At our recent Gregorian chant retreat, we were having discussions about the ways in which chant illuminates text. Suddenly one of the participants said, “The meaning is in the sound.” It actually brought the class to a momentary halt as we all pondered his thought. What a wonderful insight! It reminded us of Dom Eugene Cardine’s statement: “The sound of chant is drawn from the sound of the text.” In fact, we had spent most of our time working “by ear” at that point in the retreat, and this gave us just the opportunity we needed to return and review the chants we had already covered to see how this thought bore out.
One of the simplest but most profound examples was the Kyrie from the daily “per annum” chant mass. This Kyrie, with its opening scalar uplift of a major 3rd, has a gentle sense of supplication and is based on the interval of a 3rd — the interval often associated with the music of children!
Perhaps this person’s insight – the meaning is in the sound – might give all of us a moment to reflect that, as we chant, the sound we hear is itself speaking to us about the text we are praying.