Musical "Principles" of Gregorian Chant
  • tlelyo
    Posts: 21
    Something I'm struggling to understand through your conversations with other musicians is "What is this musical form that is described as Gregorian chant?" That is, what are the musical characteristics that apply to Gregorian Chant and make it more suitable for liturgy? How does the lack of rhythm, modal melody, and other characteristics influence its composition and execution in the liturgy? And finally, how can it be that new compositions "begin to approach" this musical form in an acceptable fashion as the documents of the Church suggest?

    Pax Christi,

    Tom
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    I wouldn't say there is any specific musical parameter that makes chant more suitable for liturgy than other styles. Chant is some of the oldest the music used to set liturgical texts (i.e., the Ordinary, Propers, etc.) and developed alongside the liturgy write large. One could therefore argue that is has a liturgical dimension in itself, irrespective of its style. You might ask why this chant has a G here, instead of an F, or this neume over that neume, but it doesn't really matter in the grand scheme.

    Your last question is much more difficult, and I often ask it to myself. The amount of new music that begins to approach the spirit of chant is practically negligible in my opinion, but this is primarily because the restoration of chant is a relatively recent phenomenon. Charles Tournemire, for example, would not have been able to compose his L'orgue mystique (based on chant) if it weren't for the publication of Gregorian chants prepared by the monks at Solesmes. Tournemire's collection was written roughly 75-85 years ago, which is practically yesterday in the long view of musical history. If you scroll back a page or two in the forum, you will find links to the new composition reading at the CMAA Colloquium last month. Clearly several composers there were inspired by chant--some are writing new Gregorian-esque chants, and others are going in different directions. Only time will tell what music and what styles will have breathed the spirit of chant. I'm sure we all have our own differing opinions.
  • Modern music through its restriction to the use of the major scale and the minor scale [though it is altered to be closer to the major scale as well in use] functions as a predictable form. Modern music that is not predictable is rejected by listeners or relegated to rare performances in the concert hall.

    So modern music is attractive to people who worry about what is to come, to them it is comforting. It is living in the moment and being in control.

    For people who are willing to contemplate and not ignore what is to come, Gregorian Chant suspends time, not only through its use of multiple scales and patterns of notes that are not limited to strict 1 2 3 4 or 1 2 3, but also as in opera, permission to stop and linger on notes with freedom.

    The Liturgy is not about us, neither should the music sung at the Liturgy be about us.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,217
    I think flexibility is a key to chant's suitability. The melody has the freedom to follow and express the words. (This is a meme of Dr. Mahrt's, iirc.)
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    Noel, I don't think what you are saying about the music itself is exactly true, considering that the major and minor scale are really just modes. And as far as rhythm goes, many performances of chant that I've heard sound awfully metrical and dull--perhaps a result of our culturally-ingrained desire for regularity and predictability?

    Kathy, but aren't other musical styles flexible as well? I'd say Schubert's lieder tend to follow and express the words.

    I don't think it is useful to articulate specific musical traits or parameters that give chant its character, because there isn't a single specifically musical trait in Gregorian chant that can't be found in other music, save perhaps the undefined nature of pitch and rhythm in the earliest manuscripts that we almost certainly butcher in our incomplete understanding of it.
  • tlelyo
    Posts: 21
    Thank you all! Especially to noel for articulating at least what might be going through a person's head when they say "the musical 'form' of chant is better suited for the liturgy"

    I believe with all my heart that chant holds pride of place for the liturgy. However, I believe the Church, in all her wisdom, has allowed for "room" or "space" in the liturgy where modern music may be introduced so as to lead to the glorification of God and the sanctification of the faithful. I believe this idea of introducing "modern" styles of music (and in this I include contemporary christian music the likes of Chris Tomlin, Matt Maher, etc with its "predictable" use of scales and easy "beats"/rhythm") needs better attention so that those FEW pieces/songs that are suitable for the liturgy can be used.

    That's where I'm coming from in trying to understand this idea of the "form" of Gregorian Chant, thanks a lot all and more input is welcome!
  • While they are just modes, they are modes that are used in a totally predictable manner, and the minor mode is frequently adjusted to make it identical to the major. There is a total reliance on arrival, arsis and thesis in a predictable format. They are modes that have been seized upon and are the meat and potatoes of western music.

