Monday, March 03, 2014

New Creed Setting from Corpus Christi Watershed - should we have organ or organum?

Here is a new chant setting for the Creed composed by Jeff Ostrowski, who happens to be president of Corpus Christi Watershed. He has published a recording and scores, all available for download free on their website, here. He has also written a brief account of his approach to composition.

My belief is that we will not see chant coming to the fore again until we see more composition of new material, for English and Latin, OF and EF. This is what will connect with the uninitiated and open the way to the full tradition. Also, it is important that as much as possible is freely available, because it creates a dynamic environment where people hear things and have a go themselves, both performing and composing. From this we will start to see something powerful emerging. I have just forwarded it to our choir director to see if he wants to make use of it. The proof of its value will be in the singing - do we find that the congregations respond?

There is one other point. When sung in a church with a good acoustic, part of the beauty of chant, I feel, is the combination of the melody with the harmonics produced by the resonance in the building. It accentuates the implied harmonies of the intervals in a beautiful way. It is so subtle that I always think of it as gently leading my imagination to harmonies in heaven and I think of the angel hosts singing the heavenly liturgy with us.

So many churches today do not have a good acoustic and so the chant will sound flat in comparison. In order to support the singers, sometimes the organ is played with chant. I understand from organists that this is a real skill in itself, but even when done well, the harmonies never match those that I sense from natural resonance. It always seems a little disappointing. However, my experience is that for some reason, a drone underneath - a very simple organum, not parallel fifths or fourths - seems to add to the beauty of chant much more powerfully than an organ accompaniment and lead the imagination in the same way, even when the acoustic is not good. It seems to bring it to life. Furthermore, my experience is that congregations always enjoy it and remark on it afterwards.

So, Jeff, please give us a drone to sing underneath!

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