Skip to comments.Gregorian Chant Back in Style at Local Churches
Posted on 03/07/2005 5:42:13 AM PST by NYer
Ralph Stanley singing "Angel Band," the strains of "Amazing Grace" and "Just as I am," often sung at the altar call, are the sort of sacred music most often heard in Northwest Arkansas, given the regions deep associations with evangelical Protestantism.
But for some people in the area, the ancient form of music known as Gregorian chant has a unique power and appeal. "The chant has proven itself over the centuries to be a powerful way to bring oneself into a spiritual state," said Roger Gross, a drama professor at the University of Arkansas. "Nothing has ever been so conducive to worship as Gregorian chant."
Justitiae Domini dulciora super mel et favum. The ordinances of the Lord... are sweeter than honey and the honeycomb.
The origins of Gregorian chant, or plainsong, date back to the ancient Jewish synagogue. Its melodies would have been familiar to Jewish worshippers in the first century A. D. St. Gregory the Great, pope from 590 to 604, developed and codified the use of the music by the Catholic Church. Often associated with the monasteries and cathedrals of the Middle Ages, recordings of Gregorian chant have sold millions of copies in recent years.
Ethel Simpson, a recently retired archivist and classicist from the U of A, is a singer in a Gregorian "schola," or choir, that sings chant every week at the Saturday evening Mass at St. Josephs Catholic Church in Fayetteville. Asked about the "popularity" of chant in the last decade, Simpson was reluctant to classify the music with Britney Spears, Eminem or Rascal Flatts. "I dont think chant is popular in the sense other kinds of music are," Simpson said. "Its appeal is related to the popularity in the last 30 years of meditation. Many different kinds of chant have surfaced. The Beatles went to India looking for chant. Chant is a part of Buddhism. People realized, Hey, the Western tradition has something like that, too. "
Qui biberit aquam fiet in eo fons aquae salientis in vitam aeternam. Whoever drinks this water shall have within him a spring of water welling up unto eternal life.
Simpsons schola has provided music recently for a special service held at 6 p.m. on Mondays in Lent at St. Pauls Episcopal Church in Fayetteville. The churchs rector, the Rev. Lowell Grisham, usually presides over the service, called "Ancient Roots: Chant, Silence and Breaking Bread." Grisham finds in the chant a measure of a peace the world cannot give. "Gregorian chant is so counter-cultural for people in our age," he said. "This music has all the time in the world. Time seems to stand still. Its so balancing to the hurry-up world that most of us live in.
" Before Mondays service, Id had one of those days, with too many plates spinning. I found myself almost sprinting to the service. After just a few minutes of allowing the peace of that music to enter me, my metabolism had changed. I was present, relaxed, everything was centered again. "
Grisham said the service is popular with his congregation.
" Its the only special Lenten program Ive ever offered where as many or more people come at the end as at the start of Lent, "he said.
Passer invenit sibi domum ubi reponat pullos suos: altaria tua, Domine virtutem, rex meus et Deus meus. The sparrow hath found herself a house where she hath laid her young: even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my king and my god.
At a recent Saturday night Mass at St. Josephs, the congregation joined in some of the chants, singing from song sheets that contained translations of the Latin texts.
Lyle Cooney-Pead said the use of a sacred language that is not a spoken language in everyday use is a universal human impulse.
" At the Last Supper, Christ and his apostles prayed in Hebrew, a language as dead in first-century Palestine as Hebrew is today, "he said." Until a decade or two ago, Protestants used the King James Bible, which is written in a form of English that hasnt been used for 400 years. Every religion has a sacred language. "
Cooney-Pead appreciates the chants emphasis on the divine.
" Some people today say the purpose of the Mass is to celebrate community, "he said." I profoundly disagree. The purpose of the Mass is to worship God. With the chant, theres no forgetting that. The chant draws men to Christ. "
Richard Lee, a philosophy professor at the UA, has led the Gregorian schola for 10 years. Besides the mixture of aesthetic, historical and spiritual motives that have drawn the choirs members, the music they sing helps the congregation at St. Josephs reconnect to the denominations roots.
