Saturday, 11 May 2013

Introduction to Chant (v)

This week we will look at something quite different: the chanting of psalms.  Because of the need to sing all 150 psalms every week, it is important to have a setting that can be sung at a glance.

The solution to this is to have simple patterns that can be adapted to verses of any length.

Here is Psalmtone 1 D.  (Sorry, for some reason I can't embed the video, so please click on the link)

The psalm is psalm 109: Dixit Dominus.

A few things to note:

The incipit (the first three notes) are sung only for the first verse: to get us into the tone, as it were. Subsequent verses start on the reciting note.

The reciting notes will carry all the syllables until the text shows otherwise; in the first half of each verse, that is done by putting the syllables that move off the reciting note in bold. In the second half, italicised syllables show the initial movement, and bold shows the stressed syllable to be sung to the rising notes (the mé of méis in the first verse).

The words are sung as they would be spoken: that is to say, the rhythm follows the rhythm of the words, not a metrical beat.

Psalms are normally sung antiphonally; one half of the schola singing the odd verses, the other, the even verses. Traditionally, there is a fair gap at the mid-point of each verse.

There are psalmtones for each of the 8 tones; and most of the psalmtones have several possible endings (the Liber shows 9 different endings for tone 1, all being variants on the notes for the final word, méis, ending on re [as this one does], fa, sol  or la.)

Personally I love the simplicity of the psalmtones*.  Given a good schola, a good acoustic, a few candles, and a bit of incense... the whole ensemble transports you into a place of solace, peace and light.  But you will have to imagine that.


* The simplicity is deceptive! They are hard to sing really well. Listening back to my attempt, I notice that I stumble over some words, and that the intonation is wobbly in places. I plead tiredness!

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