How to Learn Chant - Part II
In part one, I went over some great resources for teaching yourself the basics of chant.
In this part I will review some resources that will be of use once you are ready to move beyond the basics and really get into chant.
Okay, so you have learned the different types of notes and know how to sing the Missa de Angelis, Missa Orbis Factor and Missa Primitiva. You also know some basic hymns such as the Ave Maria, Ubi Caritas and Tantum Ergo. It’s time to see what else there is in the world of chant.
If you want practical applications, I suggest that the next title you invest in is the Graduale Simplex. This volume contains the propers for the entire year… You don’t know what a proper is? Okay, quick lesson in Mass parts. The ordinary of the Mass includes the parts of the Mass that don’t change from week to week. These include the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei. These are ordinarily done at every Mass, hence the name “Ordinary”.
The “Propers” for a Mass are the parts of the Mass that are “proper” to a particular day. These include the Introit, the Responsorial Psalm, the Sequence (there are only a couple of these left), the Gospel Acclamation, the Offertory Antiphon and the Communion Antiphon. If you have never heard of most of these, don’t worry. Since they are the norm in the GIRM they are almost always overlooked at Mass because the options are much more interesting. >:)
The Introit is typically sung during the opening procession. The Responsorial is sung between the first and second readings, the Gospel acclamation is sung right before the Gospel, the Offertory Antiphon is sung at the Offertory and the Communion Antiphon is sung after Communion. The propers can still be found in the misalette and if you read them you will notice that they tie together a common theme with the readings. It’s really too bad that these are usually ignored because seeing how the same themes run through the psalms and the readings can really help in focusing on the main idea for the Mass.
Anyway, the Graduale Simplex contains the propers of the entire year in Latin in simple to learn chant. If you have a parish that wants to do chant and wants to do chant in Latin, I recommend this volume as the perfect parish resource. If you attend a Tridentine Mass and the standard propers are too daunting, I recommend the book Proper of the Mass (hardback or spiral bound). This book contains all the Sundays and feasts for the Tridentine Calendar as well as organ accompaniment for practice.
If you are ready to take the next step and go all out with the chant, the Gregorian Missal is the book for you. The missal is actually a real missal with all the readings and parts of the Mass for Sunday. In addition, it contains the chants for the propers. The propers in this book are not simple and you really have to have a commitment to learning them in a parish setting for them to work. Personally, I see these chants more for use in a religious community or in a parish by a schola and not by the whole parish.
The Graduale Romanum is the most complete book of chants for the Novus Ordo Mass. This book contains all the propers for all Masses as well as the ordinaries and a selection of hymns. The proper chants in this book are the same ones found in the Gregorian Missal. The Graduale also has three volumes of organ accompaniment for parishes that can’t let go of musical accompaniment for all singing.
If you would like the same type of book for the Tridentine Mass, the Liber Usualis (The Usual Book) is for you. This book contains all chants for the Tridentine Mass as well as the official Vatican instructions for chant singing in English from the 1950s. Whether or not you attend a Tridentine Mass, this book is the gold standard in chant books and should be part of your collection if you are serious about learning chant.
For those who want to really become proficient and be able to discuss the various permutations of chant minutiae throughout history, there are two essential books for you. The first is Gregorian Semiology which is a thorough historical study of the development of chant through the centuries. The second is the Graduale Triplex. The Triplex is the same book as the Graduale Romanum with the inclusion of two very old notations above and below the modern notation. This historical reference is important because chant notation didn’t start out as notes on a cleff but instead as notations by the choir master on a text indicating where to speed up, hold and slow down parts of the chant. Original chant notation looks a lot like shorthand instead of like modern musical notes and gives an indication of the proper way to phrase the music.