Monday, June 28, 2010

Gregorian Karaoke?

This is one of the most beautiful and timeless hymns ever written, Pange Lingua, (authored by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century). It confesses the holy mystery of the Holy Eucharist

The hymn appears in English in Lutheran Service Book as hymn 630 "Now My Tongue The Mystery Telling", though the ancient tune text of Pange Lingua has been replaced by another beautiful chant tune (Grafton, published in 1881 in Chants ordinaires de l'Office Divin).

It is presented here in the original Latin according to the ancient Gregorian melody. You can also just about teach yourself to read the Gregorian musical notation (which is still used by some Lutherans today) by watching this video. I know some of you will hardly resist the urge to sing along. There is no bouncing ball to follow, but the notes soar with the voices of the saints of every age who confess Christ in the Holy Sacrament.

In fact, I would not be surprised to hear of this piece being performed in a smoky Milwaukee bar on open mike night by an Albanian in a beret. There are stranger things out there: such as any video by Lady Gaga, or of Ke$ha making a not so subtle endorsement of an LCMS presidential candidate.


Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

This is so beautiful that I just had to click the rewind a couple times. The pronunciation is impeccable, the pace is good. We need a choir like this at St. Stephen's. Speaking of which, looks like my day is going to keep me from Mass today, so if you'll excuse me, I think I need to hear this hymnn again.

Past Elder said...

Too fast, too metronomic.

Past Elder said...

PS -- if you like Phrygian mode and monks (these guys don't sound like monks!), check out Bemsha Swing by my favourite monk, Thelonious.

Father Hollywood said...

Here is one of my favorite versions. For a preview, click on track 12.

Robbie F. said...

Love the music. I think, however, that trying to teach people to read the Greogian notation is a WASTE OF TIME. Survival of the fittest, baby. Modern notation evolved over the fossilized bones of Gregorian notation, and for good reason. Plus, lots of people can read it without the agonizing effort that even some advanced musicians have to invest in following the neumes. Get over this oldness for the sake of oldness, guys! If you want to revive this tradition, upgrade it to Gregorian Chant 2.0!

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Robbie:

I don't think anyone really believes it will replace, or even come anywhere near parity with, modern notation. But, it's actually very easy to read. If you can read modern notation, you can learn Gregorian in a few minutes.

It doesn't hurt to know it.

Additionally, the Gregorian notation is not bound to certain pitches (such as the A in modern notation being the pitch of 440 Hz). Therefore, a prayer book (such as the Brotherhood Prayer book or an old chant psalter) can accommodate any range from bass to soprano.

It's easy, flexible, and being able to read it opens doors to older resources. It's a win-win situation.

Past Elder said...

Hell, never downloaded iTunes and ain't a-gonna. No iPod either.

The problem with modern notation is pretty soon you start chanting like chant is music instead of chant. This is a form of speech.

Modern notation enforces an underlying duple rhythmics to it, which neumes do not, and chant is not always duple as notes are (quarter note half of a half note half of a whole note etc).

Thus one misses things as in our example just singing it. Look at the incipit, then comes gloriosi, ascending, right to the height of the point of the whole bleeder, corporis, which then insists on Luftpausen out of any metre as the word is out-composed (auskomponierung).

Leave musical notation for music.

Maybe if you guys could hoop sermons you could chant chant.

Shoot, maybe I should come to Gretna and teach the bleeder with Guidonian hand. Then we can road trip to Baton Rouge to hear this piano playing preacher they got. Now there's your win-win situation!

Robbie F. said...

I seriously believe you are over-estimating how easy it is to learn this notation. The chant would be 100 times easier to learn with modern notation that everyone with any musical experience at all can read. We're talking about the difference between spending 4 rehearsal hours preparing the choir for an all-Gregorian-chant prayer office and spending maybe 1. This may work great at Gregorian chant workshops, but to have any hope of plugging this into congregational practice you're going to HAVE to bend on the notation.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Robbie:

I've been to several short retreats of the Lutheran Liturgical Prayer Brotherhood consisting of everyone from people who don't read music at all right up to trained musicians. Within less than an hour, we're singing the offices in Gregorian notation from scratch together - and it sounds great. It's just not that big a deal.

It reminds me of all these people who tell me (and so adamantly) that junior high kids can't learn Latin. Of course, I spend 36 weeks out of the year with these kids as they do what conventional wisdom says they can't.

Again, no-one is suggesting that this will replace modern notation. And frankly, my experience is that not many people actually read music anyway - actually a small minority. Most people kind of follow the ups and downs of modern musical notation - which is even easier to do in Gregorian.

I think it would be helpful for those interested in church music (such as choirs) to be able to read both. I think the reticence is more an American thing than anything else. We think using meters and kilograms is "too hard" and that being able to be fluent in more than one language is "unrealistic."

I never learned Gregorian notation until recently - not because it's too hard, but rather because it was never taught. With the restoration of the Tridentine Mass, Gregorian chant is making a comeback in the Roman Church, and like the three year series and the response: "and also with you," it may very well start popping up in LCMS churches.

Regardless, it never hurts to learn. It is always better to know something than to be ignorant of something.