Ain’t nothing wrong with chant

For the last several months at my regular parish (before Advent began), we sang the Gloria in what more than a few people might consider a bizarre way of doing this: without the organ.

Without any keyboard.

Without any accompaniment whatsoever, in fact; it’s a cappella.

That’s right, we’re chanting it. (And we’re using this version here.) And as long as the folks get out the sheet we’ve provided for them, they try to sing along. We don’t do a lot of chant at my normal parish, but it’s something I’m working to add more of for the choir.

There is one superbig reason that I have never had an issue with Gregorian chant: I do not have to play anything during them. I am a lazy organist, I know.

But moreover, chant has this tonal quality that’s just hard to replicate with hymns that have accompaniment. Here, listen to these Benedictine monks:

Yes, chant has many more uses than serving as the soundtrack for “Halo.”


But admittedly, there’s resistance from many corners when it comes to using chant. And also admittedly, these concerns are valid.

For example, Gregorian chant, in many cases, is tough. And it’s intimidating, especially if you rely on the organ to drown out your singing. Try chanting the octave-and-a-half range of the Christmas song “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”:

So that means you have some chants better left to the choir. (At my main parish, the choir will be chanting it for one of the Christmas season Masses.)

The other main complaint is that people don’t like it. And I’m sensitive to that. I’m not much for forcing people to do what they don’t want to do, and you can’t force people to like it either. But most people will join in chant without realizing it; after all, many parishes chant the Our Father, and sung responses during the Mass are considered chants. So I don’t believe this should deter churches from trying it.

I’m also not a proponent of the idea that chant is best. Chant is good. But a lot of chant is dreary or dull, so it’s not a panacea for all that ails church music.

And I still believe that a diversity of reverent, well-crafted hymns, whether ancient or contemporary, serves a parish much better. Should chant be a component? I definitely think so, and I think it’s more than worth it to try nudging extra chant into the proceedings at Mass.


One response to “Ain’t nothing wrong with chant

  1. Pingback: What I might be doing on my summer vacation | Pull Out All the Stops

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