So what’s this semiology thing all about??

Read up on an excellent series of articles about Gregorian semiology, hosted over at MusicaSacra.

I was rereading this series of articles this morning, and thought I’d post a link to it for those who are interested in a solid introduction to Gregorian semiology and the history behind this “new” movement in chant. Dom Cardine’s work is invaluable to the study of Gregorian chant, and how much information these early semiological signs can convey once we understand what their meaning. In the end though, he urges us also to move beyond the signs and the analysis to once again see the whole:

If all music begins “beyond the sign,” this is even more true of Gregorian chant. Its notation is as supple as its rhythm is free. After having pleaded for respect for the sign, we must beg gregorianists to surpass it!

 (…)

In paying attention to the analysis, will we miss the synthesis? To prevent this, we must so greatly assimilate the result of our work that we end up by forgetting technique so that the listener does not hear it

either. This ideal will not be achieved from one day to the next and perhaps never completely, but we will have to try for it as much as possible. May good sense guide us and keep us halfway between inaccessible perfection and a routine which is too easily satisfied with anything at all! Let us accept this obligation willingly because it will reward greatly both those who look to Gregorian chant for pleasure for themselves, their students or their listeners, and those who consider the sung liturgy as praise of God and a source of spiritual life.

Of course, any serious student of semiology would do well to consult Dom Cardine’s treatise Sémiologie Grégorienne (1970). How much my world has been opened after reading Cardine…

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Immersion

I am coming to the end of my immersion into Gregorian semiology… I haven’t posted much because I have done a ton of reading in my “free time” and have, of course, been praying (at 5:30am!) Over time, I hope to share more of the things I have learned. I am still reeling in a sense from this dunk into the pool, in a good way.

I am convinced of a few things that need to be said:

1) The secrets in the signs from Laon and St. Gall (the other notations in the Graduale Triplex) are SO much more expressive than square notation (and certainly than modern notation!) We need to consult them, understand them, and FEEL them to be able not only to do justice to the Latin chants but to express the meaning of the texts, to make music, to enjoy the chants, and to pray. Metering our chant cannot have the same effect. Anyone who says plainsong is boring may be right – if it really is just plain song. Let’s make it CHANT.

2) We need to be able to be clear with our diction and not be afraid to pause the appropriate lengths in our public speaking as well as our public canting. This is not metered or unnatural hanging pauses though, these are pauses expressive of the meaning of the text, or of natural breaths.

3 )Latin is not (gasp) the only way. Chant CAN be incredibly well-done in the vernacular. It doesn’t work by forcing English to fit the Gregorian melody just because you think you have to preserve that tune intact. No, you have to respect the natural accents and flow of the English language also. It works perfectly if this is thought through. If you don’t believe me, come to St. Meinrad Archabbey and see, and certainly check out one of the many sources of English chant propers for the Mass (most are FREE!). We do, however, need to get something going and widely available in French and in Spanish too – this is where it is going, and we will lose out to bad music if we don’t work diligently on these tasks.

4) It is incredibly sad that more people can’t experience this. Yes, definitely go to one of Fr. Columba’s workshops. But I mean that people aren’t hearing this is their parishes. It CAN be done. It can be done WELL and BEAUTIFULLY. We need to show people. If they hear it, they will get it. Of course, good and faithful liturgical praxis otherwise is also necessary.

5) I now know even more how much I don’t know! I need to do this again. That is one smart monk!!!

More later…

In the mean time, I am so blessed to have been able to take this time for study, reading, prayer and retreat. AMDG!

(And thank you dear for all of your support and holding down the fort, you are wonderful.)