" One thing the priest [at St. Josephs] has been asked to do is re-introduce some Latin into the Mass, "Lee said." So he looks to us to help the congregation learn the ordinary [unchangeable] parts of the Mass in Latin. Putting Latin back into the Mass might be a way of restoring some common ground so people can pray together anywhere in the world, for example, singing the Lords Prayer together in Latin. It might be a way of returning to tradition. "
Simpson said the Catholic Church places a high value on tradition as a means of teaching.
" Gregorian chant is a way of connecting to the those earlier ages [of Christianity]. It connects us to the universality of the church, not only across the world today, but across time. "
Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of goodwill.
The lyrics of Gregorian chant, such as those interspersed through this article, are generally taken from the Bible, mostly from the Psalms. The music that goes with it, with its four-line staff and square notes, is far older than the five lines and round notes familiar to choirs today. Lee said those are not the only differences.
" The rhythms are different in chant than in modern music, "he said." Its not like a four-four march. Its more like the rhythm of spoken words. Some chant is melismatic, where there are several notes sometimes dozens on a single syllable. Theres a lot we dont know about chant. Sometimes were surprised at which words are ornamented in this way, because they dont seem to be the most important words. "
According to Lee, Gregorian plainsong does not have four-part harmony.
" Chant has an advantage in a choir like ours because everybody sings the same note, "he said." Ive been in other choirs [that sang modern music] where the tenor didnt show up and we couldnt sing. "
Parce, Domine, parce populo tuo. Spare, O Lord, spare thy people.
Austin Welsh is a Springdale physician who belongs to the Northwest Arkansas chapter of Una Voce, an organization that promotes the use of Latin and Gregorian chant in church services.. The group is circulating a petition to church authorities, asking them to implement locally a directive from Pope John Paul II that Mass be offered for those who want it in the" Tridentine rite" the form of Mass common in the Catholic Church until the early 1960s.
The word "Tridentine" refers to a reforming church council in the 16 th century, held at Trent in Italy. "We have found the traditional Latin Mass is the perfect setting for Gregorian chant theyre made for each other," Welsh said. "Our organization seeks to make the Tridentine Mass a permanent part of the Northwest Arkansas religious landscape."
Cantate Domino canticum novum. Sing to the Lord a new song.
Roger Gross and his wife are among several Northwest Arkansas residents who like to share in the worship of a religious community in Oklahoma that uses Gregorian chant in its daily round of praise and intercessory prayer. Clear Creek Monastery, near Tahlequah, Okla., was founded in 1999 by 13 Benedictine monks from Fontgombault, a medieval abbey in France famous for its recordings of the chant. The Grosses and others from Washington County make the 90-minute trip to Clear Creek to participate in the monks worship, and sometimes to spend a few days in the monastery guesthouse. "We used to have traditional vacations and take recreation in the ordinary way," Gross said. "The time we spend at Clear Creek in the monasterys atmosphere of peace provides much better re-creation than any vacation or entertainment weve ever done."
The Rev. Philip Anderson, the prior of Clear Creek Monastery, quoted a choirmaster from the communitys French motherhouse on the power of the chant. "Gregorian chant excels in transporting souls to the blessed region where God waits for them," Anderson said. Lee said the Gregorian schola welcomes new members, of any religion or none. "If there are people interested in singing chant, wed love to have them," he said. "Were small, but wed like to be bigger." Contact information for Lee is available on the scholas Web site at comp. uark. edu /~ rlee/chant. html. Directions to Clear Creek Monastery can be found at www.clearcreekmonks.org. Una Voce of Northwest Arkansas has a Web site www.uvamo.org.
What an ironic twist .... the Episcopal Church discovers Gregorian Chant while the Catholic Church embraces 'Amazing Grace'.
