Great new resource for your new Gregorian chant schola! Wherein Fr. Z also comments on pace.

Some people on the traditional side of things are demoralized because Pope Francis has a markedly different liturgical style from that of Benedict XVI. Some might wonder if it is worth trying to promote the provisions of Summorum Pontificum and try to get going celebrations of Holy Mass with the 1962 Missale Romanum.

I respond that Pope Benedict gave us juridical provisions, a great example, a pat on the head, and direction to follow. It is up to you.

You need to be willing to be patient and to work hard and to make some sacrifices. You have to initiate projects and gather people and be persuasive. You have to learn to do things and be self-starters.

For example, you can get a Gregorian chant schola cantorum going. Gregorian chant is not quantum physics or olympic level biathlon. Get some people together, open up the books, and start singing.

Here is useful tool for project.

I received an email announcing that Corpus Christi Watershed, the people who put out the spectacular Saint Edmund Campion Missal and Hymnal for the Traditional Latin Mass (HERE), now have available online the entire Extraordinary Form Graduale Romanum for Sundays.

You will find there, well-organized, the musical notation, videos of the notation with proper chants for every Sunday sung as the notation scrolls down and as English translation is displayed, the organist part (which I dislike – I intensely dislike chant with organ), and many of Sundays have mp3s that can be downloaded.

The creator wrote: “Now that the Sundays are complete, I will start adding the 1962 Holy Days, such as the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Feast of St. Joseph, etc.”

This will be a great resource for people who want to start a schola cantorum.  

I skipped around a bit and found recordings of the Monks at Trior were featured heavily.  You can’t go wrong imitating their style.  The rest seem to be strongly under the influence of what we might call a middle-period Solesmes style.  For example, in the videos I dipped into I don’t hear any “repercussion” (this is somewhat beyond what beginners need to get into).  Also, some Sundays provide more than one example of the chant being sung.  Pentecost, has three different recordings of the Introit.

It is good to have those examples.  They both help the timid or less experienced and they help the neophyte avoid two mistakes which are deadly to chant… prayerful chant.

We need to apply the Goldilocks principle when singing chant. The pace of our chanting must be neither too slow nor too fast.  It has to be – everybody together please – just right.

Chant is prayer.  It is the Church’s preferred sacred music.  The texts are sacred.  This means that they must be sung as texts and sung as if they were sacred.

If you sing the chant too slowly, you lose the sense of the chant, you lose the meaning because the chant, the text, becomes less and less understandable.  Yes, you have to understand what the text is saying.  You don’t have to be a Latin scholar to know that (though that helps a lot).  People in the pews have books they can follow, that is true.  But singing the chant too slowly risks breaking the integrity of the text’s meaning.  Try listening to an audio book at a really slow rate of reading. As you turn the pace down, it eventually becomes incomprehensible.

If you sing chant too quickly, you tend to retain the meaning of the text, but you put its sacral character at risk.  The texts are sacred.  They deserve respect and time.  They must not be rushed.  They must be savored.  Chant that is rushed has a nervous, jittery quality to it.   It lacks the essential quality: it isn’t prayerful.  The pace of a Mass must not be lugubrious.  Every Mass and every element of Mass must retain a sense of progress, of moving forward towards a goal.   When you tear through a chant, you might be making progress, but you lose the essential sacral sense.  Every word of the chants are the voice of the Church singing with Christ’s own voice.  Christ is the true Actor during Mass.  He borrows us, the baptized, and uses our gestures and song.

Here is an experiment.  I found on the Watershed site the famous Introit for today’s Mass: Iubilate.   I used a program to slow it down and speed it up.  I think you will find that the chant has quite a different sense depending on the pace.  Keep in mind that not all chants are sung exactly the same way.  Much depends on the text, the season, the moment of the Mass itself.  An Introit and a Gradual and a Sequence are different kinds of chants.  My point here is to demonstrate what a change in pace will do to any chant.

If you are wondering, yes, I have heard chant sung that slowly and that quickly.

