On Chant and Church Music

A lecture given at Corpus Christi Church ,
for the Friends of Liturgical Music at Corpus Christi Church, October, 1995

Good afternoon. It is a great pleasure and a very great honor to be asked to speak to you today on the the role of music in the liturgy, since this is a subject which has interested me for nearly forty years, and because Corpus Christi Church, since its foundation, has dedicated itself to maintaining a very high standard in liturgical practice. If I stand here, and talk in particular about music in that liturgy, I feel I am living out the text of a hymn I remember from the Congregational Church of my youth:

"We give Thee but Thine own, whate'er the gift may be, / All that we have is Thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from Thee."

Music has a way of sticking with you, and I think that is ultimately why it is practiced in church. Since we are human, we put feelings, thoughts, observations, or religious doctrines into words, and it is the experience of humankind, "the memory of man runneth not to the contrary", to use my father's legal phrase for it, that if we rhyme these words, or sing them (or both!), we remember them with the power of our entire mind, and not just with our logical capacity.

So that you will have an idea of what my experience has been, what I remember first and best are some Sunday School hymns: "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so", and "(Come ... come ... come ... come ... ) Come to the Church in the Wild Wood"; then some phrases from "The Souls of the Righteous" in the splendid setting by T. Tertius Noble, who was organist at St. Thomas Church, phrases from the middle of the piece, where the melodies seem to strive towards a climax: "They shi-i-ine, like sta-a-ars, a golden galaxy-y-y", and "O fairest liberty, O fairest liberty". This, of course, is music for the choir, but I expect that many in the congregation knew and loved those passages well, since they are very striking in dynamics and harmonic color, and are skillfully followed by a repeat of the refrain of the piece, hushed, and set rather low in the voices, "Souls of the Righteous, in the hand of God." And, of course, Brother James' Air, a very pretty tune for the 23rd Psalm. Who could forget that?

But what is the role of music in this liturgy? There are really many different musics which meet here on a Sunday morning, and I am not thinking now primarily of the different styles of music you will hear if you come to the Spanish-language mass and then stay for the 11:15. The new Catechism of the Catholic Church [c. 1994] has it at no. 1158 that "The harmony of signs (song, music, words, and actions) is all the more expressive and fruitful when expressed in the cultural richness of the People of God who celebrate. Hence 'religious singing by the faithful is to be intelligently fostered so that, ... the voices of the faithful may be heard.'" And heard they are. We, in the 11:15 choir, know well the powerful congregational singing which comes from the 10:00 mass, because we must sometimes bellow pretty hard to compete with it in our rehearsal, and we are downstairs and in the next building! This is a parish which knows how to sing, all parts of it, and we should be proud of that. St. Augustine said [in Enarrationes in psalmos, 72, 1; v. Catechism, no. 1156] that "He who sings, prays twice". Here, I think, the congregation often scores a triple, or even a home run.

But let us now think just of the many musics which meet in the 11:15 mass, since that is the one we are particularly concerned with today, and the one I know best. There are the hymns which everyone sings together to organ accompaniment. Here, you are in the process of learning what the Protestants have known for four hundred years: congregational singing is fun, if you throw yourself into it lustily enough, and I know I certainly do enjoy roaring these things out at the top of my voice on a Sunday morning. Then there are the psalms, which we generally sing responsively, using the so-called psalm tones. There are congregational responses, such as the "mystery of faith" response, and the Lord's Prayer, which is a chant everyone sings together. Then there are the motets which the choir sings, which are generally polyphonic. These are the 'musical feasts', whose texts are usually taken from the psalms, or from the biblical readings, or from traditional prayers or hymns, or some devotional text. There are the Mass ordinaries, which we sometimes perform in the motet style, that is, the choir sings them, and sometimes we use one or another of the many chant versions, which makes them congregational, as well. And, at points of highest honor, introducing and then concluding the consecration, there is the music which belongs to the celebrant, also plainsong, music which is sung in the name of, or on behalf of, everyone present, but which no one else may sing. Out of all of these types of music, I would like to focus for a while on the chant items, taking for a particular example an antiphon which is actually part of the Tenebrae service for Holy Saturday, and then move on to consider for a moment the more complex types of music. I want to use my chant example, and then my polyphonic example, to point out just where and what the music really is (in a way, how simple, and how crystalline it is). In other words, what kind of an object is a piece of music? How does it work to enrich both the individual and the communal experience? How can it help us picture, and understand, and thereby learn better, the elements of the sacred story?

