Monday, February 19, 2007

Singing with and without keyboards

At the Schola workshop this past weekend, people made lots of comments about the thrill of singing chant and polyphony. But one comment I heard again and again: the unique experience of singing without organ or piano, relying entirely on the human voice for entrances, pitches, sustained notes, and the whole apparatus of making music. The music isn't outside of us but within us and produced by us.

Coming to understand this and developing the ability to sing without instruments is one of the great challenges presented by sacred music, since we very rarely do this in our Karaoke culture.

So I was just reading the classic edition of Ward Two, now online and in print, and it turns out that Ward said the same thing regarding children: Some teachers "use the harmonium to excess, following the voices of the children note by note. This custom is not to be encouraged. The children become over dependent on exterior aid instead of using their own volition. They relapse into the passive attitude of listeners. Thus, the harmonium if used to excess, prevents the formation of good musical habits and renders the children parasitical."

Well said!

By the way, I find myself oddly attracted to the unusual graphics in this 1936 book, such as this one that touched me. It is at once modern, retro, simple, and maybe a fashion that has passed, but still very elegant. Do you agree? Or am I just being bamboozled because I love these books such much?

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: