First Listening – Gregorian chant

In our discussion on 9/13, we focused principally on the role of Gregorian Chant in the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages. While some Catholic and Anglican churches continue to incorporate chant into their services, Gregorian Chant is probably best known today through the commercially successful recordings of the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo and their many imitators. Celebrated for its serenity and spiritual qualities, Gregorian Chant appears to have found a small place in popular culture as music for meditation—though not necessary related to its original function in the Catholic Church. What do you think of the modern-day chant Renaissance? What happens to Gregorian Chant when divorced from its original liturgical context? What are the pros and cons of the commercial marketing of the Chant recordings? Do the commercialization and popularization of Gregorian Chant detract from its sacred nature, or are they necessary for keeping alive an almost-extinct repertory? Your response need not address all of these questions, and may certainly incorporate other ideas as well. Feel free to draw on personal experience, discuss recent waves in the news or the Internet (cited, of course), and respond to the postings of your classmates. I only ask that your response be 1-2 paragraphs in length, well-organized, and proofread for spelling and grammar. To receive full credit, please post your response no later than 11:59 pm on Sunday, September 23.

Listen to this (Incipt lamentatio) track and then comment with your thoughts about 

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3 Responses to First Listening – Gregorian chant

  1. Student 3 says:

    Both Gregorian recitiation and “Ya Sin” are examples of the way religious texts (the Bible and the Quran respectively) are chanted in order to evoke more feeling and to hopefully connect the listeners more to what they are hearing. While the Gregorian recitation is meant to be a chant, “Ya Sin” is considered “reading” with a bit more style and melody than what one might actually consider reading a text. Both Gregorian recitation and “Ya Sin” are monophonic and nonmetric and do not use instruments, though “Ya Sin” has more complicated and varied melodies and pitches than the Gregorian recitations. Lastly, while Gregorian recitation has pretty much disappeared from the Church today, Qur’anic recitation is still in use to this very day.

  2. Student 2 says:

    When thinking about Gregorian chant placed in a modern context, the first example that came to my mind is the 1998 Soccer World Cup Commercial by Mastercard (you can all watch it by following the link at the end of the posting). The background music of the commercial is the song “Ameno Dorime” by Era. This piece is very different from an original plainchant. It lyrics are fake words that sound like Latin, but have no real meaning. Its harmony not only comprises sounds from modern electronic instruments, but is also accompanied by percussion, which was not present in the plainchant examples heard in class. However, the song incorporates key elements that associate it with Gregorian chant. The solemn melody and the Gregorian-like voice modulations help the commercial convey its powerful message: “Faith, Hope, and Glory are priceless. For everything else, there’s Mastercard”.

    This example shows that Gregorian chant, regardless of whether it is heard as a psalm in a church service or simply as background music for meditation, evokes strong emotions not only because of its lyrics, but primarily because of its form. Not surprisingly, Gregorian chant was used as a tool for prayer and reading of sacred texts—it is a type of music that brings a person in contact with his/her soul. And the use of this form in other contexts, such as TV commercials or even terror movie soundtracks, should remind us that music does not come in generic packages specified for use in particular places and at particular times, but that it is rather an intrinsic companion of our existence, always.

    Therefore, I agree with Brian in that the new uses of Gregorian chant may eventually lead to the creation of new genres. Considering that this process has been responsible for the development of music throughout ages, I think it should be appreciated, studied and encouraged rather than condemned.

    Ameno Dorime by Era

  3. Student 1 says:

    After listening to a few audio samples of the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo De Silos online (such as that of “Puer natus est nobis” at the URL listed at the bottom of this message), I feel that they have done a sound job of recreating traditional Gregorian chant for the modern age. The modern chants sound very similar to their medieval counterparts, and courteously withdraw from having accompanying instrumentation. Yet, I can see how marketing the music as meditative or artistic rather than focusing on the liturgy behind it may be frowned upon by some. Even so, I feel that the music’s faithfulness toward the traditional Gregorian chant does a great job of bringing modern listeners’ attention to this very historic form of music, because as listeners are drawn into this peaceful escape from everyday life, they will eventually come to take notice of and appreciate the actual sacred messages that are being recited in the chants.

    However, even if the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo De Silos or some of their imitators were to significantly alter the melodies or the very texts of the chants, I do not feel that a conflict between it and traditional plainchant would arise. In this case, the music should become an obvious departure from Gregorian chant, and would thus become an entirely new genre altogether, avoiding a direct clash of musical style and purpose with traditional plainchant. Something that might happen instead is the false marketing of the new music as Gregorian chant, at which point those who know better may take offense, with good reason.


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