If you pay attention to the meaning of the text, the moment of the Mass, the season, and the “feeling” of the actual Mass as it is being celebrated, with time you develop a good sense of the proper pace.  There is no exact formula for arriving at exactly the right pace each time.  Personal experience will be a guide, as well as the advice of the experienced.

In any event, Fr Z kudos to Watershed for creating this great new resource.

Novus Ordo… TLM… start making phone calls and get that new schola going!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. James Joseph says:

    The site has been up for about 4 years or so now….. if I am not mistaken.

    FSSP also runs a site for the Extraglorious Form of the Roman Rite replete with chants for the epistles and gospels… that one is sort of tough to find.

  2. OrthodoxChick says:

    I am musically illiterate, but I just came home from a secular local choir concert. They performed the music to the requiem Mass. They sang (not all of it sounded like chant to me, but I have a very untrained ear) the Introit, Kyrie, Domine Jesu Christe, Sanctus, Pie Jesu, Agnus Dei, Lux aeterna, Libera me, and In paradisum. All were done in the middle period Solesmes style that Fr. mentioned disliking. [Gosh! I don’t think I said that, did I?] The arrangements performed were by Durufle. The choir also did Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus.

    I didn’t care for the organ either. I had never heard chant done before with an organ. At the EF parish I attend when possible, the chant is unaccompanied. I think it sounds more like a prayer that way. But, that being said, I’ll take the requiem music I listened to today (performed in a Congregational church by a secular choir) over the Simon and Garfunkel tune sang during the Offertory at the N.O. Mass I attended this morning.


  3. Jason Keener says:

    Great post, Father. There is nothing quite as dreadful as Gregorian Chant being weighed down by an organ, no? I also agree that chant has to be done with a pace that is neither too fast nor too slow. I’ve suffered through both. To my ear, the schola in this YouTube video does a pretty good job with tempo in the Introit, which starts at 6:00:

    Chant has to be at the same time prayerful and alive. If too slow, the chant will lose its life and energy. If too fast, the chant won’t be prayerful. Also, chanters be sure to sing chant with legato in a smooth way, not being choppy and “notey.” That “notey” stuff can also destroy Gregorian Chant.

    Good luck!

  4. OrthodoxChick says:

    I must correct myself. It wasn’t Simon and Garfunkel. It was “Morning Has Broken” by Cat Stevens. Shame on me for mixing up my 70’s church singers.

  5. Therese says:

    “…a pat on the head.”

    Certainly warranted, given our rather childish behavior post-election. ;-)

    On the other hand, some have been in the trenches a long while and developed a whopping case of PTSD. Without them, we likely wouldn’t know where to begin–so a little patience (and gratitude) seems in order.

    It may surprise you to learn, Father, that a fellow sufferer of St. Paul’s Seminary, to be ordained in June, has managed to survive even as he publicly stated his intention to celebrate the Usus Antiquior. (I hear they did their level best to dump him, though. )

    Does you suppose this qualifies as a miracle? Which saint could we attribute it to? ;-) [A return to right reason!]

  6. Margaret says:

    Yay! Glad I’m not the only one that dislikes organ with chant. I think (amongst other things) it can tend to impose a strict beat on the music, instead of that fluid “pulse” it ought to have. And too slow can turna joyous antiphon into a funeral dirge… In my hopelessly uninformed opinion. :D

  7. RichR says:

    The SSPX Schola Bellarmina does a fine job of singing the Credo with organ accompaniment. I think that there are many ways chant can be enhanced by the pipes, if done well. If the church is heavily carpeted, a Schola has a tough time projecting into that acoustic “black hole”. As long as the organ is playing in a modal way and not trying to play “melody”, then things can turn out nicely. In fact, Corpus Christi Watershed did a huge project a few years ago where they raised funds to digitize a rare, Belgian collection of organ accompaniment to the old Roman Gradual. The Nova Organi Harmonia is a priceless collection of chant accompaniment that we utilize whenever possible. You can find it here for FREE:

    I’m a founding member of a Schola cantorum that started 10 years ago and is still going strong. We have relied heavily on Jeff Ostrowski’s CCWS site for inspirational chant, polyphony, and instructional material. You just can’t beat the quality there, and much of it is free. We sing from Kevin Allen’s Motecta for three voices, and it is so easy, yet so beautiful. I urge anyone seriously thinking of starting up a “garage Schola” like we did to give CCWS a serious look. With the internet, you can stand on the shoulders of giants without spending a dime.

