Thursday, April 23, 2009

Gregorian Cleanup

The official 1000th hit on the Ranger is just in, from Wellington, New Zealand. As we did not engage Sitemeter for the first couple of months, it is not literally the 1000th, but there is still something very satisfying in seeing the number go up on the board, so thank you Reg.
We've been quiet for a week, for three reasons. One, to let me do some work on the second part of a short story that used to be called "To Hunt the Lions", and is now "Innocents Aloft", and two, to give me time to improve my grasp of Gregorian theory. (I was pretty sure THTL was merely a working title.) The modes, of any sort, ancient or modern, have always struck me as one of the best combinations of hornet's nest and spider's web that I know of, and now as I dig into them, I think I have discovered why, or perhaps, more accurately, have found more evidence that confirms what I had already suspected: they too are taught as if they were not really a branch of mathematics.
And three - and this may be the most important 'off road' journey - I've been reconnecting with an old schoolmate who does me the honour of enjoying my fiction. Grizzly went first, then Hemingway in the Kootenays, and I suspect The Filly will follow. I may be sparking the writer in herself, you see, and the teacher in me broods at his desk long after the classroom has emptied and the students gone home.
But back to the subject of the title.
Perhaps a month ago, MT discovered a thirst for Latin, and started laying in study resources offered on the Net, like the litanies of Saints available in both that language and English, some common prayers, like the Our Father and the Hail Mary, that she wanted to memorize in the old tongue. This led to a decision to start researching the availability of Gregorian manuals, that is, manuals with both the Latin text for the chants and English explanations that would help me understand the theory behind the music, especially now that I've been making the numbers work so well in the study of the scales we use now: major, minor, and blues.
I don't mean to say that Gregorian has ever been a problem for me to sing, once I got used to a couple or three intervals it seemed that I'd never run into before, because when I started, 1n 1959, there were available all manner of texts which laid the chants down in ordinary treble clef on a five line staff, just like any other sheet music, and I'd been able to read a single melody line for some years. Also, from the very beginning, Shawn's voice was right beside me, so it was hard to go wrong. So I sang away, quickly appreciating, for one thing, that all those forward vowels in the Greek Kyrie were just the thing for warming up head tone. When people complimented me on my voice, I could only think of how all those masses, especially in Saint Margaret's in Ocean Falls, had perfected resonance.

And now it is Sunday noon. We're just in from one of the longer strolls, recollecting that as we
poked along the old Burlington Northern right of way, once upon a time my father-in-law's responsibility, I was thinking about the above words, wondering if I would ever use my voice in the cathedral again. The choir, such as it was, opened with one of the good old hymns, but it was too fast, so I was not given any grace to sing it, and it was down hill after that. Am I totally on strike until they start bringing back the Gregorian, once they realize that when all else fails we should read the directions? Wellington Reg has sent an awfully pertinent hint in that direction, by passing on the link to a column by Los Angeles Times music critic Michael Hilkitz. Hilkitz was writing about pianist Glenn Gould's retirement from the concert stage for the sake of recording. Perhaps I should pull a similar stunt for the sake of chant, and I don't mean chant in English.
It is quite impossible to mount any argument against a moderate use of the old language, and the more I think about it the more I see this as the only route by which to return the music to a genuine liturgical quality. Hundreds of years of spiritual and musical genius produced an absolute treasure while the last decades have produced literature whose only real effect is to ruin voices, if not souls.
However, it must be said that I think that those who have been teaching chant theory, which is based on all that argumentative stuff about the modes, have bungled the math part. Amongst Marianne's downloads I discovered a booklet by a religious sister, from the 50s. To a point, it was quite nicely organized, and for that I was grateful, as I am still by no means clear on all the ins and outs of modes process. But I am also very clear on the absolute necessity of letting the numbers be numbers. The booklet was clear on letter names and solfa names for the degrees of the different modal scales, but then she tried to teach us that we had to let the numbers follow those identifications, and not let them simply count out the steps from the beginning as they were meant to do. Thus, in the D mode, D must be one. Singing or playing it as two because D comes after C is counter-productive, misses the point, and simply turns the number into a letter, thus eliminating the necessary opportunity of letting a number be a number. Did this good woman simply never learn the first rule of metaphysics? A thing is, and must be, what it is.
I know she was not alone, and wrote in defense of a common error, because long ago, teaching in Terrace and anxious to find some reliable rules, I ordered a booklet from - I think - Collegeville, Minnesota that said the same thing. When learning the C scale, the author said, it would be helpful to call C one in the major, and then capitalize on this scheme by calling A six when learning the A minor scale. This gave me one hell of a headache, until good old chords and the one, four, five prinicple came to mind. It was not a good idea to retrain myself or anyone to think of A, D, and E minor chords as six, two, and three.
As they say, a little learning.
And yet the music world is full of it, both secular and the other kind.
Nice to be going to war.


cabbage ears said...

So with great angst we must suffer the reversal of the pure. Yes, then the war must go on. Keep up the good fight. But then again...robins still sing in the spring and all else will eventually correct itself. I do not doubt greatness. Peace.

Southview said...

Ken, it has been my experience that man has a tendency to embellish the "WORD" in each proceeding translation. MT may want to study HEBREW and read the original text! What do you think?

the kootenay ranger said...

As a contemplative, MT has already read the original text, that being the Word Himself.