Spanish Chant?

I have been directing the music for the Spanish Mass at my parish for the past six months or so. Being in the Southwest, it is not uncommon for parishes to offer a mixture of English and Spanish language Masses each weekend, and often Diocesan liturgies and the Triduum will be celebrated bilingually. This has been in many ways for us a reason to work to learn our common liturgical language of Latin in both the Anglo and Hispanic communities, so that when we come together we share a common sung repertoire.

When it comes to status quo liturgy in Spanish in the United States it would be an understatement to say that there is some room for improvement. In my time with the Hispanic community at my parish I have immensely enjoyed the opportunity to become more familiar with the culture and language, and have been amazed at how open people have been to embracing and exploring the Roman Catholic sacred music tradition.

In every Spanish liturgy that I’ve done, we have sung a Gregorian Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei, in a few different settings, a chanted Alleluia which is the same in use in the English Masses, and I have written a Responsorial Psalm setting for the Spanish Lectionary text of the day. To my surprise, the singers that I work with have picked this music up instantly. I cannot describe how amazed I still am about the open receptivity and musical intuition of the Hispanic volunteer singers that I have served with. I have three cantors who can sing the Responsorial psalm, complete with chanted verses, and they sing it well. I find it rather amazing. There is surely much to be said here about the apparent differences between this and so much of our common experience of introducing chant in Anglo-only parishes.

Here is the responsorial psalm I have written for this Sunday:

This is actually an antiphon that we have sung before, a few months ago. The English text that we are familiar with is “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

Not only did our young cantor sing this well, but so did the congregation, and without anything in front of them. There is much that can be said here about the genius of the chant tradition. It has a universal appeal to any culture, class or race, and the simple settings can be intuitively sung by almost anyone.

Here is an adaptation I have done of the Requiem aeternam Introit that I will sing for a Spanish funeral in the morning:

I actually found this Spanish text so much easier to adapt to the Gregorian form than many of the English texts I’ve worked with. English tends to get rather choppy with frequent strings of oxytones (accented single syllable words). But Spanish, being a Romance language, is a much more melodious language where words like “misericordia” and “enseñanos” et cetera are frequent, and can uphold the large sweeping phrases that are so common in Gregorian chant.

Dabbling in Spanish chant has been a very fascinating and surprisingly enjoyable endeavor. I wonder if there will be more of a need for this in the future. As we know, America is quickly growing in its Spanish speaking population. Will we be needing more Spanish chant settings soon for use in our parishes?


I also set the In Paradisum just now:

I think it actually works pretty well!

5 Replies to “Spanish Chant?”

  1. Please! Please! Please! Make this a project going forward, and please post some more info on Spanish chant. This would be so useful and important in my parish…

  2. Of course the number of oxytones in English settings depends on the translation used… A creative translator can work around the troublesome ones, leaving those that are relatively harmless.

  3. How much money would it take to complete this project? Complete only the introit set? Complete only the communion set?

  4. I just played a Spanish language wedding, and was loving the parallels between the Latin and Spanish. Are there any other Spanish chant resources?

  5. I also try to set Spanish (and English) texts to Gregorian Chant, so it’s great to learn about what you are doing.

    I assist in an Episcopal congregation that is close to 50-50 English and Spanish-speaking (mainly from rural Guatemala). We try to be bilingual in liturgy and the rest of parish life.
    Mother Paula is fluent or very-close-to-fluent in Spanish and is quite musical (before she went to seminary she had been a church organist/choir director). So to reach our culturally diverse congregation we use Roman Catholic Spanish language canciones, music from the Black Church, English-language revivalistic/evangelical pieces, and traditional English-language hymns from the Episcopal hymnal. And also Gregorian chant (though not elaborate antiphons).

    Keep up your heart-felt work for the people of God,
    –Fr. Bill Gartig
    Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, Cincinnati, Ohio

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