I want to write about Gregorian chant this month. Now why on earth would I want to talk about some archaic, predominantly Catholic style of music which makes use of neither rhythm nor harmony? This congregation thrives on rhythm and harmony, and I get the feeling several of us have had negative experiences associated with our Catholic upbringing. The latter saddens me, but regardless of those associations Gregorian chant is beautiful. It’s meditative. It’s organic. It’s rich in history and perhaps unbeknownst to my readers, you can find a unique Gregorian chant specially written for each Sunday and religious holiday on the Liturgical Calendar. <Insert The More You Know jingle here>
Gregorian chant developed in Europe over 1000 years ago. I find it so interesting that an ancient form of singing still exists and is widely used today. Gregorian melodies are traditionally written using neumes, an early form of musical notation from which the modern music notation developed. These melodies even paved the way for contemporary music. Check out this example. It looks like ancient sheet music. That’s because it is, but this notation is still used today for sung chant in mass and other services.
Gregorian chant was traditionally sung by choirs of men and boys in churches, or by men and women of religious orders in their chapels. The melodies are flowing, sometimes haunting. We associate much of today’s music with major (happy) and minor (sad) harmonies, but chant often speaks a language all its own through melodies shaped by church modes. During Lent I hope to share several chants with the congregation in worship. In the meantime, you might poke around Youtube to find some of this beautiful music. It’s both a part of history and a part of the music of today.