Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Is chant just so Western?

The National Association of Pastoral Musicians offers a one-page bulletin insert, the primary merit of which is that it points out that the USCCB's document Sing to the Lord recommends the use of Gregorian chant.

But the NPM insert chooses a phrasing and qualification that doesn't appear in the document.

The NPM insert says: "[W]e need to find ways both to preserve the heritage of liturgical musical (sic. - and the typo appears in both the printed and online text) created in Western Europe--especially Gregorian chant using Latin texts--and at the same time recognize, foster, and celebrate 'the rich culture and ethnic heritage of the many peoples in our country'."

And here, in contrast, is what STL says: "'The Church recognizes Gregorian chant as being specially suited to the Roman Liturgy. Therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.' Gregorian chant is uniquely the Church’s own music. Chant is a living connection with our forebears in the faith, the traditional music of the Roman rite, a sign of communion with the universal Church, a bond of unity across cultures, a means for diverse communities to participate together in song, and a summons to contemplative participation in the Liturgy."

So while STL says that chant is a "bond across cultures," and that "at international and multicultural gatherings of different language groups, it is most appropriate to celebrate the Liturgy in Latin," and further that singers should be "trained in its correct pronunciation and understand its meaning" so that they can "deepen their familiarity with the Latin language," NPM merely says that Gregorian chant is "created in Western Europe" and we should "find ways" to "preserve" it -- decidedly less enthusiastic.

It is difficult to reduce an 88-page document to one page, but the NPM insert might have done a better job in characterizing the document's statements on Gregorian chant. It at least might have refrained from contrasting "Western" chant with the "rich" ethnic heritage of many peoples, especially since the USCCB document goes to some length to point to the universality of chant. Chant, after all, is not merely something to stick in formaldehyde and put on the shelf.

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