Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Colossians 3:15

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Ancient chant new again

"...the music of chant conveyed religious precepts to largely illiterate
societies." -- Carlos Alcala, Sacramento Bee

In a blog posting today, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf (called a "liturgy expert" by Zenit) at "What Does the Prayer Really Say?" takes a look at a November 7 Sacramento Bee article written by Carlos Alcala and titled "Chants of a Lifetime: An age-old form of vocal worship enhances the liturgy at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church." At the end of Father Z's commentary, inserted into the text of the article, is a video that features Gregorian chant in the tradition of the art that existed for hundreds of years prior to the papcy of St. Gregory and passed down over the ages in a vocal tradition. The first "recordings" were made in the 800s, notes Mr. Alcala, when monks created the method of indicating notes on a staff still used today.

Another exceptional example of chant and a glimpse at its role in daily religious life is presented as one aspect in an exploration of the lifestyle of Carthusian monks in the film titled "Into Great Silence." German filmmaker Philip Groening had asked the abbott permission to make a documentary film from inside the Grande Chartreuse monastery isolated in the French Alps. Sixteen years later, he got the go-ahead. Mr. Groening was so impressed with the sounds of silence (and occasional scheduled conversation) that he made the film an uncommon three-hour meditation. Moviegoers reportedly stood in long lines in France to view it. (I borrowed the DVD from the local public library system. The sights and sounds are awesome.)

An assortment of CDs sof chant are available for purchase or borrowing. One I own is titled "Immortal Gregorian Chant, Part One." Its seasonal selecxtions are intoned by French monks. Anotherof mine is titled "Chant from the Hermitage," on which John Michael Talbot and the monks of Little Portion Hermitage give chant a slightly new slant. Talbot still writes and tours. My CD of a "Mass in honor of the Immaculate Conception," sung by the choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is performed mostly chant style. The Allegany County Public Library system has available for lending two chant CDs that I've borrowed, one titled "Feather on the Breath of God," a selection of chants composed by St. Hildegard von Bingen, and another sung by monks.

Seek out chant and give it a listen. It may revive your soul.

Here's a beautiful presentaiton of Hildegard von Bingen's "Spiritus Sanctus":

by Nancy E. Thoerig 11-08-08

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