Chants of a Lifetime | Sojourners

Chants of a Lifetime


The popular music world was abuzz in 1994 when a recording of music 15 centuries old (and recorded over the last two decades) ended up a big seller for the year. It just goes to show, a dead language can compete with the wacky lyrics of much of today's pop music.

This unlikely candidate for pop music success

came in the form of Chants by the Benedictine monks of Santo Domingo de Silos (Angel, 1993). Chants offers a variety of Gregorian liturgical chants, with the familiar rhythmless unison melodic line, as presented in worship by Benedictines living within a monastery in the northwest of Spain.

Dynamic in its rhythmic and modal diversity, this recording still exhibits the tensions of offering worship music in a conventional entertainment medium; it is impossible to separate sacred music from the monastic ritual that gave rise to its existence. Early music, as it is called, is a formula for devotion within the context of worship, not a faddish art form.

This point is underscored by Dom Jacques Hourlier in the recent and posthumously re-released Reflections on the Spirituality of Gregorian Chant (Paraclete Press, 1995). In it he says:

The chant is characterized by great simplicity. It never resorts to artifice. Dramatic effects are rarely employed, and never for their own sake. There is nothing contrived about Gregorian chants despite its elaborate technique.

And this basically is true of Chants: The individual chants, without the benefit of liner notes and without segue, are offered as a timeless and seamless garment. Seemingly the assumption is that the less you know about what is going on, the better off you are.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1995
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