  8. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    My own experience suggests that the size of the building and the acoustical environment also make a difference when deciding on pace. [Yes! True.] When we sang in a glorious Portuguese parish, we sang more slowly than in the small oratory we have now, which would fit comfortably into the sanctuary of the other parish.

    I think chant CAN be accompanied effectively, with the following caveats:
    1) Ordinary can be accompanied. As a rule, Propers shouldn’t be.
    2) Whoever accompanies them needs the musical sense of a singer, rather than a concert organist, for precisely the reasons you have suggested: the purpose is to support prayer, not dominate it; accompaniments which are examples of theory exercises rather than extensions of prayer can be unhelpful.

  9. KosmoKarlos says:

    OH WOW!
    that is slow!

  10. Blaise says:

    Fr, I agree with you completely on the speed, including that your base line should be a touch faster.
    If I were to hear a schola singing at the pace of your slowed down version it would turn my thoughts from God to throwing schola members from balconies. Definitely not conducive to prayer.

  11. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Great post, Father. There is nothing quite as dreadful as Gregorian Chant being weighed down by an organ, no? ”

    Actually, the organ was quite routinely used to accompany Chant from the beginning. [Blech! Not listening! LA LA LA LA… not listening!] Most Monastery organs were softer than the large Church pipe organs and there was no such thing as polyphony at the time, so the organ acted as a pitch reinforcer, which was good because most monks (and later, nuns) could not read music. There also was not a pitch standard, so the organ acted like a pitch pipe. There is also an acoustic phenomenon related to the shape of the inner ear that makes it difficult for one people to hear and properly reproduce the pitch. The organ helped provide feedback for them. [No Gold Star for you today!]

    Organ accompaniment faded out as polyphony faded in, so that by, oh, 1450 A. D., the practice had receded from view, but the practice of organ accompaniment is definitely mentioned in the early music treatises.

    As for speed of singing – if I had a music perception lab, I would run tests. [?!?] I am pretty sure that, in terms of neural processing, the trade – off between word-dominant and sound-dominant processing is non-linear and heavily influenced by language group. A study came out a few yeas ago that tracked the speed of a spoken language vs. the salience of each vowel combination for information transmission and Spanish had a low ratio of speed-to-information content (I.e., the language sounds very fast, but it does not have a high information density), whereas German is more centrist and English has a high ratio of speed-to-information content (In English, most vowel combinations are important and the language sounds relatively slow). Latin probably has a moderate speed, but high information density per vowel combination, thus, sung too slowly, the vowels dominate; sung too quickly and the information dominates. The more experience at decoding the language, the faster it can be sung, all things being equal. Given that early Chanters understood Latin by sound, but not in writing, my guess is that Chant was sung fairly in accord with two syllables per pulse beat. That would make it sound moderate, with occasional bursts of speed or retard.

    The matter of speed of Chant is contentious among musicologists. [It is. And the sooner they stop arguing and take my position, the better off everyone will be!]

    The Chicken

  12. The Masked Chicken says:

    difficult for some people…

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  14. wolfeken says:

    Masked Chicken — considering most of the Liber Usualis was likely composed several centuries before any monk ever encountered an organ, I question your statement: “Actually, the organ was quite routinely used to accompany Chant from the beginning.” [Alas, there were forms of organs in ancient Rome.]

    I side with Father Z and others who think Gregorian chant should not be accompanied unless absolutely necessary to sustain the voices of the schola. (And, I would go futher to say it should only be sung by men and/or boys in cassock and surplice, per Pope Saint Pius X, unless at a convent.)

