Monday, November 18, 2013

A Tale of Two Cantors


I've been attending Sunday Mass at St. Mary Major lately. The all-men choir is just tremendous and the preaching by the canons is top-notch. The Dominican confessors wait for penitents in the wooden confessionals that line the walls--and the penitents come. At Communion time the Franciscans emerge to attend to the distribution of the Blessed Sacrament.

For most of the Mass, propers are used, and of course the ordinary is chanted, alternatum with polyphony. It's like a Colloquium every week. But they sing the Responsorial Psalm, at least sometimes.Yesterday for the first time I realized that the Responsorial Psalm was sung by two cantors, and I didn't realize it at the very beginning. They were so well-blended, and moved together so perfectly, that if it weren't for two different timbres emerging from time to time, I would have thought it was a single voice.

I've seen the use of multiple cantors for Psalms before, at Religious houses, and I quite like it. It's not like the ubiquitous soloist that we have seen so often. Instead, 2, 4, or 6 cantors--increasing in progressive solemnity according to the importance of the feast--chant the Psalm in unison.