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I went to solemn vespers for the first time in my life last Friday and it was super awesome. I brought my liturgy of the hours book with, thinking I might need it, but they provided a card with the whole thing on it. Complete with some sort of music part where one word was underlined and it corresponded to what note to change to. So it was like "Lord come to my assistance" and "assist" was underlined because the pitch changed there.

So, my question is, since my breviary doesn't have that cool stuff in it, how does one learn how to do it? For both personal recitation and for leading small groups in it? Are the pitch changes solely based on the meter? And why do we switch people intoning the words every other line? When doing small group Liturgy of the Hours, we usually break it up into the paragraphs.

  • hi peter, you can download a free application of “Devine Office” from your iPad. The application has some audio. I use it for my personal prayer. I think you can download it too to mobile. – Kaylee A Feb 11 at 21:43
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I am glad you enjoyed sung Liturgy of the Hours.

The "music part where one word was underlined" is called the mediant, and the music changes accordingly with that word (or syllable). If you are working with a text that does not have the mediant identified (such as a common breviary), you determine it on the basis of meter and spacing. It is only possible to understand how to do this with accuracy once you are familiar with the tone. Usually praying often with a community teaches you how the community finds the mediant, and you naturally learn how to do it on your own.

A "tone" or "psalm tone" is a music setting for the Liturgy of the Hours. There are many different sets of tones and styles of chanting. These can differ based on geographical location, language group, religious order, or other factors. One common set of tones in the U.S. is the St. Meinrad Psalm Tones (which come from St. Meinrad's Benedictine monastery).

Different groups and psalm tones will also break up lines differently. The basic back-and-forth, two-party structure of the chant is called "choral recitation" (because choir-style seating has traditionally been used to represent the two sides). The simplest approach is to break up every other line, but it is more common to switch sides after each pair of lines, or especially after each stanza. The difficulty with the last option is that different psalm stanzas have a different number of lines, so psalm tones usually have ways of handling stanzas of different lengths, ways which often include a flex line that can be added for stanzas with a odd number of lines.

More info: Reciting Tone.

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How to learn to chant the Liturgy of the Hours?

One could say it would great to self learn how to do it. But that leaves the learner not knowing if the Chant is properly being done.

Thus, the best way to learn how to chant the Liturgy is to get some practical experience through either attending regularly a religious institution where Chant is being sung. Practice makes perfect, but it must be done regularly in order to do it proficiently.

Learn from those who are masters at it. Best bet is to join a choir that sings what you are looking for.

Your question begs to know whether you desire to Chant in English or in the Church’s official Gregorian Chant.

  • Benedictine monasteries such as Westminster Abbey (British Columbia) Chant in English in a rather proper and uplifting way. They also sell CDs of their liturgy in English. Listening to them would be quite helpful in learning to Chant in English.
  • Benedictine monasteries such as Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey (Hubert, Oklahoma) Chant according to the ancient Rites of the Church in Gregorian Chant. They too offer CDs for sale.
  • Classes are offered at the parish level to learn how to sing Gregorian Chant.
  • The best way, would be to sign up and take a course in Gregorian Chant according to the Ward Method, especially for beginners.

The Ward method of music education was created in the early part of the twentieth century to promote the use of liturgical chant by teaching children vocal music reading skills. Its author, Justine Bayard Ward, was a newcomer to the Catholic Church and to the field of education, yet her approach proved successful and spread throughout the United States, Europe and other parts of the world. The goal of this dissertation is twofold: to document the influences that led the author to write and promote her method, and to trace its origins from pedagogical and notational antecedents. The ancient tradition of choral training in the Church, Wards upbringing, her musical training and aesthetic inclinations, and her zeal in furthering the liturgical and musical reforms of Pius X fostered the ideal environment for the creation of the Ward method. Evidence shows, however, that the materials and procedures were largely appropriations of pre-existing ideas. For example, the work in sight-singing was taken from the Galin-Paris-Chevé school, which flourished in nineteenth-century France, and the educational philosophy originated from her publisher, Rev. Thomas Shields. Ward's mentor, Rev. John Young, S.J., had combined bel canto vocal technique with Chevé exercises and, under Shields's guidance, Ward reshaped it. Separation of musical elements, principally rhythm and pitch, and graduated exercises were key ingredients Ward inherited from Chevé. Students learned accurate pitch discrimination through daily sight-singing drills where numbers corresponded to the sung solfège syllables in moveable “do.” Justine Ward's contributions lie in skillfully incorporating the Chevé sight-singing drills, Young's vocal training, and Shields' theories of aesthetics and childhood development to attain her goal of teaching children music of quality. The repertoire consisted of classical melodies, European folk tunes, and Gregorian chant. The Ward method spread through several avenues. Catholic Education Press began systematic publication of textbooks in the 1910s. Leaders in Catholic education were won over by demonstrations led by Justine Ward. More importantly, the Ward method spread through teacher training courses. It evolved in subsequent publications largely due to her recasting the material to reflect trends in music education and newer rhythmic theories in Gregorian chant. - Justine Ward and the genesis of the Ward method of music education

Having seen the effects of learning how to Chant by using the Ward Method, I can give this my fullest endorsement. Although, it deals with the Latin, once it is mastered, the English counterpart is not an issue. All levels are taught and all age groups too.

As I say often to others: ”Once you have the method or rhythms down, you should be able to dance (sway) to the melodies regardless of which language they are sung in.”

Clear Creak Monastery occasionally holds these courses.

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