By Sr. Fidelis
I recently had the privilege of working with a small group of people for a day’s workshop on Gregorian Chant. We started with a brief review of some basics; the four line stave, the square notation, etc. After singing some simple chants, we launched into a more complex piece from the Graduale Triplex, and discussion ensued about the light hieroglyphics that appeared above and below the square notation. As I explained that these were the original neums from the early manuscripts, they were intrigued. I fortunately had included a snippet from an actual manuscript, and we were able to chant the opening of the piece straight from that. One woman piped up and said it was easier to sing from the original notation, than from the square neums. I then asked them, that judging from the appearance of the ancient neums, how did they think the chant must have sounded back then. They all agreed that it must have been light and speech-like, with places of emphasis. We also talked about the value of the square notation that showed us the actual note relations. We concluded that to have both…the “best of both worlds” so to speak, gave us the best possible way to study, interpret and chant these divinely inspired songs of prayer.