After all these years, I have many thoughts stored up on the subject of music and the liturgy. But there is one I feel particularly strongly about, especially in the context of the Latin rite, and given the state of society today. So, if you take only one thought away from this talk, then let it be this: that in the chant, the Church has a music which is the property of no ethnic group within the Church, and because it does not belong to anyone in particular, it does not exclude anyone, either. The chant should function and be honored, it seems to me, as one of the simplest and best methods available for establishing and confirming the universality, the catholicity if you will, of the Church. It is interesting to note that the chant, as we know it today, could be called French or Swiss. But I doubt any living member of those nations would ground his or her ethnic pride or consciousness in Gregorian chant. In our day, the chant is a simple music, or at least, a music with many simple pieces, and close to the Latin, which still functions as the guarantor of the unity of the liturgy. It doesn't sound like Mozart or Beethoven, it doesn't sound like Taverner or Tallis, it doesn't sound like Gounod or Schubert, it doesn't have a Latin beat, it doesn't sound like Judy Collins, it isn't African, it isn't hip-hop. For that reason, it can't seem overly lyrical or dramatic, it cannot be taken for an incomprehensible wash of choral sound (much as I do love that, as you can well imagine), it cannot be heard as dripping with Romantic sentimentality or emotion, it cannot be mistaken for an emblem of any of the ethnic groups which comprise society today. But what it is, is: close to the story, the action, the text of the liturgy itself, and so it can be of special help in bringing us around to a particular consciousness of that encounter with God; before whom, if we think about it, we must all stand, like Moses, with our shoes put off, because the liturgy really is just such an encounter. The encounter with the Holy is holy, and here we are all equal.

If you look on the handout sheet, you'll see the score of the antiphon "O Vos Omnes". It tells you which notes make up the melody of the antiphon, and in what order they come; also where each syllable fits in the melody. I use that long paraphrase, because I want you to realize that, contrary to our normal way of speaking, what you are looking at is not "the music", it's just, if you will, the instructions. There isn't any way to look at the music. It has no corporeal existence. The antiphon belongs to the Office of Lauds for Holy Saturday, where it functions as the refrain for the last of the five psalms, the 150th. This is a psalm of great rejoicing, and it puts a curiously expansive and positive ending onto the third Tenebrae service. The 'saddest' or most solemn part of Holy Week, from the death of Christ on the cross to the beginning of the Easter Vigil, is drawing to a close. The antiphon ties the psalm to its liturgical context. "Oh, all you who pass by the way, look, and see if there be any sorrow like my sorrow." The words are Jeremiah's, they have come up before in the Holy Week liturgy, and the reference to the crucified Christ is unmistakable. It doesn't happen to be congregational music, but there's nothing hard about it. Let me sing it for you, and you can follow along.

Music example: O vos omnes

(antiphon, Liber Usualis, p. 776B)

Well, we've said a bit about the text, and about the liturgical setting. Where's the music? The reason I want to ask this question is, that if we can isolate the music in this little antiphon, it will help us see how music itself works in a sacred liturgical context, and why it is so effective. One way to begin is to ask, "What strikes you?" For this observer, the most striking gesture in the antiphon is built around its highest note, which is used for the word 'attendite'. This will not be true for all listeners; some might focus on, say, the way the melody circles around an important note at 'si est dolor', or has a very long note at 'videte', or the way it dips down at the beginning of 'qui transitis' and rises at 'per viam'. The tune has a majorish sound about it, because it is a G-mode tune, but the relationships of the pitches to each other are not those of the modern-day major mode. Instead, the tune seems to be constructed out of two fourths, one running from C down to G, the final note, and the other running from the same C up a fourth to the high F. (A fourth is four notes of a scale in a row, or the 'distance' from one of the endpoints to the other one.) Here's the fourth between the C and the G (Phrase1) And here's the fourth from the C up to the F. (Phrase2) The tune, as it were, shows you one way to establish a relationship of these two fourths to each other. The first phrase exposes the lower fourth; the second phrase opens this lower fourth up at the bottom and the top (this is one of the striking places I mentioned above), the third phrase moves you first into the upper fourth ('attendite'), and then returns you to the lower one ('videte' is really just the two endpoints of the lower fourth); and the final phrase reexposes the two main notes of the lower fourth, first the upper one, by drawing it out (this is 'dolor'), and then the lower one, by sinking down to it. My point is that that is the music. There are really just the relationships amongst the available notes, and how the tune organizes and presents them. There is no dictionary in which you can look up the meanings of these intervals, or these musical gestures. Instead, what is important is made clear entirely within the music, by the context, by how it sounds against the background of what has come immediately before: the low note at 'qui transitis', the rising at 'viam', the high notes at 'attendite', etc. And these points, or whatever strikes you about the musical shapes you hear, then become a place to which you attach all kinds of meaning. This piece of music may appear to the individual, to each individual, to be the perfect expression of an emotion, but the emotion, in all its richness, power, and detail, is the listener's; what the music is, is a bundle of energies and relationships, nothing more than a sort of an analogy carried out in sound, to what might go on in the minds of those who pay attention to it. Sacred pieces of music are really just special cases of music, and we involve ourselves with them in exactly the same way as with other pieces of music: we find meanings in them. But the way that we interact with music can be of particular benefit in the sacred context, because we are able to form very strong idiosyncratic attachments and associations with the music, yet these strong personal flows of thought and feeling do not divide us as a congregation; rather they are taken up into a higher unity, because they are all occasioned by and point toward, the same thing, the piece of music at hand.

