Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

by Sr Fidelis  

A Final Look

We’ve been focusing on chant notation. Now let’s take a look at chant punctuation, similar to the punctuation we use in writing. Examples of the following are shown below.  A full bar is often used to show the end of a sentence.  A double bar acts as a full bar at the very end of a chant.  A half bar might be found at a mid-point, such as a colon or semi-colon.  A quarter bar could be found at a comma or sometimes in the middle of a sentence, just as you would while speaking.  In the interest of keeping the chant line moving, we do not pause at a quarter bar if there is no punctuation indicated in the text.  Half and full bars are usually the places for a breath pause. All these signposts again remind us that Gregorian chant is based on speech rhythm!

A helpful aid is the very small note at the end of each staff of chant, called a guide note or custos. It is not sung, but shows you what the next pitch is as you move to the next line of chant.

Now that we’ve examined each neume and aspect of chant notation, let’s “widen our lens” to take in the whole picture again.  Above is an excerpt of chant from the Offertory Terra tremuit from Easter Day.  It contains many of the neume combinations we’ve looked at. As you listen to the whole piece, try focusing on the neumes in this first phrase.
The earth trembled, and was still, when God arose in judgement, Alleluia.


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