I don’t want this blog to become another re-posting blog, but I had to share this (more than hitting the “share” button in google reader) and say something about it. I only wish I could read chant notation to get the full understanding of his final paragraph. In my research on Messiaen, I’ve learned that he, like many composers, believes the only true organic music is in chant. In my experience from studying it and listening to it performed sung, chant is upwards pointing music. By that I mean music that is not concerned with style, context, or function, but solely about illuminating the divine.
I heard some chant performed by santa barbara’s Adelphos ensemble, in a concert of sacred music spanning many centuries. Their program opened with a good chunk of Gregorian and Orthodox chant, which to many peoples discomfort were not followed by applause. My friends around me were wondering why nobody was clapping, and at the same time they themselves were not clapping. I replied to them by attempting to explain that this kind of music does not request an applause. It doesn’t end with a dramatic authentic (or heck, even plagal) cadence in the tonic or dramatic ritardando, but with a simple cessation of line, just as when someone recites a bible verse.
The beauty is in how the words illuminate the text. In the link above, we see how a well crafted musical phrase can articulate realities of the christian faith. For this chant is quite fitting, as the single melodic line is crafted not into a particular style, but natural organic monophony. I love it when music, existing in our physical world, teaches us something of the divine.
We might say that this musical turn it is unexpected. A surprise. We have traveled a direction that we might not have anticipated. The singer even notices a near loss of breath. It is a subtle but powerful effect. If we follow Christ we must be prepared to go places that are unusual, places that do not fit in with our plans, places that are unfamiliar. But they always end in our true home.