Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What are these crazy note things?

Let me just say that I love this book: Square Notes: Workbook in Gregorian Chant. It is the distillation of a century of pedagogical experience with the sole goal of taking someone who knows absolutely nothing about chant into full knowledge of neumes, rhythms, pitches, pronunciation, and style -- the whole thing from beginning to end. It is astonishingly readable, with HUGE pictures of all the neumes, and the clearest explanation I've yet seen. It even includes study questions.

It was written for kids in the early 1960s, but that means all of us today. There is no one who can complain that it is too hard. In only 120 pages, it does everything that a chant pedagogy book should do. Really, I'm in awe that the author was able to do this. Who is the author? "Sister M. Judith, O.P.," who is said to be the "Community Supervisor of Music for the Archdiocese of Boston" - obviously a different time!

I was puzzled at why I had never heard of this work. The puzzle remains. The front matter lists it as copyright 1968 (renewed) by Summy-Birchard Music, a company for which I yet to discover a working phone number (I tried three) but a Google shows to be the company that owns "Happy Birthday to You" and is part of the AOL/Warner comgomerate. It is "distributed by" Angelus Press.

The Library of Congress, in contrast, says it was published in 1962 and renewed by the author herself on the right date twenty-eight years later: 1990. But where is the author and who inherited her rights? Heaven knows. This strikes me as a classic case of an orphaned work - meaning that it is under copyright but the owner neither knows nor cares. That's sheer conjecture on my part, and only interesting because this book desperately needs to be put online (if anyone reads this who can advise, please respond to

In any case, if you have ever puzzled about how to read the notation of Catholic Church music, you must rush rush rush and get this book. It will solve and your problems. It is the precisely the book that I always hoped I would find, perfect for workshops or private study. I never thought I would see it and yet here it is, dug up by someone and made available to the world. The link above is where you can buy this book. At $15, it is a book that can be bought in bulk by parishes or schools.

So many great publications in our past! This is just another case of a treasure hiding in the field.

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