Gregorian chant with organ accompaniment? A new website.

As pretty much everyone knows now, the Second Vatican Council did not abolish Gregorian chant.  On the contrary, the Council required that Gregorian chant maintain pride of place among all forms of liturgical music.  This has been at best ignored for decades and, at worst, lied about.

Many groups are laudably trying to revive Gregorian chant.  Some are using the support of organ accompaniment.

In regard to chant with organ, and related compositions in that style, there is a new website which is garnering a certain measure of support.  I refer you to the Chabanel Psalm Project.

They claim some 700 liturgical scores for Responsorial Psalms, Mass parts, and Antiphons on their site.   Generally speaking, they are all based on Gregorian chant.

I am  personally not a fan of chant with organ.  Chant is just not that hard once you get into it for a while.  I have heard chant with organ in many places.  The principle reason to use organ is to keep people who can stay on pitch… on pitch.  That is one of the most painful things about poorly sung, or sung under the direction of someone who doesn’t know how to work to impress the need for pitch and intonation, actually listening to the chant being sung as you sing it.

Some argue that chant with organ actually becomes a new form of music.  Well.. maybe so, I don’t know.  I still prefer Gregorian chant without accompaniment.

On the site you read (and these are edited excerpts with my emphases and comments:

Verily, one might ask, “Why accompany the Gregorian melodies at all?

Three possible answers follow:

(1) This is, simply, a very common practice. [So are guitars and pianos for "On Eagle’s Wings" and "Gather Us In".  That doesn’t make it good.] If you ask people why they eat meat inside bread it never occurs to them to give you a history of the sandwich. They simply do it. [A truly silly argument.] …  Several authors claimed to hate this practice, but claim that they were forced by the sheer commonness of this practice to publish their own methods for accompanying chant! …  [So, the argument ehre is "Just give in because lots of people do it."]

(2) Under certain circumstances, organ accompaniment aids the singer.  [This is clearly true and it is a good argument as far as it goes.  However, it doesn’t say much about the desire to improve the singers and work toward unaccompanied chant.]

(3) For some chant (not every single piece in the repertoire) a well executed organ accompaniment makes truly gorgeous music. It sounds quite different than accompanied chant, but it is beautiful in its own way. [Okay… this is a far better argument. But effectively, you are arguing a change or modification of genres.] Comparing well-done accompanied chant to unaccompanied chant is like comparing a beautiful lily to a beautiful rose: pointless! [No… I don’t think it is quite like that.  It is more like comparing a "historic" variety of rose with the "modern" hybrid varieties of roses.  They are different, but clearly closely related.]  Both can be so incredibly beautiful. Oh, let us praise our Savior for both! [Well… perhaps the choir director.] The happiest memories of my life consist of listening to chant (mainly unaccompanied) for hours and hours, day after day, month after month, year after year. I can think of nothing more beautiful in this entire world than Gregorian chant. It is so beautiful words cannot describe it. However, this does not mean that chant with a good accompaniment is not beautiful. They are both beautiful. All hyperbole aside, [Thank you.] both are so beautiful that I am fainting [!] just thinking of the beauty. May God be praised for his creations! Domine Dominator noster quam grande est nomen tuum in universa terra!

You get the idea.  He is in favor of Gregorian chant, and with organ accompaniment.

In any event, you might look at that site, which is quite interesting.  There are links to historic editions, which are fascinating.  You will want to look at his material on the different schools of accompaniment. 

There are some audio clips on the site, but I couldn’t for the life of me get them to produce any sound I could hear.

The bottom line is that this site is promoting Gregorian chant.  That is a laudable project.  Take a look. 

It could be very useful for parish musicians.

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20 Responses to Gregorian chant with organ accompaniment? A new website.

  1. Jason in San Antonio says:

    Our St. Gregory’s Schola at Our Lady of the Atonement in San Antonio–the members of which are generally not very experienced–frequently makes use of the organ for an incipit melody (for pitch purposes) or for musical interludes if we need to lengthen certain short pieces. Our choirmaster/organist–the only one who has seriously studied Gregorian chant–will also play improvisational pieces derived from the chant we’re about to sing or have just finished singing. It is rare, however, for him to play simultaneous accompaniment with a true Gregorian piece.

  2. RichR says:

    The author of the Chabanel Psalms, Jeff Ostrowski, is a personal friend of mine. Our schola sang at his wedding, and I correspond with him often. His Chabanel Psalms are very easy to learn, and I can even play the organ accompaniment (not being a trained organist) with reasonable precision.

    As far as the hyperbole, you have to understand Jeff – he’s an extremely passionate person. He loves Mother Church and loves the TLM (check out his personal website: http://jeff.ostrowski.cc/ ). While passion may not sway the analytical minds out there, we’re talking about art. Jeff is well-studied in Gregorian chant and Rennaisance polyphony, and it shows in his CD’s that he produces.

    So, kudos to FrZ for helping Jeff refine his arguments for more efficacy.

  3. Henry Edwards says:

    Father Z: The “Chabanel Psalms” on this site are chant settings for the NAB/ICEL English translations of the Psalms in the Novus Ordo lectionary. It seems to me that “Gregorian chant” connotes Latin to most people. Wrong?

  4. David Andrew says:

    One can find more well-reasoned arguments (peppered with the likes of the above) at the CMAA website, “musicasacra.com.”

    It always gets uncomfortable (for me, at any rate) when things like the use of the organ for accompanying chant rises to such a level.

    I’d rather hear chant, in Latin, accompanied or otherwise, than be required to trowel out the endless parade of “ditties” I have to play week after week. To enter into this kind of argument (accompanied vs. unaccompanied chant) is so far afield from my realities that I can’t get exercised over it.

    I would only hope that those that advance these ideas would stay away from flowery language like, “All hyperbole aside, both are so beautiful that I am fainting just thinking of the beauty.” Let’s stick to musicological and theological approaches, thank you.

  5. Vincent Uher says:

    Jeff Ostrowski is an amazing talent and a treasure of the Church.

    The Chabanel Psalms are extremely well done and will no doubt be a stepping stone for some parishes to move toward the great treasury of chants and polyphony in the Catholic Church.

  6. Patricia Gonzalez says:

    Dear Father, I’m an organist and couldn’t agree with you more about accompanied chant. Using the organ might be OK to help the choir get the tones in their ears, but actually accompanying the chant is another story. (I’ve also heard chant with harmony — don’t get me started on that one!) From personal experience, I can tell you it’s true that chant isn’t all that hard once you establish the basic skills — but to hear some people talk. you’d think it was nuclear physics. Perhaps they’re scared of doing something new, or perhaps they want to stay in the Haugen-Haas underworld. In any case, give me chant over the folkie stuff any time!

  7. David Andrew says:

    Well, I didn’t proof my above comment very well, and there’s no “edit” button available, so let me clarify:

    My reactions are to what was excerpted from the website, NOT Fr. Z’s comments and emphasis nor those of the other contributors to this thread.

    Whew! Sorry about that, if there were any misunderstandings.

  8. chris says:

    Organ accompaniment was all we had in our diocesan parochial schools, growing up. After all, you had 8 different age groups to contend with in each school. Sorry to be a non-puritan but it is also lovely, esp. if desiring full participation of all voice types, untrained, who need guidance. It can hide a multitude of sins!

  9. Daniel Muller says:

    I am unaccustomed to accompanied chant by a schola. I just do not like the idea, especially if a real organ is not available. Plus the organist can sing with the schola if he is not otherwise occupied. (On the other hand, there are apparently people for whom it is a “tradition.” And they just like the idea. This is Jeff Ostrowski’s first point as I read it.)

    However, it seems clear that the music at this site is intended to be congregational. Frankly, when it comes to congregational singing, whatever works is fine by me (keeping in mind that congregational “rehearsals” before Mass and animateurs flailing their arms at the congregation and screeching through microphones actually do not work). In fact, the music director and organist should have various strategies for encouraging congregational singing when appropriate and possible.

    Mr. Ostrowski has always been kind and respectful to me. He has done yeoman’s work in several areas (vide his Proske project). How he expresses himself in one or two sentences is immaterial to me. Let us not be hypercritical of one whose heart and hard work is very much of the Church.

  10. Matt says:

    Father,

    I’m an organist every other week for the Ordinary form Mass and I play and sing hymns, varrii, or sometimes propers from the Solesmes books while I play the organ during communion and offertory. Its all me, I am the cantor and organist. Nobody complains, in fact I get compliments from the parishoners and the priests don’t say a word.

    I recently bought one of the Graduale accompaniment books to begin regularly working the propers into the offertory and communion times. We still sing the standard “We Celebrate” music and Mass of Creation as well.

    The first time I sang a chant at mass you could almost hear the air being sucked out of the room. But it made it a sacred space and people really appreciated it. It completely changed the atmosphere from the “Taste and See” feeling we ordinarily have.

  11. RichR says:

    Another factor to consider: the average American parish is plagued with carpet that severely curbs reverb. This can, IMO, kill chant that is unaccompanied (I know, I’ve tried singing in both settings, and there is a real difference). I’m sure Roman churches that Fr.Z. visits are well suited for chant, but over here, it’s like the architects were in league with the folk music people to create an entire, bland package to offer the pewsitter.

  12. TNCath says:

    We sing the many of the parts of the Mass in our parish in chant (Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei). The use of the organ to accompany our choir and congregation is very important to lead our people in the singing. I realize that unaccompanied chant is considered the ideal, but chant with organ is better than no chant at all. I’ll take chant with the organ over anything on a piano or guitar any day.

    I cannot help but mention that the organ is used to accompany the singing of chant in St. Peter’s Basilica for Masses and Vespers by both the Cappella Giulia and the Cappella Sistina as are the people’s parts as well. I can truly understand that for the longer, more involved parts of the Mass in order to encourage participation, but I do find it odd that even responses such as “Amen,” the introduction to the Preface and the “Deo Gratias” at the end of Mass are accompanied as well. The latter parts are certainly short enough and easy enough to sing unaccompanied.

  13. Pope Evaristus, Martyr says:

    Dear Fr. Z,

    I may be biased, since Mr. Ostrowski works at our Cathedral, but hey…

    I just wanted to say that your argument against organ accompaniment seems to be, “I don’t like it, therefore it is bad.” Mr. Ostrowski points out that, like it or not, it is a venerable tradition. So, it might be interesting to advance some scholarly arguments against it, rather than just saying it is bad because you don’t like it.

    Also, I want to say that I just spent considerable time reading through the entire article, and he actually seems to be against most organ accompaniments for chant (!) His point seems to be that organ accompaniments can be done quite well, by the right people. I know they are done well at the Corpus Christi Cathedral (we have a famous titular organist here: Lee Gwozdz).

  14. Stephen M. Collins says:

    Oh, where to start and where to end.

    Yes, I am biased for accompanied chant. It is what I grew up with – in the Rev. Carlo Rosinni vein. His is by far NOT the worst an organist can stumble onto. I can hear accompanied chant every Sunday on American radio broadcasts, and I won’t mention the network. It is really quite distracting, and even harsh sounding. (Maybe it’s the way they’ve miked it?)

    I have yet to meet Jeff, but we have been in touch for some years now. He provided me with a copy of “Nova Organi Harmonia”. (People have heard this from me before.) It is a truly remarkable book, and is to a great extent mirrored in his “Chabanel Psalms” accompaniment. While I occasionally use some of the Rosinni accompaniments, as well as a few of the LaPierre, the NOH has become my staple for accompaniment. My continuing to comment that it is strictly “modal” in its harmonic approach simply cannot present to you the beauty that it creates. In my ear it sounds like angel choirs singing along with me. Other historic examples of organ accompaniments have shown up on the internet recently, and I have down-loaded them to try them out. Frankly, the Rossini versions sound better in many cases. But it still is no match for the NOH.

    The history of Gregorian chant, and our use of it, seems to me to be akin to the Jesuits – they’re in, they’re out, they make changes, they get away with it, and it all becomes history. It had fallen into almost complete disuse by the time St. Pope Pius X began moving to reform the Liturgy. It was at that point that most of the accompaniments we are speaking of began. I believe that these recent generations of organist/composers did their honest best to enhance the artform, especially for the use in parishes without experienced scholas. And further that the NOH was the ultimate, the pinnacle of these generations work. It is at least in this aspect that it deserves the title of “tradition” (yes, with a small ‘t’). (continued)

  15. Stephen M. Collins says:

    What was the pipe organ used for when it became the instrument of the western Church? It was centuries before Buxtehude, Bach, Mozart, etc. The Office was only celebrated in Cathedrals and Monasteries – and that was the only place for hymndoy. The Mass had only Propers and Ordinaries, most of which had already been established melodicly for centuries. It is only logical to assume that it was used to aid the singing of whatever was being sung – almost asuredly Gregorian chant. What did they do, and how did they do it. And why don’t we know anyting about it.

