Monday, October 22, 2007

Where oh where to begin?

Last week, I spoke to many priests who are facing terrible problems in their parishes that are stuck in the 1970s with no clear way out, particularly in the area of sacred music. There are no singers, no one with training or inspiration in the area of sacred music, no resources available. When the priest mentions chant, the musician just stare back in confusion. Nor are the people ready: they are accustomed to modern music with a beat and see no way out.

What to do? As I thought about it, it strikes me that in this desperate situation, the priest needs one piece of chant that the people and musicians can get to know. Usually it is said that this should be a chant that is part of the ordinary of the Mass, and yet there are reasons that this strategy might be modified. Maybe what people need is one chant hymn that can become part of their lives, can be learned easily, and sung during a low-pressure point of the Mass.

I suggest offertory, and the chant that would be very suitable is one of my all-time favorites: Anima Christi. It is so incredibly beautiful but also has all the features of early plainchant: flexible rhythm, no rhymes, and a strophic melody that is not overly complicated.

Here's what I would do. Tell the musicians to keep doing what they are doing otherwise but give up the offertory for a full season, perhaps four months. At every Mass, this chant should be sung during offertory, as led by the priest, without accompaniment. It should be sung quietly and reverently. Before long, it will become part of the people's musical vocabulary in every way, and they will carry it with them throughout the day. This will lay the groundwork for future development, instructing the musicians and the people so that they will come to love plainchant and not be afraid of Latin. It can become something of a parish hymn for everyone and for all years ahead.

It is also very beautiful prayer, and will bring great blessings to the parish.

Here is an image and the sheet music.

Finally, in response to demand, here is a quick recording (complete with a mispronunciation). Now, remember this is one voice. It needs to be sung by many people. Imagine 300. Here it is

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