Work in Progress
Plainchant is an important part of life here at haligweorc. St. Augustine was right, of course: “He who sings, prays twice.” One of the fundamental convictions of my brand of Benedictine Christianity is that a transcendent liturgy that highlights the awe and majesty of God’s encounter with his people is more likely to draw us to God and to the life of virtue that God wills for us and for his whole creation. The “holy” or “numinous” as described by pioneering theologian Rudolph Otto is a form of aesthetic experience. What differentiates the numinous from the purely beautiful or overwhelming, though, is the change of behavior that follows.
This is prolegomena to say–plainchant is one of the Western Church’s great treasures. For those hearing, it is a vehicle for glorious song and for producing an aesthetic experience that may lead to an experience of the holy. For those singing, it is not only singing glorious music, it is not only focusing on the words of the Scriptures and liturgies that animate our Life-in-Christ, it is also a means of controlling and directing the breath that aids our meditative and embodied act of prayer. You might think that I’m implying here that it is better to sing it than just to hear it–and you’d be absolutely right. Especially for those of us committed to the daily patterns of liturgical prayer, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t sing it as we are able.
In order to facilitate and encourage this practice, I’m linking here to some web resources that I’ve found. Many of the resources–especially those freely available–are produced by Roman Catholic musicians and liturgists. There is a movement to bring chant back into local parishes to correct the worst musical and liturgical excesses of Vatican II, and there are some excellent scholars and educators in this crowd. I will note two caveats in pointing to their work.
First, a renewal of chant in the current Roman church is also linked with a restoration of Latin. Thus, very few of these resources have English texts; be aware of this, especially if you’re not used to your liturgy in Latin. Of course, I’ve heard more Latin-language Masses in Anglo-Catholic churches than Roman ones so this is certainly no deterrent for Anglicans and according to the classic Anglican formularies any language is allowed in worship that is understood by the people. Moreover, some of the great Anglican hymn writers and liturgists (John Mason Neale especially comes to mind) specialized in retaining the meter of Latin liturgical texts in their translations so that the old tunes could still be used for them. So–even if you find some great Latin-only resources, there’s a good chance some English texts also exist out there to be fit to it.
Second, most of the revival of plainchant in the Roman church is specifically for the Mass. There does not seem to be a great emphasis upon music for the Offices among the resources that I have surveyed. That’s not to say there aren’t Office resources out there, it’s just that the majority of it is for Masses and if you want Office stuff you’ve got to explore.
Enough preface–on to the links!
The New Liturgical Movement This is a group blog by some conservative Roman scholars and musicians. It’s a great resource for discussion of chant, the Latin Mass, and Roman rumors in general. It’s a daily read for me.
Musica Sacra This is the official blog of the Church Music Association of America, a Roman organization. Many of the usual suspects from NLM are members or officers here.
St. Cecilia Schola Cantorum This is the blog of a chant schola located in Auburn, Alabama (…roll tide…) that often links to pdfs of the scores they are using and, overall, presents a realistic look at what life is like in a congregation actively using Latin Chant in postmodern America.
Introductions to Chant
An Idiot’s Guide to Square Notes Produced by the leadership of the St. Cecilia Schola, this short pdf document is a basic introduction to traditional chant notation and performance. Highly recommended even if you plan on singing in English.
Gregorian Chant for Church and School This is a full-length scan of a book for school-children and comes very highly recommended. It contains basic instructions suitable for people with no musical background, then presents a healthy selection of repertoire. It’s focused on the Mass, as is common, but contains some Office hymns and the seasonal Marian Anthems.
Fr. John-Julian’s Chant Customary This is a customary written by Father John-Julian to briefly instruct the Order of Julian of Norwich how chant should be sung communally for the chanting of the BCP Offices.
A New School of Gregorian Chant (1925) This is a full-length scan of a book by Dom Johner from 1925 electronically produced by the CMAA. If you only read one of these, I’d recommend this one. For one thing–it’s the only one I’ve found that says much about the Office.
Textbook of Gregorian Chant (1930) This is another full-length book scan courtesy of the CMAA.
Latin Liturgical Chant mp3s This is the audio lab section of the CMAA website. Learning to chant is a lot easier if you can look at the music and follow along with audio–so here’s the audio.
bls on Psalm Tones bls wrote some introductory posts on the psalm tones a while ago–they’re collected here with other posts that use the word s “psalm” and “tone”…
Blueprint: Sacred Music in Your Parish From the St. Cecilia Schola leadership. This is a plan for starting a chant schola. Note than non-Roman parishes might not have some of the Latin language issues, but if you prefer chant in Rite I/traditional languge you might face similar issues.
The Liber Usualis This is the pre-Vatican II port of first call for liturgical chant. It has the common texts for Mass and the Sunday Offices and propers for Masses and Vespers through the year.
Antiphonale This is the pre-Vatican II Latin antiphoner for use in singing the Daily Office.
A Benedictine Psalterium that contains the Psalms, hymns, a the concluding verse & response for the nocturns through the week. It does not have the absolutions, blessings, readings, etc. Again–all Latin.
Music of the Sarum Office This is an exceedingly ambitious project but some substantial work has been done on it. This is not for the faint of heart and will probably serve more for reference than daily use. In particular, I’ll point you to the fascicle containing the psalm tones. It offers both the standard 9 simple psalm tones with the various Sarum endings and solemn settings in each tone for the Benedictus and Magnificat. Also, here is the fascicle for the seasonal variations for the Venite that begins Matins/Morning Prayer.
Psalm Tone Sheet This sheet has the nine tones and their endings from the Liber Usualis.
The 1550 Noted Book of Common Prayer This was, for a long time, the only website that offered the chant for Anglican Offices (and the Mass). Needless to say it follows the 1549 text.
The Offices from the Order of Julian of Norwich This is, as far as I know, the only site on the web that offers a free download of Anglican Plainchant Offices according to Rite II of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. While you’re there don’t miss the Plainchant Masses either, which set Rite II texts of the 1979 BCP to traditional plainchant.
The Choral Public Domain Library’s Chant Page There’s a lot here, take your time to browse…
The CyberHymnal (ht to Chris T.)
MIDIs of Traditional Catholic Hymns (ht to Chris T.)
bls’s Chantblog Updated sporadically, some neat stuff can be found here.
Fr. Tessone’s Chant Materials Fr. Tessone (Chris T.) is working on noting the hymn texts found in the Anglican Breviary (so–identical content as the old Roman Breviary but with traditional-language English texts). So far he has produced the Hymns for the Little Hours and the various seasonal adaptations of the Compline hymn. He’s hoping to be able to offer seasonal hymns for Matins, Lauds, and Vespers, but permissions issues must be negotiated before they can be released for public use.
Again, this is a work in progress. Please suggest things to add!