By John Davis
Come Sing Chant! After months of disruptions to life as we knew it, what are your priorities now?
Seize the moment? Live more healthfully, do things that matter, expand your horizons? Maybe have more balance, mindfulness, more moments to breathe? More peace? When our lives are upended, it can be a time to take stock. But also, a time to bring more brightness, optimism, and joy into our daily grind.
Here’s a quirky idea that supplies all the above: Come sing chant!
The melodies of the medieval monasteries have a soothing calmness that is a perfect complement to our busy lives. They are a treasure for all people, that can enrich your life, bit by bit, as you come to know them. And—speaking of expanding your horizons—you can learn to sing them!
If you’re someone who hums along with your earbuds, or sings out your favorite showtunes when nobody’s around, or an all-out singer who loves to use your voice, you will find these ancient chants engaging and intriguing. It’s a different kind of music than most people are accustomed to, but it touches people deeply.
This music is from the first millennium—ancient, contemplative, and profoundly spiritual. The tradition of singing it, through the centuries, has been strongest in the monasteries of Western civilisation. The words are in Latin (don’t let that scare you; it’s easy to pick up the pronunciation!). The melodies are flowing arcs of graceful sound.
This repertoire of medieval Latin chant (often referred to as “Gregorian chant”) is respected and admired by music professionals and everyday people alike. It has a level of artistry every bit the equal of a Bach or Beethoven, though the names of its composers have been lost to history. Its expressive and contemplative character resonates with sublimity and grace.
It’s no secret that singing is a wonderful activity for your body, mind, and spirit. Singing together with other people adds the dimension of being part of a team, maybe even making new and interesting friends. And think of the exhilaration of being right in the middle of the sound, bringing these melodies to life—and the challenge of mastering the subtleties and nuances that make these chants so expressive and noble.
On November 16, the New York Gregorian Chant Project is holding a community-oriented evening called “Come Sing Chant!,” animated by Lawrence Harris. Everyone is welcome to gather together to learn and sing a selection of short and beautiful Gregorian chants, interspersed with brief video projections giving a glimpse of its history, manuscripts, and artistic development.
You and your friends are all invited!
“Come Sing Chant!” takes place Tuesday evening, November 16, at 7:30pm at St. John’s-in-the-Village (corner of 11th St. and Waverly Place, Manhattan). Free admission. Masks and vax, please. For more info, please email: ChantProject@stjvny.org.
Lawrence Harris has been a visiting professor of Gregorian chant at the Catholic University of America, Washington, and Duquesne University, Pittsburgh. He has led chant seminars with many choirs and organizations including the Conference of Roman Catholic Cathedral Musicians.