Sunday, June 01, 2008

Sing Te Deum laudamus

Well, we finally did it, this morning: we sang Te Deum. For a beginning schola working in the ordinary form, this was a herculean undertaking and a wonderful accomplishment.

The first problem is the text, which is unfamiliar to us these days. You can't speak the words enough in preparing the piece. Then there is the tune, which we took nearly a year to burn into our musical sense. Then there is the sheer length. Once it starts, it can't be stopped, and there is no easy way to shorten it.

Then there are other problems, such as the vexing problem of the falling pitch, which one can easily imagine is a universal issue here. But as usual with pitch issues, there is a more substantial underlying problem, such as the need to become more familiar with the musical apparatus. The entire piece takes some 8 minutes to sing, and it must move fast so it can have the requisite energy. The piece tolerates no hint of struggle.

Somehow, singing it was more spectacular than I ever imagined. It was like encountering some great monument of civilization, like the Sistine Chapel or the Pieta or Augustine's City of God. Then when we think that this is not supposed to be some kind of specialized piece for the schola but rather a people's hymn--probably the core hymn of all hymns--it just boggles the mind. The prospect of putting this piece back into the Catholic ear seems so daunting. But it is doable. I suppose that is what I took out of this morning's experience: it exists and it can be done!

This piece must not be lost to history. We must make the words "Sing Te Deum" more than a cliche. We must work to make the full, authentic, Latin song our own again.

(If anyone wonders why we chose the 9th Sunday of the year to sing it, it was sheer practicality: it is the last "Schola Sunday" of the season and we are off for a month, so it was just a matter of finally doing it while we could.)

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: