There is today a complete concensus of opinion on all sides that good chanting is primarily good reading aloud; that the rhythms of natural speech are as essential in the singing of Psalms and Canticles as in the saying of them without music.
The notes of a chant tune have no time value of their own apart from the rhythm of the syllables to which they are sung. The chant has no fixed rhythm of its own to which the syllables are adapted, and all of its measures are of constantly changing length, sometimes of two beats, sometimes of three, sometimes of only one weak beat. The printing of a chant with a whole note for each recitation is purely conventional. If a recitation consists of only a single unstressed syllable (such as "and" in the second phrase of Gloria Patri), the note sung should be only as long as the unstressed syllable well read. If, on the other hand, a verse begins with a long recitation, such as the second verse of Venite, the whole note represents the unhurried reading of nine syllables, with their natural stresses only, and no other accent whatever.
The notes of the two cadences do not indicate the slightest break in the smooth natural reading of the words, or the slightest addition of a musical measure accent to the natural stresses of good reading.
Failure to achieve good chanting is failure on the part of the choirmaster to teach the two primary principles of chanting, which are these:
(a) The pace of the reading is the same in both Recitations and Inflections.
(b) All stresses are merely those of good reading.
A sound method of teaching these principles effectively is as follows:
Have the choir read the words of the first verse of a Canticle together, distinctly and naturally, giving the sense. Repeat, if necessary, till the verse is well read. Then let them read the words in monotones, in the same rhythm precisely, and with the same stresses.
The organist should then play the chant, preferably with the first note of each part a half-note, not the conventional whole note, as written.
Then have the choir sing the verse in precisely the same rhythm, with the same stersses, and the same care for giving the sense.
A Canticle thus learned, or rather re-learned, verse by verse, will not readily disintegrate into the old careless reiteration of a fixed mechanical rhythm unrelated to the meaning of its words. Good chanting is just good intelligent reading, in musical tones.
The pointing here used is a careful revision of that previously set forth in the Hymnal and by the Joint Commission on Church Music. The principal change is in treating the Mediation as a semi-cadence, without the characteristic doubling of the Ending. One, two, or three syllables may be sung to its final note. The final note of the Ending provides for one syllable only, except in the words thanksgiving, handmaiden, forefathers, and night season.
The signs used for pointing in this book are as follows:
(a) The upright stroke | precedes the first syllable of either Mediation or Ending, and is occasionally repeated after the first rhythmical foot of the Ending.
(b) The syllable in bold-faced type is always sung to two notes of the chant.
(c) The dot · is placed after, and sometimes before, two syllables to indicate that the second is to be sung to the same note, repeated with the same time value, as the first.
(d) The dash -- indicates the omission of the Reciting Note in the three verses where it occurs on p. 741.
Breath should be taken only at the end of a line; in verses 5 and 6, p. 742, lines run over. A comma in a line is observed by slightly prolonging the previous syllable.
Be careful not to stress weak opening syllables in a line; and to sing a weak final syllable lightly and quickly.
All passing notes have been eliminated from the music, as involving a time element foreign to good chanting.
The method of singing Gloria Patri is illustrated below.
From The Hymnal (New York, 1940)
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