    Are there symphonies written in any of the other 6 modes?

    Chant is the earth the meat and potatoes grew from.

    Remember that you cannot determine the mode of chant until you reach its final note. Any modern song is clear from the first few notes where it is, where it is going and how it will end.

    All modern music is based upon chant, as you have said, "because there isn't a single specifically musical trait in Gregorian chant that can't be found in other music" and that's because of the root of all modern western music is chant.

    While one would assume that modern music has become more and more free in its form, it has not, it has become more and more limited.

    Chant can sound metrical and dull if sung in a metrical and dull manner. I have two recordings of the Rachmaninoff Cello Sonata that I use to teach the difference between metrical and dull and great music performance...one that is very, very good until you hear the second one...very good university professor versus Mr. Ma.

    Chant is not restricted to using the same cadence or a minor variation of it to end a song. Modern music is.

    I differ in your opinion that we butcher the earliest chant...I think that appreciation and understanding of melody and rhythm is built in to humans, so the notations that have been studied and written down in modern chant notation seem more and more accurate to these early scores the more I learn about them.
  • " I believe the Church, in all her wisdom, has allowed for "room" or "space" in the liturgy where modern music may be introduced so as to lead to the glorification of God and the sanctification of the faithful. I believe this idea of introducing "modern" styles of music (and in this I include contemporary christian music the likes of Chris Tomlin, Matt Maher, etc with its "predictable" use of scales and easy "beats"/rhythm") needs better attention so that those FEW pieces/songs that are suitable for the liturgy can be used."

    Great comment! I totally disagree because the Church, in all her wisdom, failed to maintain standards for what church music is, standards that have been in place for centuries.

    The Church once full on Sundays, is empty. There are few priests. Few sisters. Catholics challenge the teachings of the church.

    Name one thing about the church that is much, much better than it was prior to Vatican II and the total havoc that was released upon the church?

    There has always been a clear distinction between the sacred and the profane. Until now.
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    All well taken, Noel, but I think your generalities hurt your overall argument.

    Hovhaness's Mysterious Mountain symphony is modal, as are Arthur Lourié's, more or less. A lot of nineteenth-century classical music is tonal but lacks obvious tonal direction (thinking here of many things, but a simple example is the opening to Beethoven's first symphony). Yes, teleology is inherent in the tonal system, but that's not to say that it limits creativity or a composer's ability to play on the very expectations you are describing. Think of the end of Sibelius's fifth symphony or the end of the first movement of Brahms's fourth. Hardly the standard cadential formulae that you are referring to. But all that is really beside the point. A composer can write anything without being restricted by formula. It's not like tonality or "modernity" crushes anyone.

    I respectfully disagree about chant manuscripts and notation. Something is lost in translation from page to mouth, but that's true of all music too, not just chant. I do however agree that performing choices make or break a performance, even of chant.
  • What are the odds that any of us will hear anything modal today on TV, on the radio or at church?

    But there ARE churches where that can be heard.

    A blind person, stumbling in out of the rain into a church that is singing Gregorian chant, this person even if not Catholic, will now that they are in church and, probably know that it is a Catholic church.

    Modern music is homogenized, much as our tuning schemes for keyboards. People hear an unequal temperament and say, "Oh, it's out of tune." when they shoudl be recognizing instead that much of it finally is in tune.

    Modern music can be solemn and religions, chant always is.
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    my 2 cents:

    #1 : chant is always text first, music second. The music arose naturally out of the text; the text always comes first. When fitting modern music to texts often words must be rearranged, repeated, or changed to fit the music, because it is inflexible and an artificial partnering.

    #2 : modality and lack of meter. Church music should never be something that you can dance to, imho, or beat percussion to (unless you're Coptic or Ethiopian and actually know what you're doing). The modality, especially evident when you throw an ison in, has an otherworldly quality to it that modern music cannot or often does not achieve.

    #3 : ison, a aural representation of the light of Christ. Most Gregorian chant has lost this, but Old Roman chant has it. Another layer of otherworldliness with wonderful theology to it.

