Sunday, April 08, 2007

A long awaited expostulation

Talking, as I was in my "Easter" post a few minutes ago, of "decent" music. One element of "decent" music in church is properly sung plainsong (=gregorian chant).

Those of you who know me, know that. You know that I am a stickler for things to be done properly the "traditional" way. You know that I think it funny that my choir director believes I learned my plainsong skills at LSM, whereas in fact I was learning them from the day I was born (not alone, of course), and at the age of 13 was giving a presentation to my school class on how plainsong works.

Between about this age and my A level year, I spent moments of "spare" time helping my mother who was (and is?) setting all of the Common Worship modern psalm words to their traditional plainsong chants, in an attempt to restore plainsong to churches using the (oh dear) responsorial settings. And therefore, I know a little bit (if not as much as the monks of mirfield) about how such things work.

Those of you who have sung with me will also know that if there's one thing I particularly detest, it's plainsong melodies written out in modern notation. It makes me seethe.

A recent discussion relating to this topic can be found in this post and its comments: Come faithful people

Now I thought I would need to write reams and reams in this post, explaining exactly what is so awful about the fact that we, in general, don't bother learning to read plainsong notation these days, and instead do this heinous thing of writing the nice melodies out in "equivalent" modern notation (which is not, and could not ever be, equivalent). Ages explaining the nuances of the little black blobs. And why, in fact, it would be better not to translate the words either.
I thought I would need to add to my list of projects the writing of a website that would explain all this AND teach you the basics of plainsong. It only takes the time it took me for a year 8 class presentation, seriously!
Perhaps I still will, one day, so as to have said it my own way.

However, thanks to some unknown Catholics, I need not set about that right now, as I have found a wonderful article that does exactly that, and in my opinion does it rather nicely.
It is here: Musica Sacra then click on the document entitled "An idiot's guide to square notes" in the right hand column ("teaching aids"). Facebook users can find it attached to my profile.

Enough said for now, methinks! I'll let you read…


Matthew said...

Despite singing in a church choir for years as a treble, I was never taught square notes - only the grown-ups sang evensong!

I sort-of picked them up during my undergraduate years by exposure, and still have something of a patchy understanding of them. I agree that they're quite natural to sing from, though!

Catherine Osborne said...

Website an excellent find. I'll have to add a link to it.

Robert said...

I do find the scarcity of decent church music rather depressing. I just don't understand why our organist thinks we should sing these ridiculous ditties from Rome. We change them so often that the congregation (and sometimes the choir) don't know what's going on. They're musically trite and quite often liturgically all over the place.

And the psalms! I know that responsorial psalms are an ancient tradition, but that's because they didn't use to have cheap printing or literate congregations. The tunes are much too busy. I'm certainly not getting any reflective value out of the experience of singing it, and I don't see anyone else getting much out of listening. The psalm becomes just a musical interlude, presumably to break up the monotony of all that bible!

I just can't understand the thinking behind it. Is it supposed to be appealing to some unchurched constituency? If so, who do we think it is who is going to be drawn to Christ by bad psalmody?