I have been a cantor for over 25 years and an organist for most of my life. Chanting with people at home and across the country is one of my greatest joys. I remember the days of staring at the section of our undergraduate music text thinking to myself "what are all those dots and WHY do I need to know about them?!" Now, 33 years later, I am so grateful that those "dots" have helped teach me many things about God and His love!
Cognoverunt Discipuli (“The disciples recognized the Lord”) is the Alleluia text for Week III of the Easter season. Occurring on the Sunday of the “Walk to Emmaus“, this Alleluia is defined by a melody which starts as a swirl in the bottom part of the mode before quickly shooting upwards. Equally colorful is the moment at which this same “swirl” occurs in the verse. In this very narrative piece one can almost hear (and see!) Jesus lifting His arms to break the loaf of bread. These melodic curves are not just gentle waves but rather huge, sweeping swells, created by quick succession of patterns rising or falling the distance of a perfect 4th. The setting of the word “fractionis” with its melodic repetition draws out the alliterative nature of the word, the sounds of “fr” and “ct”, giving us the sounds crackling of breaking dry bread. In addition to the emotional excitement of this chant, it is an excellent example of the process of “centonization” – the process of composing a chant – with repetition of patterns based on text meaning.
Here again, right in the middle of the Easter season, we find ourselves chanting a piece with all the excitement of Easter morning itself. Again, we find in the chant an unexpected gem which offers to us that same recognition of Jesus as the disciples experienced.
The title of this week’s blog might lead you to believe we might be talking about the explosive cheers following the winning of a sports championship.
In its own way, the Easter chant sequence hymn, Victimae Paschali Laudes, is exactly that! And why not? Christ himself fought with all his might against those enemies which would destroy us–and He won!
Thought to have been penned by Wipo of Burgundy somewhere around 1048, this is one of our most ancient chants still in such wide spread usage. Its extraordinary range and “march-like” character give it the same verve as an early American camp hymn, expressing both faith questioned and faith reborn. Perhaps for these reasons this chant has had more influence and impact than any other in the last thousand years of western music, finding its way into works from Josquin, to Mathias. Most recently, it was the subject of an organ improvisation by Daniel Roth, the organist of St. Sulpice in Paris, following in the great tradition of French organ improvisation.
What better way to celebrate Easter than with a true chant of victory that has united us through so many centuries of celebration of Christ’s Resurrection!
The chanted Passion of St. John is among the most ancient chants for Good Friday, in which are recounted Jesus’s final steps before offering His greatest gift of love. As together we enter the Paschal Triduum, please accept this as our gift to you for a blessed Triduum and Easter!
This week Jim Jordan and Sr. Evangeline, two of our cantors, were invited to share about Gregorian Chant on a the EWTN radio program “Morning Glory”. They will be featured on radio programs on EWTN, speaking about Gregorian chant, all month long! Enjoy this clip from this week’s program.
Over the past few weeks, we have been talking about the chants found in OrdinaryTime, from Monday after Epiphany to the day before Ash Wednesday and Monday after Pentecost to the day before the first Sunday of Advent. However, the word “ordinary” (which refers to “an ordering” in the liturgical definition) means something quite different to many of us when used in everyday language such as “commonplace” or even “humdrum.” We have certainly seen that the chants of Ordinary Time are anything but dull!
This morning, the term Ordinary Time took on a broader meaning to me. As I was watching our children’s Winter Percussion unit do their daily warm-up, I noted that the music to which they did their exercises was extraordinarily lovely. In fact, it was even strangely familiar! I began to listen more closely and realized that I was listening to a composition based on Dies Irae chant from the Requiem Mass married with the Eastern Orthodox chant Gloria Patri. I don’t know who the composer was for this particular orchestral arrangement, but it was both tastefully composed and moving to hear.
Here I was in an everyday, “ordinary” circumstance and what was I hearing but chant. It’s no revelation that chant has been a source of inspiration for centuries of composers, but it struck me that chant occurs not only in everyday time but everyday events. That realization is one which I will treasure. It reminds me that chant does not just impact our liturgies but also our daily lives.