    #4 : tradition. This is likely the most important one. Gregorian chant has a long and beautiful tradition in the West, and naturally arose as the church's unique voice in the world. The Catholic Magisterium obviously prefers it, along with the organ, and it is what arose out of the liturgy first and foremost. Tradition is a big deal.
  • I would argue that the elements of chant that make it suitable for liturgy are specifically the criteria by which other compositions should be measured. This is the way that we can "begin to approach" new music in the way the council affirms. The more criteria a new piece conforms to or emulates, the more suited it is for worship. As Noel stated, "Modern music can be solemn and religious, chant always is."

    These are my opinion, by the way. They are by no means authoritative. In no particular order:

    1. Proper Text. Gregorian Chant is singing the Mass, not singing at the Mass. The chants use the prescribed texts for every moment of singing. In this way, they are natural handmaidens of the rest of worship. As Jam indicates above, the music also rose directly from the texts, not vice versa. I argue that new composition worthy of the liturgy MUST consider the texts of the Mass, proper and ordinary.

    2. Language. Latin is the universal language of the Church. The use of this language connects us to a tradition that extends beyond our local worship into the worship of the universal Church, which includes the Communion of Saints. It is important to sing precisely the same words that our ancestors in faith did.

    3. The music itself. Not just the modality or theoretical aspects, but the actual tunes are important for a similar reason to above. Singing precisely the same tunes as our ancestors in faith makes the music part of the universal liturgy. Granted, the liturgical use of these tunes (and Latin, for that matter) are largely historical accident, but we live in history anyway. However, there is no doubt that the melodies are unique in themselves. When faced with just the notes of Gregorian Chant, no words, it is self-evident that this is spiritual music.

    4. Exclusivity of worship. There's probably a better way to title it, but what I mean is that Gregorian Chant is unique to Christian worship. There are hundreds of other musical styles, and each one calls to mind a different region, time period, dance style, etc. When you play the latest ditty on the guitar, you might be singing the Sanctus, but the music sounds like John Denver's greatest hits. There is no chance of this connection with Gregorian Chant. It is not used in any format other than worship.

    To add my two cents to the above argument over modality, I'd have to fall in with Noel. First, to be pedantic, you may call Major and Minor modes (Ionian and Aeolian), but they are not any of the eight modes of Gregorian Chant. What (I think) Noel is getting at is that Major and Minor imply harmonic progression. The Church modes do not imply this nearly as strongly. In this way, major and minor are much more predictable. Sure, there are great compositions that break form with these progressions, but they are in spite of the modality, not because of it. The modal nature of Chant makes it much more flexible, allowing it to highlight the text and raise thought to the mysteries of liturgical celebration.

    I talk too much and say too little. I'll shut up now.
  • tlelyo
    Posts: 21
    Andrew, THANK YOU! This is a great explanation of what I'm looking for. Everyone has added a lot to my understanding of the "Gregorian Form" that the Church wishes new compositions to conform to. Thank you!
  • This reflection may be useful for reflection on the ontology of Gregorian chant, a theological framework for understanding what distinguishes Gregorian chant from other types of music.
  • G
    Posts: 1,389
    "ison, a aural representation of the light of Christ."

    Jam, in my ignorance, I thought this was simply a musical technique, like pedal point. (I'm slow, MJBallou kindly explained it to me to no avail.)

    Can you explain the theology of this?

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    G,

    it's hard to explain without being able to show you... when this was first taught to me, I was in a room on Kodiak, AK, with an academy of young adults and the priest headmaster. We were talking about Byzantine chant and he began to explain that ison represents the light of Christ, a stable and imminent presence which is both slightly disconcerting and overwhelmingly intriguing--it pulls you into the mystery of the words. It forms a solid, stable base that the words of chant rise from and descend into, it's the foundation of the music, the cornerstone. He then asked the young men who sing bass to start up an ison right there in the room, and they did. The effect that drone had on the atmosphere of the room was palpable. Of course I cannot do justice to it, but God flooded the room at that point; it was like stepping into a church, that same kind of sudden and total transition.

    ironically enough this conversation started off with the priest saying he didn't particularly "like" Byzantine chant and all that "buzzing bees" business, but nevertheless understands how fundamentally important it is to Eastern worship and to the liturgy, and so forth.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,102
    Well, there's plenty of jazz and rock music out there that doesn't rely on on Major=Ionian and Minor=Aeolian dichotomy. While many of us complain about the Mass of Creation's ersatz use of modality, there is music out there of a more sophisticated nature that is modal in the non-ecclesiastical sense.