Where have these people been? I've been a cantor in the Episcopal Church for 15 years.
I could use a change from "Christian top 40".
"What an ironic twist .... the Episcopal Church discovers Gregorian Chant while the Catholic Church embraces 'Amazing Grace'."
This is nothing that replacing 250 or so "Catholic" bishops in the U.S. couldn't cure. Most of our bishops appear to be as Catholic as my dog.
New GIRM rules, we must stand immediately following the song.
my Catholic parish has been incorporating some Latin and English chants for Lent. I honestly don't know if they would qualify as plainsong or Gregorian chant, though I'm guessing the former since the whole congregation sings it. Sometimes our choir sings in Gregorian chant after communion, and it is just beautiful. I adore Gregorian chant and other Latin church music, and hope more parishes around the country are able to use it.
I cannot understand why any bishop would be against singing in Latin. At a former, far less traditional parish, we often sang contemporary songs in Spanish, even though the congregation had almost no Hispanic members. I always thought, if we can sing in Spanish, a language almost no one here speaks, why the heck can't we sing in Latin? Sadly, not a word of Latin was heard in the parish, and the only times we sang songs older than 1970 were Christmas and the Marian feast days (hymns like "Immaculate Mary" and "Hail HOly Queen Enthroned Above")
Our Very Catholic Choirmaster is a big fan of chant. We sing a LOT of chant - at almost every service.
His S.O.P. (which I think is very good) is if we sing a polyphonic anthem with a traditional text, first we sing the chant then lead into the anthem. There are tons of pairs that work extremely well this way - Ubi Caritas, the Magnificat (with any number of anthem settings), etc. etc.
I actually had to learn to read the Solesmes notation. . . . we're reading it off the original texts from the Liber Usualis (or the short version, Chants of the Church). . . and I found a copy of the short version for sale on line cheap cheap cheap.
And yes this is a VERY orthodox parish. Praise the Lord!
Sometime back, I read an article which noted that this hymn does not express Catholic faith and is inappropriate in a Catholic Church. Of course, I can't find it right now.
I notice we can sing many songs which were forbidden years ago. I wonder if there is a list somewhere?
I could almost stand the Novus Ordo if they'd just get rid of the chick "music minister" that always gets up at the lectern. You know, she also is the one that sings the "Responsorial Psalm" at the new Mass. I just can't get past the hand. Folks who attend Mass must know what I mean. She's up there, doing her little solo-part, then she does that little flick with the hand, that palm up sweeping motion. You know, the sign that says, "You peons may now join in the singing."
There is /nothing/ that drives me more nuts than "the hand". I can't hack it. I wind up walking out muttering, "The hand. The hand. Will you stop with the hand. In the name of God, quit it with the hand."
Thanks so much for posting...Hub and I love chant, we hear it at a nearby Trappist Abbey.
At one time, our then 2 yo granddaughter used to shush us when we played a tape of it for her; she still likes to play the tape at bedtime, after her prayers.
A humble yet sincere suggestion. You attend Church to praise and worship God. Remember what our Lord said:
"If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna."
If the hand motion bothers you, sit somewhere in the church where you won't see the psalm leader - or - look down at the missalette during that time. If necessary, close your eyes. I did that so many times in my previous parish, to avoid these 'near occasions of sin'. Consider moving to a different parish but whatever you do, for the sake of your sanity and soul, try to avoid this distraction.
An "Amazing Grace" is not even Catholic in content!!!!!
No they don't!
The children sing this version at the Children's Mass. Thank goodness that is not too often.
Wish I could find the link to the article which provided the justification for this. Any ideas?
Rasing her hand is much more respectful that our music minister who yells out: (at some Masses)
"Now all join in!"
A cantor raising their hand is much more respectful and reverent! Think about it and count your blessings!
It has to do with the idea that "grace" bought our saving.