    Here is my logical, non-academic suggestion: Any organist given the task of accompanying chant already knew the chant in depth. In the earliest of times, the “grand staff” was still experimental, if it existed at all. I’m convinced that the organist improvised whatever was needed, given the chant, the voices, and the building. Then why did he not write it down?

    I think the question is why should he have? He knew what he had done. It would take hours to write it out. And what would he do with it? He could certainly do it again, even making changes from the first time. He had not need of a printed copy. And there were no printing presses. And all of his fellow organists were doing the same thing, in the their own ways. And they weren’t writing anything down either! Nor were they looking around for hand-written copies from other organists.

    Now, I’m not saying that Gregorian chant was accompanied from the beginning. It wasn’t even “Gregorian” from the beginning! All I’m suggesting is that it IS a tradition, going back earlier that the 1950s, and even earlier than the 1850s. And that it is NOT an abuse, either of the music or of the Liturgy. As my mother told me when I first started learning to play an instrument: Music is not just the black ink on the white paper. It’s what we make of it when performing it.

    It is our job to do the best we can to make beautiful music to the glory of God, and to the listeners to take away from their experience of worship whatever they are capable of or interesting in taking from it.

  16. Stephen M. Collins says:

    One last argument, and I’ll go to bed!

    Much of our ‘modern’ Liturgy, we have been told, is from the earliest forms of the Litugy. Modern ‘liturgists’ have been beating us over the head with that argument for 40 years. Everything done long before the Council of Trent was to be adopted (and adapted), and everything since that time was to be shunned. The whole of Liturgy and music has been evolving all along, as has our culture and civilization. Most of us here in this area of the blogosphere think/feel that the experimental Liturgies post Vat. II are, at least partly, failures. Are we to let some people now rule that true Gregorian chant must reflect only the earliest possible performance practices, and shun any and all development over the last 1,000 years? Is that what Jubilaeum 2000 was all about?

    “Christus heri! Christus hodie! Christus semper!”

  17. . Ostrowski points out that, like it or not, it is a venerable tradition.

    No, it really isn’t venerable tradition.

    And I think my discernment goes a little beyond what you suggest.

  18. Pope Evaristus, Martyr says:

    “No, it really isn’t venerable tradition.”

    I guess my question, Father, is whether you have any arguments or sources to back up your opinions.

    I am 6 hours away from a Master’s in English Lit. On all my papers, the professors make me back up everything I write with a solid argument AND a source (a published author).

    I found this annoying at first, but now that I am a teacher myself, I see the wisdom in this method.

  19. Brukey says:

    Father, I understand what you are saying, and certainly unaccompanied chant is the ideal. Where I think Jeff is coming from is that the Chabanel project is, in some ways, a transitional project. In almost every NO parish I have been in, the responsorial Psalm is sung with through-composed verses. This is obviously a problem because it puts the emphasis too much on the music, and tempts many composers to change the approved text to an “inclusive” paraphrase (not to mention use saccharine-sweet melodies). For those of us who are trying to transition to something sounding more appropriate (Gregorian psalm tones, or at least tones derived from them, for example), the Chabanel project is a boon. Many of us are working for the reform of the reform at a place where, if we were to drop organ accompaniment for a congregational chant, we would be sanctioned by the pastor (which could be anything from a slap on the wrist to firing). It is a sad testament to the state of things.

    I’d also echo the poor acoustical qualities of American churches (no pun intended, please.) It is a severe detriment to the chant performed without accompaniment.

  20. Barbara Manson says:

    The chant style that inspires me most, both the singing
    and the organ accompaniment, is on the recordings of the
    Abbey of Fontgombault. The organ supports the Latin
    Gregorian chant in the most minimal way.
    If those accompaniments are published
    anywhere I’d love to know!
    Barbara, Director of a small but valiant TLM Schola