    "Name one thing about the church that is much, much better than it was prior to Vatican II and the total havoc that was released upon the church?"

    My, I didn't think to encounter the hermeneutic of discontinuity here. If you think Vatican II unleashed total havoc, you've gotta live some more. Pius X's sacramental revolution probably undid more than anything Vatican II tried to pull off. But here we are, a century later, taking it for granted, as if in 1800 what he did would have been readily foreseen and digested.

    The liturgical changes as implemented and experienced in most place were not "havoc". In fact, they needed more "havoc." The basic praxis problem that endured was the survival of the Low Mass model as the dominant experience of Eucharistic liturgy. Liturgical movement folks wanted to sink that model, but the pragmatists ensured it survived in dominant form. Everything else is commentary by comparison.
  • Still, name one thing....I don't mind the lecture, though it does force use of a dictionary at times. So, name one thing that is better?
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,102
    The reform of the Sacrament of the Sick so that is no longer as strictly reserved to those in extremis. The audible canon, and the forbidding of the music as a soundtrack to cover sotto voce prayers. The freedom to sing the propers when it would have been prohibited at the Low Mass. The freedom to use the vernacular. The expansion of the lections for Sundays, solemnities and feasts. Permanent deacons. The general effort to more closely tie sacraments to liturgy rather than individual transactions. The elevation of focus on the trinitarian Real Action (something that Pius XII started moving towards) at the altar of sacrifice, in addition to the Real Presence, and the explicit recovery of the understanding of the different ways Christ is truly present in the liturgy (without prejudice to the Presence par excellence in the Blessed Sacrament).The revival of a more robust order of catechumenate in the RCIA and otherwise. It's not an exhaustive list.

    I don't do double dare.
  • And you did not live in the 1950's if you think this is better.
  • BGP
    Posts: 213
    I'm in the process of writing up an explanation of the 'musical form' of chant and what it means as prayer. I'v not finished yet [only 2 parts more on the way] but I think its sort of what your looking for. You can see what I have so far here http://www.newcatacombs.blogspot.com/
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,102
    FNJ

    That remark is unadulterated twaddle.

    I know plenty of people who lived in the 30s, 40s and 50s who think it is much better, and scarcely a soul who from that era who does not, including people in parish ministries and apostolates over 30 years. I know I've not ghettoized myself, but perhaps those souls have.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,102
    And, I should say, the Church Herself has applauded these things, in case that matters.
  • The Church that is closing buildings left and right, experiencing a shortage of religious, and....or is this just....to use your erudite term, twaddle?

    I've opened the dictionary, and it appears that I prate.

    I would propose that there are others that may also disagree with what you feel are great liberties.

    Being able to sing the propers at Low Mass is such a great achievement! So great that no one does it. Instead they sing protestant hymns.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,593
    We have one Church, and its head has the authority to make changes to the liturgy. That doesn't mean we have to like those changes. We do have to accept them as lawful and legitimate. We can work to modify or repeal them, but we don't have the authority to disregard or disobey them.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,102
    FNJ

    No, my reference to twaddle was directed exclusively at your remark. So let's not play rhetorical Three Card Monty, OK?

    You appear to be confusing causation and co-incidence.

    And I don't say there is no one who does not agree with you (I in fact allude to the existence of such people); but it was you who implied the rarity of voices of people who might think things got better, and I was merely driving home the fact that such people are far from rare (these are different points, just to be clear).

    Not one of the things I listed are "great liberties" in the sense that would normally be taken in the English tongue, that is, flouting the Church's liturgical laws. Not a one. They are all established or permitted by lawful authority.

