Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

by Sr Fidelis  

Back to the Basics!

During the Advent-Christmas Season, we listened to a variety of beautiful chants; some with haunting melodies, others with  bright cheerful tunes. It is the particular mode of each piece that gives it its unique sound. The DO scale, using the solfege names (DO,RE,MI, etc.), is easy to sing. We have it “in our ears” because we know it as the Major Scale in modern musical terms. However, Gregorian chant is not all based on the DO scale, but many different scales called modes.  Instead of starting on DO, what if we begin on RE?

If you listen, you will hear that this scale sounds different than the familiar DO scale.The half steps fall between MI and FA; TI and DO, but because we’re starting with RE, it gives a different “mood” or mode. Most Gregorian melodies have a range of 8 notes; some more and some less. There are two “anchor” pitches within the piece — one called the home tone, or final pitch — the other is called the reciting tone.  Usually, a particular melody fluctuates between these two pitches, with notes above and below, but always ending on the home tone.  Mode 1 chant melodies have a Home Tone of RE.  Listen to the next example of a Mode 1 melody, and the anchor pitches RE (Home Tone) and LA (Reciting Tone).


This “snippet” is the beginning of one of the most famous Kyrie melodies, sung during Tempus per Annum on Sundays.

This entry was posted in Advent, Choir, Christmas, Gregorian Chant, Monastery by Sr. Fidelis. Bookmark the permalink.

About Sr. Fidelis

I am 46 years old, and have been a Sister at the Community of Jesus for 26 years. Having grown up here, I have been singing Gregorian chant since I was 10! I was very blessed to study Gregorian chant with Dr. Mary Berry in Cambridge, England and here at home. Recently, I have been able to do some radio and tv interviews, sharing about the blessings of Gregorian chant. I love leading chant workshops, and have been able to do that in the US and abroad.

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