Sunday, June 29, 2008

The practicalities of chant

Jeffrey Tucker offers commentary over at The New Liturgical Movement about the June-July issue of Pastoral Music. The issue has an atypical focus on chant, but falls short of what Tucker would have like to see.

The articles are interesting and worthy, and cause for celebration. The authors are experts who are worth reading. They make some good points and some points that I personally find weak but this latter point is a matter of opinion.

But in another way, the issue and these articles miss the mark and this is not the fault of the writers so much as the editors here. This issue does not sufficiently address the top questions that Catholic musicians have about Gregorian chant: how to read it, how to sing it, what to sing, and when to sing it. These are the practical points that vex musicians all over the country when they think about this subject. In fact, only one of four articles addresses some of these points, and even in this article, the author doesn’t quite speak the language of parish musicians.


Musicians these days do not know how to read the notes. They are terrified by Latin. They fear the people’s reactions. They are dealing with skeptical pastors and Bishops. They have weak singers who use instruments as a crutch. Also, Catholic musicians tend to be a bit too satisfied with doing the same thing week after week, and there needs to be some inspiration to bring about change. To introduce chant is a major step. It takes work and there is a risk here. The musician will be called on to provide a serious defense. He or she has to believe. Doubt will lead to failure.


My fear, then, is that the novice will read all of these articles and still not have a strong rationale to take the next step or anything like an intellectual apparatus that will prepare them to pick up a single piece of music and sing it with their choirs and congregations.

As someone who is keenly interested in the practicalities of increasing chant within a parish (my own), I agree with Mr. Tucker that the basics of how to read chant and what to sing are the necessary foundation. For a good, brief introduction to reading Gregorian chant check out An Idiot's Guide to Square Notes co-authored by Jeffrey Tucker and Arlene Oost-Zinner.


Geometricus said...

Tucker is right on target. I have spent years building my knowledge of chant, studying the Latin, becoming competent in performance, and still my choir at St. Raphael performs chant only infrequently. It takes real leadership at all levels to pull it off well.

Dan said...

What is most lacking for you? Is it the support of the pastor, desire or ability of the choir, money for musics?