    You are free to dislike them. I don't gainsay that. But you are not free to credibly assert that there is no reason for anyone to disagree with what you started this tangent with. I've been focused on your rhetorical overreach here. It does not help your position. And now we avoid a tit for tat to follow.
  • I bow to the bigger words. And take my twaddle with me, whatever the heck twaddle is.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,593
    Unfortunately, there are those who have a very narrow vision of what the Church and its music should be. Not even the Pope could dissuade them from those beliefs. Yes, following lawful authority is what we should be doing - assuming the bishops could get behind and support something as the standard to follow. But we unfortunately have some flat-earthers on board who want everyone to go along with that "vision" from a "purer" time in the Church, no matter what the Church says. It was decidedly easier to do all chant in the 10th century when there wasn't any other music known or available. Things are not so simple now. It is possible to be both right and unemployed at the same time.
  • My twaddle is now also properly flattened. And I, and it, have been put in our places. As the last bit of air is driven from my flattened lungs, I can only utter those immortal words: "Flat-earthers unite...the edges are near."
  • tlelyo
    Posts: 21
    Thanks BGP and Adam Bartlett for your links I really appreciate it! I'm currently the founder of a new blog called: The Catholic Worship Blog. Our goal is to be a resource for Catholic Musicians who wish to rediscover the heart of worship in the Church. Both inside and outside of the liturgy through contemporary and traditional expressions of worship. I am greatly appreciative to music sacra, cc watershed, the CMAA, the Gregorian Cafe and other resources I've found online to help our worship leaders better understand Chant. I believe strongly that contemporary christian worship music is something that needs to be furthered studied and understood so we can better appropriate it to the life of the Church. We must not have a knee jerk reaction to simply get rid of it all together as I've seen the Lord work great miracles and bear great fruit the these efforts of contemporary Catholic worship leaders. Please check out the blog if you wish and let us know what you think: www.thecatholicworshipblog.com
  • tlelyo
    Posts: 21
    Also, as another comment I think I'm going to need a better understanding of the nature of the Novus Ordo to see where certain "hymnity" and "song" can be introduced. A big part of Gregorian chant seems to be its connection to the "words" of the liturgy, and I would agree that the call and responses, prayers, etc need to be kept in tact and Chant does this like nothing else. However, it seems to me there is still "space" where there aren't "words" of the liturgy where "songs of praise" can be appropriate i.e. the entrance and recessional, song during the preparation of the gifts, and perhaps a communion meditation, although the closer we get to the eucharist the more solemn any song would have to be. just some more thoughts!
  • tlelyo
    Posts: 21
    I especially hope Adam Bartlett will comment on the "words" of the liturgy as I pointed out above. Clearly words of scripture, prayers, and calls and responses should be esteemed with regards to the music, however I'm curious about the "spaces" of the liturgy I pointed out above. Or might one object that "entrance antiphons" "communion antiphons" are such words of the liturgy that should be upheld against a song of hymn of appropriate style and composition?
  • tlelyo
    Posts: 21
    I read both BGP and Adam's articles, and I have to say, both really stress the idea of the word forming the music not the other way around. I'm struggling with this. It seems like when you read the word and then you sing it, you are singing it in some sort of musical context of your choosing. Whether that's chant or contemporary I'm struggling to see how there's a difference.

    Put differently, I can sit with Scripture and my guitar and sing the Scriptures, obviously one would say whatever chords I'm playing will therefore determine how the words sung. However, doesn't chant do the same when a mode is selected to use to chant a phrase? Again, I'm trying to understand this idea of: “The text is not something that just happens to be attached to a particular melody but rather the text is a sounded word that has flowered into a musical work. The line does not run from the melody to the text that has been set, but on the contrary the exact opposite. The direction is from the word to its realization in musical sound. The source, from which the Gregorian melodies originate and are nourished, is the word." as it was quoted from BGP's article. What is this "realization in musical sound"?

    Why can't, or perhaps a better question would be, how CAN a prayerful, spirit inspired, guitar player/piano player/singer, worship God starting from the text first as chant does? It seems like chant has musical form that must be imposed on the words as much as contemporary musical forms do. So, what's the difference? Or is it merely that there's more "danger" when you open the Word up to "blues" "rock" "hip hop" etc musical forms. (To this I would say obviously blues and hip hop cannot resonate the word like chant, however I believe the young church is finding ways to resonate the word of God via contemporary christian worship music. But as I keep pointing out, we must explore this more to ensure its done well. Thoughts?
  • BGP
    Posts: 213
    tlelyo, There is more to the "Gregorian musical form" than the idea that the text is primary. I will be writing more posts for that blog, I just haven't had time, the intention is to present the basic spiritual principles behind chant, in a way that anyone can understand. Anyway I hope things will become more clear for you.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    hi, tlelyo. I read your posts and was very impressed that you are very sincere with what you are doing and trying to find the best music you can offer to our Lord in our Liturgy. (Please forgive my poor English).
    At the sacred music Collquium this year, I met an amazing priest, Father Kirby, and was very impressed with his lecture on Gregorian chant and Catholic Liturgy. He is so much in love with the Church, Liturgy and Gregorian chant. I thought his lecture might help you in understanding this Church's sacred music.
    Here is the link to his blog,

    http://vultus.stblogs.org/

    and if you scroll down until you see the screen of Colloquium XX post, you will be directed to the recordings of his entire lecture. It's really worth your while to listen to the whole thing. Also I recommend reading Pope Benedict XVI's "The Spirit of the Liturgy.' This book truly helped me to understand the deeper meaning of the Liturgy and the music that is the integral part of the Mass.
    Best wishes.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,349
    More directly, the audio files are at this link; scroll to the bottom for the lectures.
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,912
    this person even if not Catholic, will now that they are in church and, probably know that it is a Catholic church.

    That's why Hollywood always used Chant in its "church" scenes.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,102
    Kathy

    Duly noted. At your own pace. Work is just slow for me today (being self-employed, I can fill time that way).

    For further background on the "cosmic" issue: you may not be aware that the fully in-the-round (*not* fan-shaped) idea of design was championed by European architectural/liturgical folks before Vatican II as an effort to RECOVER the cosmic. (The reason I know is that I had to read their works in preparation for being an informal pre-reviewer of a friend's liturgical/architectural thesis in the 1990s.) I should note that I, personally, am not persuaded by their arguments, for a very practical reason: I hate the acoustical effects (the same way I detest big domes over altars - which was OK in the era when intelligibility was not valued in liturgy but is not what I would design for new churches). I contend that churches should be designed to work acoustically from the get-go. (So my friend and I disagree on this.) That said, in-the-round is, conceptually, quite consistent with the cosmic, as it were.
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    I'm responding very late to Andrew's post above, but I have a couple of quibbles with it.

    1) "The music itself. Not just the modality or theoretical aspects, but the actual tunes are important for a similar reason to above. Singing precisely the same tunes as our ancestors in faith makes the music part of the universal liturgy."

    There is no way of knowing whether or not we are singing "precisely" the same tunes. Personally I don't think it really matters, but as a historian I am always bothered by this. There is no direct lineage of tunes down the centuries--it's close, but we can't say for sure.

    2) "There is no chance of this connection with Gregorian Chant. It is not used in any format other than worship."

    This is not true, either. Over the last decade or so (and really beginning with the re-release of "Chant" on CD), chant has been co-opted by popular culture so that it has accumulated different cultural connotations for a different generation. Not that this really means anything either, just that we can't assume that chant exists outside culture. It's like all the arguments I see in favor of the organ vs. the piano. "Oh the piano is only secular, and the organ is purely sacred." Well, I hate to break it to some people, but many people's only exposure to the organ is the Hammond at home or the organ at the ballpark. For others still, I can't help but think that a piece like Messiaen's Vingt Regards imbues the piano with some degree of "sacredness," thus shaking off its purely secular character. But going back to chant, the multimedia age has allowed chant to be released from its sacred boundaries. Maybe that's sad, but it's reality. Try a YouTube search for a Kyrie-hip hop mashup or listen to the soundtrack from the video game "Halo."
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 749
    Doug,

    I fear Andrew's overstatement of his case leads you to do the same. While we can't say that such and such a chant is "precisely" the same tune that our ancestors sang (and to do so would be to misunderstand its patterns of transmission), we can observe that types of chant and particular instances have an ancient lineage. In this respect chant is like the liturgies with which it developed, and just as that liturgical continuity give us a special unity with the Church across time, so it is reinforced by the continuing tradition of chant-singing.