    Good organists will focus on quality, not quantity. An amazing Bach toccata and fugue as the processional and another Bach toccata and fugue as the recessional makes for the perfect High Mass (instead of the usual protestant hymns). Maybe some lighter pieces after the offertory and communion chants are sung. Better to focus on that, organists!

    By the way, many thanks for this post — an inspiration for all men to form and sing in Gregorian chant groups around the world to upgrade the many mediocre High Masses (sorry, but true) and elevate the Low Masses too many parishes have settled for.

  15. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Masked Chicken — considering most of the Liber Usualis was likely composed several centuries before any monk ever encountered an organ, I question your statement: “Actually, the organ was quite routinely used to accompany Chant from the beginning.”

    No. The LU was written in the 1860 – 1880, if memory serves. Only Chants were compiled. The Solemes monks then tried to come up with what they thought were practices likely to have been used in the singing of the Chant. The LU says NOTHING about the use of organ. For that, one has to consult the music treatises of the period when the Chants were most typically used and written(8th – 14th Century) and they definitely report the use of (monophonic) organ accompaniment for at least some chant.

    Organs had a different sound back then. Most were fairly soft. Quit retrojecting Twentieth-century musical tastes to the Eleventh-century. Many things were different, back then.

    Here is a nice page of treatises that may be downloaded, but they do not contain the Tenth through Thirteenth-century manuscript tradition.

    Here is a page from the Harvard Dictionary of Music showing that accompaniment has a very old (even Biblical) precedent: HERE

    I would have to look through the Internet to locate the original Medieval music treatises and that would take some time (if they are available), but there is no doubt that Chant was, at least sometimes, accompanied by the organ.

    The Chicken

  16. MikeM says:

    There used to be a priest at my local parish who, claiming (probably correctly) that people were in too big of a rush to get in and out of Mass, would say everything so slowly that it was incomprehensible. It was horrible. No one was in sync for the Our Father. I had to strain to put the words back together at normal speed to process them.

    I tried to say something to him about it… About how I didn’t mind if Mass ran a little long for a good reason, but that I couldn’t understand anything. He gave me a lecture about how even my ears were in a hurry to finish my time with God.

    I had to start making sure I didn’t go to Masses that he said. He was, otherwise, a good priest, but the quarter speed speaking was just too abrasive and incomprehensible.

  17. wmeyer says:

    On the excellent Watershed site, there are also recordings with still images in which Mr. Ostrowski presents in intriguing detail his comparisons of the various damaged approaches to chant notation which have been responsible for some very bad interpretations. I read music, but not chant, and I found it hard to see some of the issues he presented, as I am insufficiently familiar with the jargon used for the notation. Nonetheless, it was a very impressive presentation, and increased still further my appreciation for what those good people have accomplished in the St. Edward Campion Missal and the hymnal they have published.

  18. wmeyer says:

    [Alas, there were forms of organs in ancient Rome.]

    And yet, better the organ than piano and drums!

  19. The Masked Chicken says:

    We know, for instance that King David accompanied himself on the harp (or kithara-type instrument – the kithara being Greek in origin). We assume that such accompaniment was monophonic. It has been years since I studied this, so my memory might be playing tricks on me, but I will see if I can track down the original Medieval treatises that show how Chant was performed with organ. Chant performance, by the way, varied regionally in some subtle and not-so-subtle ways. There wasn’t a real consistency to Chant until at least 1300 A. D. when the isorhythmic motets demanded it and probably not completely until after Trent.

    We are so lucky to have the LU. I don’t know if you realize just how much the recording of history has changed since the 18th-century and how records, in particular, have spoiled us. Back in 1580, you might be lucky to hear a particular Madrigal sung once in your lifetime. You might have heard a Montiverdi opera, twice. If you were in Spain, you might never even know that there was such a thing as German music unless you were well-traveled. The only musical constant was the music of the Mass. Everyone heard the Te Deum, the Pange Lingua, the Salve Regina and quasi-liturgical music was made available to choir directors, especially after Trent . It was only with the affordable editions of the early 19th-century that music became accessible to non-professional musicians. We have so much informations saved about ourselves these days, but very little understanding of what it all means.

    The Chicken

  20. AnAmericanMother says:

    One must be cautious with the organ – it’s too easy to just tank over the singers.
    But — and it’s a major qualification — IF you have an organist who is fully conversant with the instrument, is also well-versed in chant, and is able to adjust to the acoustics of the room and the singers . . . an organ in support of (not competing with or even accompanying) chant can be very effective.
    And yes, we are fortunate to have just such an organist. Although our organ is kind of old and cranky, so it’s sort of like watching Michael Schumacher tool around the Nürburgring in a ’75 Chevy pickup with one cylinder misfiring.

  21. The Masked Chicken says:

    Since I’ve wrecked my gold star for the day, I might as well ask the self-evident question: since organs were the only musical instruments allowed in monasteries and churches up until the late Medieval period, what other instrument could have been used to accompany Chant – if they had wanted to, that is? Maybe the harp, but good luck with that. They did exist, but rarely in monasteries, as far as I know.

    I’m sorry to be such a musical nerd, but Chant as performed, today, sounds nothing like it did in the tenth-century. For one thing, vocal technique was quite different. They would have killed to use vibrato, but such a technique was unknown. There weren’t even many treatises on vocal technique and certainly few if any female singers. Since children were sometimes housed in monasteries, it would not be out of the question to hear a chant sung in two octaves at a time. The vocal technique was not the full sound you hear on modern recordings, but fairly flat – try sticking out your tongue and chanting to give you an idea of what it would have sounded like, back then.

    The intonation was almost certainly Just intonation, which invalidates whatever sound of Chant most people know, today. Meantone tuning, a step closer to Just intonation, developed only in the late-Chant period of the 14th-century and was developed, primarily, for the organ.

    The organ was not what we think of, today. As I mentioned, above, most organs were portative organs – small, potable organs with either foot pedals or actual people pushing bellows. The keyboard was mostly a modal configuration with a separate B and Bb key, but no other chromatics (those developed when meantone tuning came in). The keyboard was, in fact, based on the modal system used in Chant, so the connection to Chant was pretty close. These portative organs were fairly soft creatures unless of the reed variety as opposed to the fipple type (pipes), in which case they could be pretty harsh. It is unlikely that the reed type organs were used to accompany Chant because of their twangy quality. The lightness of the early portative fipple organs would have matched very closely the vocal quality of the vocal technique of the period, so there is no reason to think that the organ sound would have stuck out. In fact, it would probably have been fairly indistinguishable from the voices.

    Fr. Z. is correct, certainly, that modern organs have no business accompanying Chant, since their acoustics are completely different than the types of organs used in the Medieval period and they do not reflect the vocal style used in modern Chant practices, either. Early monastic organs were portative – small organs of limited range that could be moved from place to place. The first fixed organ was made in 1361, the Halberstadt Church organ – the first to probably have a full chromatic keyboard arrangement. It was one of the earliest to use meantone tuning. Many other tuning schemes developed for the organ after that.

    So, given how closely the voice and organ matched during the period when Chant was being developed, why is anyone surprised when I said that organ was use to accompany Chant from very early on? They went together, very well.

    I said nothing in my original comment about the use of the modern organ with Chant. Alas, the modern organ and modern Chant have diverged to the point where they no longer compliment each other very well. When I invent my time machine, I will be sure to go back and record the sound of early Chant practice. It sounded nothing like we think of, today. The match between organ and voice, back then, would be comparable to putting a modern classically-trained tenor and a modern solo cello, together. Very compatible.

    Does that let me off the hook or should I look over my shoulder for the, “organ harvesters?”

