Friday, October 18, 2013

Full Immersion in Semiology

Alexis Kutarna (check out her blog Oh, for the Love of Chant) has spent the past week at St. Meinrad Archabbey at the feet of the inestimable Fr. Columba Kelly, OSB, student of Dom Eugene Cardine, in pursuit of the art of Gregorian Semiology.

I believe that Alexis already has two or three music degrees, and is currently completing graduate studies in liturgy, so she is certainly well-primed for the intensity of Dom Kelly's pedagogy. Here are a few of her newly found insights after just one week with him:

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!!!

Here's the full post.

I have said it before, and I will say it again: Anyone who is serious about Gregorian chant must find a way to learn from this 82 year old master. It's the opportunity of a lifetime.