    So, too, while it is true to say that chant has in places found an interesting life outside of the liturgy, the liturgy is its raison d'être. This gives it a special significance when sung liturgically. Arguably, it doesn't work in extra-liturgical performance, because its liturgical semantics are of its essence (I don't refer to performance of other kinds of music that might include its influence, as they have their own meanings).
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    Sacred objects and people can be used in secular world. People do whatever they want to do with them. That doesn't change their status in the church. They still reamin as sacred. (one extreme example is profane movies on Virgin Mary. But she is still mother of God.) Plus organ and chants are not the most common and popular use in secular contexts. Compared to other instruments and other types of music, they take up only small percentage in the entertainment world. (they are used mostly for some sort of special effects.) They are still associated with church, and organ and chant still have the highest places in the Roman Catholic liturgy.
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    I don't dispute any of that, Ian, and I appreciate the very helpful clarification. It was Andrew's unequivocal wording with which I took issue.

    I do take mild issue with the notion that liturgical semantics are of chant's essence, because any semantic is determined in part by its performing context. Meaning doesn't inhere in any music outside of its instantiation in individual bodies and its transmission to ears, in other words. I don't disagree that chant doesn't work in extra-liturgical performance, but that's only my own opinion. It can provide a nice ambiance in a video game, and there are some people for whom chant has no liturgical significance at all (e.g., the "new age" crowd that brought "Chant" to the top of the Billboard charts). As I suggested, the multimedia age has changed many things in unexpected ways.
  • I have no argument with that. I didn't choose my words carefully and ended up overstating the case. I think the points still stand, though. When you say that chant provides nice ambiance, you must ask why. The music inherently lifts us to the mysterious.

    When I stated that chant is not used in any format other than worship, it was clumsy phrasing. What I mean is that the musical style is intrinsically wedded to worship. When you hear a musical piece in the form of a dance, or a folk song, or even a symphony, you are reminded of those things even when the music is used in the liturgy. When you hear chant, you think formal worship. There's a reason why Hollywood portrayals of Catholic churches frequently include chanting. The music and the setting go hand in hand.
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    True, Andrew. I didn't mean to come across so abrasively, and I certainly concur with the the gist of what you wrote.
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,912
    I hate the acoustical effects (the same way I detest big domes over altars

    Interesting you mention that.

    Was at a concert (professional symphony plus pro/semi-pro chorus) in a local church with a BIG dome over the altar. Musicians were arrayed in front of the altar. Seating was available in the transept directly left and right of the musicians, so I took a spot about 50' to the musicians' left (right side of the church.)

    I SWEAR that there was a pitch differential from one side of the musicians to the other. IOW, the 1st violins were not in tune with the sopranos, who were located under the opposite side of the dome.

    Maybe I'm nuts, but I think differently about those domes ever since.
  • tlelyo
    Posts: 21
    Thanks miacoyne and chonak for the links I've been looking for these audio files for the past week since others have pointed me in their direction. I'm excited to listen to them. I'm sure I'll love them! For those of you who haven't seen my blog, I'm looking forward to bringing more of what was discussed here to it: www.thecatholicworshipblog.com

    Btw I have read Ratzinger's Spirit of the Liturgy & loved it!
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,102
    A ciborio over an altar helps to capture some of the sound before it gets lost in the acoustic of the dome, but generally domes stink acoustically unless one is satisfied by a nimbus of sound, but that is no longer a desideratum of the ordinary form (nor was it for much of the first millennium in the western church).
  • No problem, Doug. When trying to convince others of the merits of chant, it's important to be passionate and precise. Thanks for the clarity!
  • tlelyo
    Posts: 21
    O Geez....frogman that's ummmm old. Not a composition that's supposed to be used in liturgy, it's of a private devotion flavor just to clarify! Hehe