Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Day 3 Awaits

Up early on this chilly San Diego morning. Today is day 3 and it looks like Scott will be moving the class through recognizing the modes my ear, lots more singing of the propers for Friday, and taking a beginning look at Psalmody.

Singing the Psalms seems like it should be something easy - something much less complicated than singing a Gradual or Introit with all of their twisted and turned phrases, centenized or original, not to mention their delightful and/or fearsome melismatic passages that go on, and on, and on, and on...

But Psalm singing is hard. There is a lot to take into consideration. Primary considerations are a good understanding of the Latin line of text, the natural rhythm of ecclesiastical Latin, and good formation of the vowels and consonants.

There are formulas for applying the line of text to the prescribed forms - be they office tones, for example, or Introit tones, which we discussed yesterday in class when rehearsing the Gloria Patri. Where do the word accents fall at the cadence? How much counting back of syllables does one have to do to get it right? When is it correct to insert an extra note for an extra syllable. Much of it is formulaic and mathematical. But then there is beauty to consider.

How do you handle the problem of singing a straight line of text on one note without boring yourself or the people who are sitting there in the pews supposedly listening to the what you are singing when they are really thinking about other things and knowing that they should be listening but they are not because they are wondering if they have lost more in the stock market over night and if their cell phones are in their pockets or in their cars or if they left their irons on at home after ironing their shirts to go with their new bow ties that Charles gave them before dashing out of the door to Mass, for which they were late.

So the long sentence I just wrote is a good example. How do you set that, in Latin of course, to a formula that begins with a few notes and sustains itself on one reciting tone until the cadence. Which in the above absurd example might be the "for which they were late" coming at the mediant cadence.

How does one making sustain a line of poetry (I'm no David) on one note and make it beautiful, prayerful, intelligible and worthy all at the same time? You have to pay attention to the energy of the voice, the pitch, the inflection of every word, singing and breathing with others together, and be able to alight at the mediant or final cadence with ease. Like a toy styrofoam plane landing on a cotton field in October.

English and the problem of the Responsorial Psalm is likely to come up, but in the Intensive we will be looking at Psalmody in Latin, as is sung in the office and at various places in the Mass

We have four lined staff paper and calligraphy pens ready and waiting. We have a retired classics professor in our class who interjects the discussion with scholarly, witty, and sometimes downright curmudgeonly comments. He is not a musician per se, but what he adds to the group dynamic is invaluable, as are all of the questions and comments of each class member. Combine all of that with Scott's mastery of the art and the art of teaching - I'm looking forward to today.

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