    The Chicken

  22. AnAmericanMother says:

    I mostly agree with you, but not here . . . I think you’re selling our ancestors short in the music department.
    From 1504, you had music publishers like Petrucci printing gobs of music, and selling it all over Europe to the new bourgeoisie who had money to spend and spent a good share of it on music. Classic after-dinner entertainment was singing or playing instruments out of the new part-books – the literature and art verify this independently.
    By 1580, you had had at least 150 years of the Franco-Netherlandish musicians — from Dunstable (yes, I know he was English but he spent a lot of time in France) to Dufay to Ockeghem and Josquin and Isaac — trotting all over Europe and back, laying the foundations of the International Style. You didn’t have to be well-traveled yourself if you had Josquin hanging around your Italian parish, or Heinrich Isaac bringing the Netherlandish music to Germany. Then Palestrina and Victoria and Tallis and Byrd refined and clarified it — all over Europe.
    Of course, all these composers were looking to chant to inform and guide and give structure to their sacred music. So if I were a parishioner in Huckley-in-the-Mire and heard a Palestrina motet (quite likely as many of them are suitable for very small parish choirs), it would sound comfortingly familiar.
    Records have done a lot of harm, by the way. Thomas Edison predicted it would be the death of music performance, and in a way he was right. There never used to be a “one correct way” to perform a given piece of music, that attitude has impoverished us a little.

  23. The Masked Chicken says:


    I am aware of the Petrucci settings. By most people, I meant most people – the poor, not the wealthy, who could even afford their own musicians. Performances were not recorded, so the common man had much fewer resources to hear the new music than the courtiers. When you speak of Bourgeoisie of this period, you really mean the courtier class, not the bourgeoisie who were more like the upper middle class of 150 years, later. What really flourished during the early Renaissance period was folk music, especially instrumental music (the consort idea was the rage), especially experimental instrumental music. As for the part books of the early Renaissance, they were very expensive and virtually unobtainable, today, except in microfilm reproductions. I did a bit of part-checking for the Lully critical edition and everything was done in microfilm.

    “By 1580, you had had at least 150 years of the Franco-Netherlandish musicians — from Dunstable (yes, I know he was English but he spent a lot of time in France) to Dufay to Ockeghem and Josquin and Isaac — trotting all over Europe and back, laying the foundations of the International Style.”

    What they were laying was the foundation of the modern scale system and what would become Rameau’s Basse Fundamentale idea of classical harmony. Yes, France and Italy were fashionable musical countries, but not so much England after Dunstable – I know you might disagree, but, there it is – the isolation of England from the Continent kept their musical sound trapped until the later Renaissance. Tallis and Byrd had a lock on the music publishing business (by arrangement with Queen Elizabeth) and it stalled, since their compositions weren’t selling and they were forbidden to import any music from the Continent.

    The Italian madrigal was all the range through the early 1620’s, but these were mostly performed by professional singers, not by the home singers. Musical instruments were what really developed in the home, with the lute becoming the genteel instrument for young ladies. Songs could easily be accompanied on that.

    There was, as is well-known, as resurgence in interest for things of antiquity during the Renaissance. This did not affect vocal music so much as instrumental keyboard music. Ironically, Latin, the ancient language, did not make a come-back except in ecclesiastical practice, as the vernacular became increasingly the language of song.

    As for Chant informing the music, yes and no. Popular forms became separated from Church style during the Renaissance and became well-known. This situation was uncommon in Medieval practice, which, while having folk songs, were not recorded until the Troubadour and Trouvere traditions developed in France. Yes, there was a type of popular music, but it depended, mostly on the Chant tradition, since musical scales related directly to chant, so it was impossible to escape the connection. In the Renaissance, as I mentioned above, it was the major scale system that enabled folk music to escape its connection to the Church, so popular music was not, necessarily, beholden to Church music in the Renaissance, but, again, this only slowly tricked down to the common man, but trickle down, it did.

    The Chicken

  24. The Masked Chicken says:

    Oh, I have a comment on the organ and chant that puts my earlier remarks in context. It is in moderation.

    I never thought i would get yelled at for connecting organ and chant during the Medieval period. I said nothing about modern practice, you know.

    The Chicken

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