Thursday, August 10, 2006

A Gregorian Chant Handbook

William Tortolano. Paperback, 67pages, GIA Publications, G-6471, $7.95.

This short book provides the fundamentals of reading chant notation, rhythm, phrasing, interpretation, modes, psalm tones, and chironomy (direction). The presentation is clear and concise, and the book includes many examples.

There is also some information about Latin pronunciation that is very helpful. For example, on page 33, an example shows that one should "never take a breath just before a fresh syllable of a word." A second example, with the same phrase in modern notation, shows where a breath might better be taken to preserve the meaning. This kind of practical and clear presentation should be a great help in singers' understanding of singing through the phrase.

Tortolano believes that "a strong case can be made for singing chant in the vernacular," and he provides some examples of chant with English texts. But, he says, "any chant adapted from Latin to English must preserve the complete melody with the same number of notes. Adding or deleting notes disturbs the original rhythm..." Most of the examples are syllabic hymns such as "Creator alme siderum" ("Creator of the Stars"), but there is also the more melismatic "Vexilla Regis"

The final chapters of this helpful book address the sung parts of Mass and give some examples of chants from the Order (Ordinary) of Mass and some proper chants that might easily be used in our worship, such as Puer natus-the introit for Christmas Day; Victimae paschali laudes-the sequence for Easter Day; and Rorate caeli-Gaudeamus, using the same music for the introits of Assumption and All Saints (Rorate), and Advent (Gaudeamus), which makes this a very useful chant to learn.

As we are experiencing a renewed interest in incorporating some chant in our sung worship, this is a great resource for pastoral musicians. The affordable price would make it a useful book for choir members as well.