Vintage Solesmes

I ran across this because it was in the “suggested videos” after the Ave Maria video JT posted earlier. It’s the monks of Solesmes, on full-length LP, recorded in 1930. It’s a fascinating contrast, given the evolving understanding of Gregorian chant performance practice between then and now.

Two quick observations which I don’t have time to expand on:

  1. The program of the LP is odd by contemporary standards- it’s a somewhat random collection of chants, instead of a curated playlist based on a complete liturgy or centered on a theme.
  2. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the style of the singing seems indicative of the era it was recorded in.

Chant and Unity

People with political opinions annoy me. There, I said it.

(No, this is not going to be a blog post about politics… so hang on for a minute.)

I have political opinions. Of course I do. If you don’t know what they are, and want to, you can friend me on Facebook and ask me. You might even be able to deduce a lot of them by reading through my old posts. I try not to post too much about my political opinions, but since they are an integrated part of personality, you could possibly piece them together if you knew much about me.

So I guess it isn’t people with political opinions that annoy me, because that would be almost everyone. (Almost everyone annoys me. QED. Okay, that might actually be accurate.) But what I really mean is people who define themselves and tribalize themselves based on their political ideology: We over here have the right opinions about [ insert controversial political opinion here ], and all of you who disagree are not just wrong, but grossly immoral and probably stupid, too.

Why am I talking about this?

Politics divides. Personally, I have deleted or hidden whole swaths of people from FaceBook because they just can’t stop rattling on about how some other group of people are “the enemy.” (And if any of you reading this are nodding your head in agreement, while at the same time thinking, “Yeah, those [people of a specific political party that isn’t my own] are so annoying…” – You’re part of the problem.) Even when politics seems to bring disparate groups of people together, it is only a marriage of convenience- a temporary alliance to defeat a common enemy. Do you really think that Fundamentalist Evangelicals and Traditionalist Roman Catholics are not going to go back to their centuries-long mutual hatred and distrust for each other if their current political goals are ever acheived?

At this point, you either have seen my next assertion coming from a mile away, or you are seriously wondering why I have been allowed to start posting at the Chant Café…

Music unites.

Now wait a minute. There are musical factions, too- aren’t there? There are the so-called “Style Wars.” There is the apparent divide between the Traddie Alliance (CMAA, Chant Café, NLM, CCW) and the Progressive Empire (NPM, PrayTell, GSGP, the Big 3).

Yeah, whatever- I don’t buy it. Those are disagreements among friends. Sure, they are heated sometimes (people around here really care about this stuff), but they are still more like the arguments and debates typical of an extended family gathering than they are the scorched-earth tactics of politicians and ideologues. In fact- the most heinous and divisive conflicts I’ve ever seen within the “religious music community” are the ones that are fueled by underlying (or perceived) political dispute. (“The only reason you advocate [type of music I don’t like] is that it supports [political idea I’m opposed to]!”)

No it isn’t some utopia, and no we don’t all agree on whatever. And maybe my perception is totally off here. But what I have noticed is that, with a few exceptions, people tend to like, or at least love, each other.

But this isn’t The Music Café, a blog about how Music Is The Universal Language, and Love Is The Key. This is the Chant Café.

Good. Because, though I believe that music generally has this ability- I have seen that Traditional Sacred Music (chant, and its associated idioms) has a special capacity for the type of unity I’m (doing a bad job of) describing.

For example… I have expressed, both on the forums here and at my own blogs, ideas and beliefs that I hold which are heterodox. People disagree with them, and don’t mind saying so (and I don’t mind that they do). But I have yet to have someone say anything like, “your opinion is not welcome here.” And when those same people who call me out on my “wrongness” find something that I say to be helpful or edifying, or find one of my own compositions or hymn texts to be worthwhile, they embrace the idea or the work on it’s own merits (and me, on our shared Christian identity) without any implication that even my good fruits are somehow tainted by my heresies.

How does one explain this? What is the root cause of this apparent agape?

Call me silly or naive, but – actually – I attribute it to the music itself. To the qualities of a body of music which is inherently Sacred, Beautiful, and Universal.

I wish I could attribute it directly to, say, the teachings of the Gospel. And I do believe, of course, that the ethos of Christ’s teaching and ministry underlie the music native to the Church He founded. But lots of people “love Jesus,” and still manage not to get along with each other.

So how or why does the music succeed where the direct teachings often don’t?

Or rather- how does the music manage to instill the essence of Christ’s teaching and the call for unity so evident in the New Testament?

Chiefly in this manner: God is the source of Peace, Unity, and Beauty. (Along with, you know, everything else). It is these three qualities of God (among the infinite range of qualities) that are best expressed by Gregorian Chant and Sacred Polyphony (among the almost infinite range of human creative endeavors).

Perhaps liberal folk music best expresses God’s Justice. Perhaps African-American spirituals best express God’s Freedom. Perhaps Praise & Worship music best expresses God’s Simplicity. Perhaps metrical hymns in the vernacular are the best way to instill doctrinal knowledge. Perhaps. Perhaps.

Who knows? I don’t know.

But I do know this: We live in an age notable especially for its strife, division, and ugliness. Of all the attributes and gifts of God which we can begin to describe- Peace, Unity, and Beauty are the ones most severely lacking expression and embodiment in modern Christianity.

The music that best expresses these truths must be allowed to flourish.