It is with great excitement that we look forward to Week 2 of year A in the 3-year liturgical cycle. WHY? What a seemingly random date!
This is the moment in the liturgical cycle that the extraordinary offertory Jubilate Deo, universa terra, appears in Ordinary Time. Mary Berry referred to this offertory as “the most wonderful piece-fantastic!” Truly, it is one of the finest examples in all of the Gregorian repertory of a joyous text released and exploded through sheer melodic curvature and development.
In 2007, several of our cantors had the extraordinary privilege of chanting and studying chant with Dr Berry in her home for the entire summer. Everyone had to present a “long term” project. at the end of the summer. Whoever presented the project had to ask another one of us to be the “guinea pig” cantor. I got to be that “guinea pig” for the cantor presenting the Jubilate Deo offertory. So, for 90 minutes straight, I chanted this offertory repeatedly, while Dr. Berry modified the presenter’s conducting. That was an experience never to be forgotten! Not only did both of us have the joy of learning the work in great detail, but by force of nature, learned it by heart. For any who have the chance, learn this work by heart – it will be an absolute treasure to you.
Tonight is our annual vow service. It is one of the most beautiful nights of the year. The church, still clothed in Epiphany garb, glows with the warmth of candle light. The vowed Community, robed with white scapulars, fill the seats on either side of the aisle the candidates will walk. And the candidates exude a light that comes with saying, “Yes.”
Everything about the service is moving, from the hymns, to the speaking of the vows, to the moment where the candidates prostrate him or herself at the foot of the altar in a moment of total vulnerability and surrender. It’s an event where the ever-moving stream of history is almost palpable and the unity with monastics across time and space is humbling to say the least. And it is a moment that reminds each of us of our own call.
One of the most beautiful moments is the chanting of the Suscipe — an ancient and traditional Gregorian chant for the final vows in a Benedictine community. The newly vowed sings it once on their own and then, in a chorus of support, the entire vowed community repeats it. It is as though, through the Latin text, we are pledging to stand with the newly professed, and they with us — a bond of obedience and dependence on God. And we sing it, knowing we will stumble, that sometimes we will want to quit, and that sometimes, we just need to stand still.
“Suscipe me Domine, secundum eloquium tuum et vivam; et non confundas me, ab expectatione mea.”
Uphold me, Lord, according to your word, and do not disappoint me in my hope.
Late last evening, I attended a schola rehearsal in which a men’s group was preparing the Alleluia for Epiphany (Vidimus Stellam). They worked in earnest but the rehearsal did not seem to progress. We put the rehearsal on “pause” to see what we could do to change the course of this practice session.
Almost without a breath, everyone realized they had not discussed and ingested the text enough to inspire them to truly grapple with the chant and its meaning. Within moments, multiple ideas were flying around the room concerning the story of the three ancient seers who had spent years in preparation for this one fantastic moment of seeing the Christ Child. Suddenly, the rehearsal sprang to life! Now we had the inspiration to do the work needed to bring this chant “off the page.”
This was a good reminder to all of us that chant is first and foremost, drawn from the very sounds of the words which it upholds. And, in order to truly understand the chant, we must first know its text intimately. It is that understanding which under-girds our chanting and gives us genuine inspiration.
We have seen his star in the East, and we have come with our gifts, to worship the Lord.
(from Matthew 2)
As many of us know, it is Great Advent! The week of O Antiphons. And tonight’s antiphon is O Clavis David — O Key of David. All week long, Paraclete Press is offering a beautiful, daily meditation on these Gregorian chant treasures, along with a sound clip, a coloring page, and a modern day interpretation from poet Regina Walton. We invite you to follow this link, and take a quiet moment to reflect on today’s words. To follow along for the rest of the week, “like” Paraclete Press on Facebook, and check your feed every morning for the next O Antiphon!