“Chant is only in C, F, or Bb”
  • RCS333
    Posts: 36
    Hi all,

    Wondering if anyone could chime in. I am working on chant accompaniment and in both Flor Peeters and Dom Gregory Murray’s texts on CCWatershed they repeatedly say chant is only in these three tonalities. Not really sure what that means, as we all of course pitch the chants at whatever works best for our singers. I guess they are trying to make a point about accidentals?? Seems odd still sense all those tonalities are the same collections of half and whole steps.
    Any enlightenment is helpful.

  • All chant is written on either a 'C' clef or an 'F' clef. These are not keys, but clefs. There are no keys in chant, but modes - eight of them, which relate to one another as do the major and minor modes in 'modern' music, and about which you can find more information by scouting around the forum's past discussions.
    As for the 'Bb", it, also, is not a key, but a normal flat sign. 'B' happens to be the only neume (note) which occurs flatted in chant literature - and sometimes even it is suspect as to validity. It functions primarily as a means of avoiding the tritone.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,974
    Equivalently we could say that all chant in the four line notation is written in either the tenor clef (with the C marked) or the bass clef (with the F marked).
    Representaions in the modern five line, and thus published accompaniments, do not conform. I note that Murray's own set of simple tones uses 5 keys among the nine modes.
  • RCS333
    Posts: 36
    Ah! Got it thanks guys!
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,815
    Module I built years ago might help understand modes

  • Ariasita
    Posts: 2
    Hmm. It’s quite well known in a capella land that C and F do not stay in tune very well. Raising each a semitone almost always stays in tune (give or take a few cents ) The imperfections of equal temperament are minimized when in Db and Gb simply because of our subconscious, almost primal awareness of what the ratios should actually be. As far as Bb goes, the two most common frequencies of electrical outlets fluctuate between B and A. Because of the law of sympathetic vibration, a singer toning a Bb, due to the constant flux, will most likely never sing a Bb, only if by chance. Due gold star sticker! Conclusion, don’t use those keys,
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,974
    In a capella land the indications of C and F on Gregorian chant from more than a thousand years ago tell us absolutely nothing about pitch. And are oblivious to the problems of tuning a keyed instrument, fortunately.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,106
    If you don't have perfect pitch air conditioners in local B-flat are an asset instead of a liability.
  • I've never heard of perfect pitch air conditioners. Are they common, and have I, therefore, not been paying attention?
  • Should it be noted that "perfect pitch" requires a fixed point of reference which, given that concert -A has changed over the years, might be period specific?
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • My (central) air conditioner just hisses.
    But my ice box hums at a nice Eb.

    Chris is right about 'perfect' pitch. It is more accurately called absolute pitch. It is inherently relative an 'A' which conforms to a conventionally agreed upon number of vibrations per minute. Outside of this relationship a 'pitch' is just an isolated phenomenon. Those who are both blessed and cursed with 'perfect', actually 'absolute', pitch simply have an unfailing pitch memory. Others, who have 'relative' pitch, have memorised a certain pitch, e.g. 'A', and relate all other pitches to it. Any one can develop absolute or relative pitch.
    Thanked by 1mattfong