Sunday, 10 March 2013

Is it worth putting Gregorian chant music into the vernacular?

I have just spent three hours trying to put a Swedish version of Mass XVII for Advent and Lent, into the correct Gregorian chant notation, using the Meinrad font sets. The music is in the new Cecilia as items 516 to 518.

Cecilia, as mentioned in a previous entry, uses a flying egg notation which is not only exceptionally difficult to read, but also wipes out the nuances of the music. The choir noticed this the moment we started to sing these pieces. The sound was dead.

The deficiencies of the new Cecilia is very apparent in the settings of the Latin texts, especially to anyone familiar with the conventional four line/square note system. Musical vandalism, one might say, but it easy enough to get hold of Gregorian chant in the traditional notation. But so far as I am aware, the Swedish settings have never been done. So the job is possible, the music becomes easier to read and the use of the system would lead to a better standard of singing.

Whether it is worth the effort is another matter. It is clumsy compared to the original Latin, and since everyone knows what is being sung and are meant to know it anyway, what is the point of doing the Ordinary of the Mass in the vernacular?

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Four-line rearguard action

The much improved appearance and clarity of neum notation in a setting of text is apparent in this new publication of the English Mass by the Church Music Association of America.

Friday, 8 February 2013

The curse of the flying eggs


Here is a comparison of the beginning of Credo 3 in traditional Gregorian chant notation and in modern notation, both to the same scale. The upper example is from Plainsong for Schools, first published around 1930 and the lower example is from the latest edition of Cecilia. It shows how the traditional notation illustrates the phrasing and rhythm of the music in a way that the round-note style does not. The porrectus in "omnium", for instance, is replaced by three spots, which lacking even the indication of a tie which would help to emphasise the fact that here is a group of notes belonging to a single syllable. It is also slightly more compact, making the words easier to read and saving some paper into the bargain.

The comparison also demonstrates the superior clarity achieved by putting the music on a stave with four lines instead of five. The notes are larger, the spaces between the lines are bigger, and four lines are easier to read than five. A further benefit of the Gregorian chant notation is that it does not forced people to sing at a particular pitch. They might want to start on F or A, not on G, as shown here. Choirs will normally choose their pitch by agreement, and what they choose can be determined by the state of the voices which is affected by facturs such as the time of day or even the weather.

Ugly on the page
And not the least of the objections is that it just looks ugly. The angled spots look for all the world like eggs flying across the page.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Software for writing musical scores

I have been asked to produce some musical scores. There is a piece of free software called Musescore which works well enough for music written to a time signature, once you have learned how to use it. But it does not work for chant or for chant-like music written in free time. I spent the best part of a day trying to get it to work. I discovered that there is a lot of discussion on the software's bulletin board but it does nothing more than refer to various work-arounds, none of them easy.

Which means that the simplest option is to copy scanned versions of texts that are out of copyright or to compile sheets from scans that are then pasted into a word processor.

If the music is not available, then there are fonts such as Meinrad which can be used on an ordinary word processor, and if all else fails it can be written out by hand. They also take a bit of getting used to and work in different ways, so it is worth trying various ones.