hymnal. If needful for 'accompaniment' you may very well transpose that hymnal version to an appropriate pitch. You are correct, though, that 'lower and higher pitches give different feelings'. Bearing this in mind, one should consider the mood of the chant when choosing his comfortable register. Any hymnal versions of chant are far from being scholastically authoritative.
  • >> You are free to choose whatever pitch, or finalis, is comfortable with your voice.

    Alleluia, alleluia. Have been fighting this battle for years. Thank you, MJO!
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,452
    We're all baritones and mezzos (most people are) so we pitch the reciting tone at either A or Bb, which pits the final at D/Eb in authentic modes, and keeps most things in our D-D "golden octave". Mode 2 with F clef we start on F, which means it can be read in treble with 1 flat. Mode 8 is down a step. We'll adjust that if a particular chant has a problem tessitura (e.g., Emendemus in melius for Wednesday is up a half step from our usual to try to improve the grumbling at "miserere".)

    Accompanied chant is a different matter. My organist has the Campion book with Bragers and Rossini. He tends to the low, but I find that often it's too low, and the high is too high. We only accompany Ordinaries, because we want the PiPs to sing (and some do).
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 1,349
    Alleluia, alleluia.


    Shhh its Septuagesima, we can't have the A.... until Easter!
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,452
    I just wanted to add that it was Dr. Mahrt who introduced me to that way of thinking about chant pitch, in the context of an alternatim setting...which ALSO, finally, made the whole concept of chiavette make sense, as a "hermeneutic of continuity" with chant. So thanks!
  • henrik.hank
    Posts: 97
    Jeffrey, Gloria XV has D as a recitation tone if the finalis is D. So what then are you talking about?
    E would have to be the finalis if the recitation tone should be A.
    I saw one Kyrie Eleison with the notes C-E-G-E as the first notes. This is a lot lower thsn the E note of tge other chant. I hate when people at church want to show off their low notes. Look how good I am at low notes! This chant is sung with E for the finalis by me at home.
    Some chants are notated low but sungable whereas others ar crazy low.
    Modern hymnals dont care much about us tenors right? Or am I singing the chant with a too high voice?
    How can a hymnal even have a melody written for all kinds of voices?
    We are here only dealing with speech-like singing. Should one sing it in the speaking range or a bit higher?
    I really dont like a chesty voice (not even when speaking). I feel my normal voice resonating a bit higher up than the chest but it is not head voice. Do you sing chant in head voice or chest voice?
    My power is not in a chesty voice I tell ye all.
    Around F# is where i start to get some power.

    A low example: https://i.imgur.com/Yj6tMRtr.jpg
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,452
    henrik, I'm not sure what you're saying here. Gloria XV is marked as in mode 4, it starts and ends on mi, the bulk of it is on A, so it definitely IS Mode 4. So starting it on E is perfect. Since it has such a narrow ambitus, F would be fine, or maybe even F#. But there's certainly no reason to take it lower.

    I sing chant in mixed voice. I shift around e'-f'. I seldom have to sing in head voice, nor drop the jaw much for low notes.
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 6,418
    Shhh its...
    I often substitute 'miserere' or 'Lord, have mercy' for the (Alleluya). Sometimes, though, I have considered that the choir get a free pass on the (Alleluya) when rehearsing anthems for Easter.
  • >> Sometimes, though, I have considered that the choir get a free pass on the ( Alleluya) when rehearsing anthems for Easter.

