Saturday, October 07, 2017

Chant is good for you

Monks of the Desert in New Mexico

I had no idea they were using the Chant. And they seem pretty good at it. (Though I noticed at least one harrrrd American "arrr" in the Kyrie that jarrrrred a little...)

It does seem to be all the rage now to record monks chanting. There has been lots of commentary on the irony that though these chants are often still vigorously banned in churches with the word "Catholic" on the door, the CDs always shoot right to the top of the charts. The Le Barroux sisters have one, the Benedictines of Ephesus in Missouri have several. The Norcia monks did one. Every single one rockets to the top as people are desperately trying to fill the hole in their souls that Modernia inevitably burns, including Ecclesia Modernia.

This isn't a new thing, by any means. (The fad for chant recordings, I mean, not the chant itself, obviously.) When I was a kid my mother had an LP of chant that I used to listen to a lot. And of course Hildegarde of Bingen had a huge following in the 80s (nearly all New Age feminists, but still...) The Monks of Silos made an enormous splash in the pop music world in the early 80s, and it was suddenly all the rage to have "spooky medieval stuff" in your nightclub noise.

I know there are "studies" out there that show the chant has a positive material effect on your brain.

Dr. Alan Watkins, a senior lecturer in neuroscience at Imperial College London noted that “the musical structure of chant can have a significant and positive physiological impact,” and that chanting has actually been shown to “lower blood pressure, increase levels of DHEA and also reduce anxiety and depression.” Similar studies also suggest that Gregorian chant can aid in communications between the right and left hemispheres of the brain more effectively, therefore creating new neural brain pathways.

Benedictine nun, Ruth Stanley, head of the complementary medicine program at Minnesota’s St. Cloud Hospitals also says she’s had great success in easing the chronic pain of patients by having them listen to chant. “The body can move to a deeper level of its own inherent, innate healing ability when you play chant. It’s quite remarkable.” In a 1978 documentary called “Chant,” French audiologist, Dr. Alfred Tomatis, related how he was called upon to help the monks of a Benedictine monastery who suffered from fatigue, depression, and physical illness. He found that they usually took part in six to eight hours of chanting per day but due to a new edict, their chanting was halted. When Tomatis succeeded in re-establishing their daily chanting, the monks regained their well-being and were again full of life. His conclusion was that Gregorian chant is capable of charging the central nervous system along with the cortex of the brain thus having a direct effect on the monk’s overall happiness and health.


That's probably true. Those medievals really knew a thing or two about that integral, holistic human stuff. Other people talk about the relationship between Chant and Math, and this also doesn't surprise me, since the medievals knew some stuff about math too.

I use Chant. I find it's better than Xanax and of course, I think God prefers it. I have a week's worth of the daily psalter; Laudes, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers & Compline, downloaded onto my computer from Le Barroux. I got used to singing very quietly along with the monks in the Basilica and doing that at home is rather a solace in exile. (Even though they're the wrong monks, and the French accents sort of stand out.)

Next step will be buying an Antiphonale. Fr. Basil says that's the one to go with if you want to learn how to read the little squares.

This guy, who I presume is a Chant teacher, has a huge bunch of recordings of the major pieces one uses in the liturgy. There are a lot of Chant recordings out there that are recreational, but this one is the only page I've found set up for serious use to learn the Chant for a liturgical setting.

The problem with these recordings, of course, is that they're set up for male voices. (Buddy above has a few set for female voices, but not many, and nearly all the recordings are of monks and male choirs.) I absolutely can not sing in the tenor range. I can do baritone transposed up an octave perfectly. (Thank you, Stan Rogers.) But when singing along with the men in the highest notes my voice just stops functioning entirely. No sound comes out at all. But bring it down to the monks' lower range and I can't manage it except for the highest bits. (Which is why I say I always sang along with the monks very quietly.)

You have to transpose the whole thing down to the Alto range for me. Which is why I'm going to have to graduate from the recordings to the book eventually. This is a terrible recording but you can certainly hear the difference.

I do rather wish those Benedictine nuns in Missouri would do some serious, less entertainment-oriented, recordings of the Office chants. These nice little songs they do are lovely to listen to but not much use in a practical sense.



James said...

So THAT’S why they play recordings of Gregorian chant in some churches in popular tourist areas—�to get the visitors to shut up. It seems to work.

Thank God for the Barroux monks piping their offices on the Internet. The Norcia monks used to do the same pre-terremoto. I don’t know why no nuns do it as far as I know.

Yeah the Barroux chants are rather French. I think the monks of Fontgombault sound better—�I don’t know whether it’s because they are so numerous or because their abbey church has ancient Romanesque vaults, but they are sublime!

It’s a shame they use a weird calendar—�a melange of 1962 and 1970—so it would be difficult to follow along with them. (For retreatants a dedicated monk pulls out various bits of paper with the day’s texts from an enormous cabinet in the cloister.)

I like opening my Diurnal and turning on the Barroux monks and knowing exactly what they’ll be chanting.

Laurel said...

I found a wonderful little app entitled, "square note" that gives the chant for Mass Propers in both forms, Kyrie and other chants. These are just the tones with no human voices. We were taught Gregorian chant in school ages and ages ago. I like to listen to these recodings just to hear and remember the familiar sounds.

Anonymous said...

I get the Benedictiness' newsletter and will write to them
and suggest/request a tutorial. Yes?

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Which Benedettine newsletter do you receive?

Anonymous said...

It would the one from the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, Priory of Ephesus, in Gower, Missouri. Mother Cecilia teaches all the nuns there to chant, and would probably be happy to teach others to chant as well, given the proper opportunity.

-mary ann

Anonymous said...

I made the request yesterday, online. If others made it as well it might help.

Louise L said...

Chants are usually only about an octave or so in overall range,so there really should be a comfy spot for both men and women to sing in.It's easy to find out where that is in a mixed choir. So it's a pity if the recordings you have don't match your range.

Banshee said...

Actually, there was a year or so when Vatican Radio was broadcasting some nuns chanting the Office.

The thing is, you usually get a huge number of wavery sopranos (the old ladies) in choirs of nuns. I suspect this doesn't have to happen, as the opera singer nursing home is full of strong old-lady voices. Rather, I suspect this is an artifact of early twentieth century vocal styles.

But I'll look around and see if I can find some female Office podcasts or recordings.