The Case for Singing English Chant Tone Responsorial Psalms
The Anglican Church has perfected the art of singing psalms in English and the suitability for their psalm tones for this purpose has caused them to be adopted for use in churches of many other denominations, including the Roman Catholic Latin Rite Churches, when singing in English vernacular.
For that reason, though they are known as being Anglican Chants, they deserve to be called English Chants as they, like hymns, have escaped the bounds of being associated with one denomination.
Why consider singing these compact and concise psalm tunes for the Alleluia, its Verse and the Responsorial Psalm?
They are eminently adaptable to your musical circumstances. They may be sung by a semi-professional SATB choir but also by a middle school cantor in unison, melody only, unaccompanied. They are English psalm tones for all reasons and seasons.
But even more compelling is that they greatly increase the ability of a congregation to respond in song. In simple terms, this is one way of satisfying the pressure on many of us to get the congregation to participate in the Mass in song.
Why are these easier and preferable to the printed pulp missal psalms that are out there in most pews?
They are written solely to be sung in support of the psalms rather than being musical works on their own, just as the Gregorian Psalm Tones were written to serve the psalms without attempts by a composer to elaborate and adorn the music.
Yes, the Gregorian Tones may be used to sing the Alleluia, Verse and the Responsorial Psalm in English, however, the English Psalm Chant Tones are more suited to English. It is a matter of the structure of accented syllables in Latin versus English. For English, these psalm tones win out.
But the best part is this, they are sung to simple melodies of 10 notes in most cases. And they can be repeated for a series of weeks until people become familiar with them. Do they become boring? No, because the organist traditionally changes registrations to reflect the meaning of the words and the singers also interpret the text and music more so than is common with Gregorian Chant.
Why are they not included in current Catholic hymnals? Some feel that they, like Gregorian Chant, are to a large part in the public domain, meaning that publishers cannot control their use and charge for using them. Others recognize that it is merely because they are not Catholic. This attitude must be confusing to Catholics in Great Britain who hear them commonly, if not in their home church but in broadcasts from Westminster Cathedral, whose choir appears on YouTube singing these English Psalm Chant Tones.
But what's the best reason for singing them? They are based upon Gregorian Chant as it evolved into a form that suited the English language. One famous Gregorian Psalm Tone, Tonus Peregrinus, survived the transition and it exists as a Gregorian Chant and an English Chant unchanged. What better to sing than Gregorian Chant that has evolved through years and years of singing into a unique form by the work of people that speak the language?
While the Roman Church ignored the centuries of work of putting the liturgy in English done by the English Church, the Roman Church has failed to provide music for English texts just as they have failed to provide authorized translations for singing. There is no rule against using English Chant Tones and common sense says that in the interest of improving music in the vernacular, they are the natural replacement for what most people have in their hands on Sunday morning in the United States and the rest of the English-Speaking World.
I have felt this way for a long time and used these psalm tones at Mass for four years at parish Masses and at high school Masses. As a result of this I am in the midst of finishing a beginner's guide to singing these psalm tones, pointing (marking) the text of the psalms for singing them and providing many of the psalm tones in the public domain for copying, sharing and use.
How hard is this to put into place and get up and working in a parish? After four weekly school Masses, the high school choir students knew enough to take over the marking and rehearsing of the choir singing the psalms each week and rehearsed the psalms in parts under the leadership of a sophomore and sang them at Mass for the entire semester, also led by the sophomore, unaccompanied.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ENGLEWOOD, TN (July 27, 2010) - Sales of a book about Gregorian Chant written for beginners has grown, according to author Noel Jones, "It's very encouraging, because it is evidence not just that there is interest in this music, but that it is being used as churches are returning to a Mass of solemnity, beauty and even silence." He goes on to say that, "All denominations go through cycles in which popular music styles creep into the church. In the early 1900s in the Catholic church it was music in the style of opera and operetta composers that took over for a while, but eventually the Church Fathers insisted the Church return to solemnity."
There are also economic reasons for returning to traditional music at Mass. Much of it is in the public domain and, by the way it is written and sung, does not require expensive microphones, multi-channel mixer boards and speaker arrays. Many churches are enjoying getting back to using a microphone for the celebrant and getting rid of the electronic equipment and the need for qualified people to run it.
But saving money is not the main reason for the return to this music. This music has survived, much of it for hundreds of years, and only the best music survives. Music that is written to accurate scripture texts, once a requirement of the church, also solves the problems trying to reconcile what is taught in the classroom with what is sung at Mass. Jones says, "It's hard to justify singing 'Let Us Break Bread Together On Our Knees' at Mass when "we" do not break the bread and the celebrant who does break the bread is not kneeling when he does it." Traditional Catholic church music reinforces the teaching of the church instead of challenging it.
"But…it's in Latin and we do not understand it," is a complaint that really does not apply, since the Church Music Association of America, a long-time supporter of traditional Catholic music and liturgy, makes available free downloads of Gregorian Chant in Latin and English, having just received permission to do this from a convent in England that has preserved the use of chant in English. The website for this music and more is www.musicasacra.com.
Jones's book, A Beginner's Guide To Reading Gregorian Chant Notation has just gone into its second edition and he has released a second book which incorporates everything in the first book plus adds two new sections about rhythm in Gregorian Chant and singing chant Solfége which is learning to sing it using Do, Re, Mi, the same way that the Sound of Music song was used in the movie. An Italian monk, Guido d'Arezzo, developed this system that is as useful today as it was in 1024 when he introduced it, assigning notes to the joints on his hand that he pointed to in teaching music.
Both books are available at www.basicchant.com and on Amazon.com. How popular are they? A search of Amazon books for Gregorian Chant brings up 676 books and A Beginner's Guide To Reading Gregorian Chant Notation has been in the top three for the last 9 months.
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ENGLEWOOD, TN (June 1, 2010) - The new CD created by the Notre Dame High School Choir in Chattanooga is gaining popularity by people who are drawn to the solemnity of the music and the fact that the entire rosary is chanted on the CD.
Isabel Miller and Noel Jones, AAGO conducted the choir. Miller, who had started the choir 4 years to sign at school Mass, had picked out a program of music the choir likes to sing at weekly school Mass and Jones suggested adding the Rosary, chanted in English to Gregorian Chant psalm tones.
Jones had wanted to do this for awhile, but it took the open-mindedness of high schoolers to make it happen. With the support of the chaplains at the school, Miller and the choir led the move of the music program to a traditional Catholic one, including Gregorian Chant and traditional Catholic hymns in Latin and English.
People who have purchased the CD are responding that the sung Rosary is calming, especially on a car CD player during traffic jams. All profits support the future of the choir. The CD is available at https://www.createspace.com/1818378
New Catholic Choirbook Available For Free 11/8/2009 - 9:04 AM PST
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It's a new concept that fills a need.
ENGLEWOOD, TN (November 8, 2009) - According to Noel Jones, whose Frog Music Press is behind this new choir book, "Musicians are driven by wanting music. Famous musicians such as Bach risked their vision even as young children, copying music scores late into the night by candle light. It's a compulsion, almost an addiction to be able to create and recreate beauty day after day by singing or playing an instrument. But it takes music."
Photocopying copyrighted music is illegal but music can be hard to find and expensive to purchase. Many Catholic church musicians, many of them unpaid and without music budgets, are forced to stoop to making illegal copies, just to be able to have music for their choirs.
But can permitting photocopying serve a purpose without hurting sales? Noel Jones thinks so. "Anyone may go on our website and download and print as many copies of any of the pages of the Choirbook, or even the entire Choirbook. And we encourage them to copy, share the pages and give them away."