    I had heard that one might substitute "la la la la" instead of that four syllable word, and proposed it last year,
    but got so much push back from the singers that I gave up.
    For practice, regardless of season, we just use what's written. (sigh)
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • henrik.hank
    Posts: 97
    So the baritones sing the recitation tone on A in many cases. Where would the tenors sing it?
    I myself like A as well although I am a tenor.
    If you look at this: https://i.imgur.com/Yj6tMRtr.jpg
    You will see a very low key. Is chant really supposed to be sung extremely low? A lot of stuff in hymnal is pretty low. I just dont see any reason why chants should be sung in a lower voice. Should I really sing it lower than what would natural for me?
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 6,418
    Henrik -
    At the risk of being repetitive, you may sing chant at any pitch that is comfortable for you. In the example you give from your hymnal, Herre, forbarma dig over oss, C is the first and lowest note. I, myself, would likely begin it on D if not E; perhaps, on certain days, even F or G. You are not bound to the actual pitch given in your hymnal. In fact, it seems to me that C is ridiculously low for this chant - unless one's congregation are Russian basses. Perhaps the editors of your hymnal thought that C was a comfortable pitch for most Swedes. You are not bound by their suggested pitch.
  • henrik.hank
    Posts: 97
    I see but you are still bound by a certain pitch at Mass.
  • Incardination
    Posts: 550
    When we first practice a given chant, I mark an intended start pitch at the beginning of everything. Every part of the Ordinary. Every part of the Propers. Every motet. That is based on that moment. For chants that we sometimes sing proper tone; sometimes sing in psalm tone, I have an FT pitch and a PT pitch marked.

    Sometimes, during practice, a given chant may seem a bit too high or too low - and I'll adjust the pitch by a half step or two in either direction. Sometimes, a pitch that worked well in rehearsal is not working when we practice just before Mass, and I'll make an adjustment at that time. Sometimes, cantors being different, it makes sense to adjust higher or lower in either the rehearsal or the Mass.

    There are even a few chants for which I have provided a half-step or two range, and then I know if I have lower-voiced cantors I'll use the lower pitch in the range; higher voiced cantors the higher pitch in the range. There are also maybe 2-3 chants (Corpus Christi Sequence comes to mind as one) where I have a practice pitch that is a bit lower than the performance pitch. We have nearly 800 pages of chant repertoire in our books, so you can see that is fairly rare.

    Having said that, the initial starting pitch I've chosen is generally in the right ballpark, and I only adjust it if needed.

    As MJO says above:
    At the risk of being repetitive, you may sing chant at any pitch that is comfortable for you.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,143
    Our simulacrum has a knob for shifting the pitch up or down.
  • henrik.hank
    Posts: 97
    You are missunderstanding me.
    If the organist starts a tune with C as starting pitch. I cannot sing higher as I am at church singing with others. I can only sing higher at home. Plainchant is often sung low at church.
    Dont tenors have a problem singing then?
    How are church musicians thinking when choosing low keys? Shouldnt even tenors be able to sing plainchant with others? It is hard to sing plainchant with all you low baritones!
  • Incardination
    Posts: 550
    Henrik, who runs your group? If it is the organist, ask them - for specific chants - if they can raise the tone, either by playing a different key or by using the transposer. If it is the director, ask them the same thing.

    If the organist is playing from music, most accompaniment books for chant have several keys - low, medium, and high. Or you can transcribe the accompaniment into a music program like Finale or Sibelius (depending on how motivated you are).

    OR... ask if the group can learn to sing at least some chants unaccompanied. I'm sure that conversation is a horse of a different color... :) When it is unaccompanied, you have complete freedom of pitch, raising or lowering as needed.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,640
    During our console rebuild on the mighty Schantz, they installed a transposer. It makes it easier to accompany chant in the range where the singers are best, that is, when I need to accompany them.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,707
    Edited: I hate when people at church want to show off their low high notes. Look how good I am at low high notes! This chant is sung with contra G for the finalis by me before leaving home.
    Some chants are notated low high but sungable whereas others ar crazy low high.
    Modern hymnals dont care much about us tenorsbasses right? Or am I singing the chant with a too high low voice?
    How can a hymnal even have a melody written for all kinds of voices?

    As is being said, one makes compromises when singing together.
  • M. Jackson Osborn
    Posts: 6,418
    .
  • henrik.hank
    Posts: 97
    Richard, I like how you put it!

  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,452
    My tenor hasn't had a problem with A as a reciting tone. I will say though that as my group gets better, we've tended to use Bb more often.

    Most people are baritones. If you're singing with most people, you'll probably have to Offer It Up. If you're solo, put it where it sounds good.