Pittsburgh and Chant

I’m writing from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a town I’m just getting to know, and I’m wild about the place. What strikes me immediately is the remarkable range of architecture, materials, and styles used to make this place, all created over a very long period of time, all delightfully lacking in evidence of central coordination but somehow all cohering in a spontaneous order. It is huge, industrial, complicated, and beautiful in its way – highly suggestive of history with technology from all times currently in operation, an impressive demonstration of intratemporal and intergenerational life that is all working together. The unifying theme is the working together of design and function.

It might at first seem to be an implausible home for the holding of the CMAA Chant Intensive and Colloquium. The setting is not monastic. It is not a city of gardens and natural beauty so much as a city in which the work of human hands is everywhere in evidence. But in the same way that chant, with all its transcendent and divine qualities, must ultimately be rendered by human voices singing in places built and maintained by human hands, it strikes me as a perfect place for these programs to be held. 

Like Pittsburgh the city, the chant which was similarly born across many generations. No one sat down one day and wrote the chants and codified them. They grew up alongside and integral with the Roman Rite, becoming ever more embedded in the ritual through trial and error and achieving stability and universality through use and function. We look at the entire body of chant and we are in awe of its sheer size. Sometimes we are intimidated by its scope. We know that we can never get to know it in a lifetime and yet we experience joy exploring every bit of it.

It is the same with a great city. The whole can be awesome and intimidating. Yet as we explore it and get to know small pieces of it each day, our appreciation intensifies for the whole. It seems ever friendlier by the day. We can move faster through it. We get to know the tricks of transportation, and learn where to shop and where to live. Eventually, if we live there long enough, we become natives, which means that it seems truly like home. It doesn’t happen all at once. No great city is immediately accessible. A great city is something that we get to know slowly, one fascination at a time.

Like a great city, chant is also something that will outlast our lifetimes. We have but a short time to participate in its living aspects, aware that we are surrounded by the ghosts of the previous generations that experienced it and knowing too that how we handle our period of domesticity will have some measure of influence on our future generations will experience it. Both chant and Pittsburgh are filled with millions upon millions of stories, each one fascinating in its own way. Our voices and lives become part of story if we take on the challenge.

9 Replies to “Pittsburgh and Chant”

  1. This city is indeed beautiful — compared with its dirty past. But the guru tells me there is little in the way of Chant there, alas.

  2. Interestingly enough, Pittsburgh is becoming reasonably important in the world of *Byzantine* chant, at least. It is the home of the American Society of Byzantine Music and Hymnology: http://www.asbmh.pitt.edu/

  3. One can hear chant sung in Pittsburgh every Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m. at St. Boniface Church, home of the largest Latin Mass Community in the U.S.! If you're in the Pittsburgh area, join us!

  4. Indeed. All five propers and a chant or polyphonic ordinary are sung at the 11:00 Sunday Mass at St. Boniface. Mrs. Tallerico and I are lucky to be a part of it!

  5. I was just going to mention St. Boniface, but I see Mrs. Tallerico and Dr. Weber seem to have beat me to the punch. I am so grateful to be able to sing with the choir and I love hearing the men chant the propers each week!

  6. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by the (unaccompanied) chanting of part of the Ordinary–in Latin–at Pittsburgh's St Paul Cathedral last week. Not the first time I'd seen that, either… The enthusiasm of the congregation's singing of the chant was also quite striking.

Comments are closed.