What, after all, is a piece of music? While I was in graduate school, I took a seminar in music aesthetics, in which we read the Polish philosopher Roman Ingarden on the subject, and the following discussion, indeed this whole lecture, is based on his work. [Untersuchungen zur Ontologie der Kunst, Tübingen, 1962]

A music work is a funny kind of object. It has no independent existence. It isn't: the score, which is just, if you will, a recipe. Nor is it any individual performance. It exists only because three classes of people pay attention to it, or have paid attention to it. First, the person who invented it. Second, the people who perform it, and, third, the people who eventually listen to it. And yet, it is not the same thing as whatever the composer, or the performer, or the listener may be feeling, or may have felt, while engaged in creating, or performing, or listening to it. What a piece of music is, in the Western tradition, is a series of interrelationships created by and amongst sounds, intentionally arranged by the composer, committed to writing, and then performed with the score as the starting point. Another way to describe it, would be to say that it is a stretch of time made concrete, almost palpable, by this kind of interaction of tones or sounds. There is no lexicon in which you can look up the "meaning" of any of the little phrases which make up our antiphon. And the tones and the arrangement of tones don't really contain emotions. Instead they interact (and I would like to coin a word in this context, and say that they 'interreact') with each other, in the minds of those who pay attention to them, and so you come to have an understanding of them. The tones and the interrelationships there form really only an analogy to something, such as an image from a text, or from the world, or a feeling, or a change of feeling. They are not the same thing as that image or emotion, they just seem to strike us as having something of the same kinetic energy, direction, motion.

Recently I heard the New York Times music critic Edward Rothstein on the radio. He is a student of mathematics, and has a new book out on music and mathematics, called Emblems of Mind. [New York, 1995] On the radio, he described a piece of music as a miniature world, as a demonstration of connections and relations, that are first of all entirely within the piece. Where it seems expressive, it is really by analogy, and it is particularly fascinating because it seems to be a self-teaching abstraction, wherein longer-term exposure actually creates understanding.

I must say that creating such an object is an activity of genius, one may also wish to say of genesis, and that this process, and the processes of paying attention to it and 'getting into it' as well (i.e., listening to it), are not at all well understood. Perhaps the analogy lies in the way the brain processes the different types of information, the real emotion and the understood musical symbol for it; they do seem to feel uncannily similar. I think the best way to say it is that music doesn't mean, it goes, and that going can function as a symbol for the world beyond itself.

See, then, the curious thing that results. The work of music exists, and affects you, as you pay attention to it, and this is true for all who participate, though for each in his or her own way. So this musical object, to which we all pay attention, also functions to create a substantial link between and amongst our subjective selves. It actually creates, precisely in its lack of autonomous existence, an intersubjectivity, in which our minds are almost directly linked together, yet what we have in common, is really just this spot of musical activity, this bodiless crystal, to which we are all paying attention. What we are each making of it, can be really quite different, and of course, we will doubtless be 'simply fascinated' (or quite repelled!) by what we find there.

Let me say this yet another way. Because the musical work is a created analogy, whose recipe is the score, it follows that it is one [a unitary entity], with some kind of a general aura, even while the psychological processes related to it are multifarious. It is therefore not the same thing as the observing, reflecting Self in the world, nor is it something with an independent existence, coming into the Self from the world outside, but it really is best characterized as intersubjective, closely related to all the Selves involved, yet different from them, and in effect able to interrelate them, because it is analogous to all, yet different from each, requiring input, attention, participation from each at every stage for its existence, yet not the same thing as any of these individual inputs. The musical work functions as a touchstone, in whose contours we find parallels for all kinds of mental material from our experience, yet these contours are expressed at a level of very great abstraction, so they can function equally well for large numbers of very different people. A certain commonality is thereby created.

We have spoken of the ability of a piece of music to seem to capture a mood, or to symbolize a gesture. Curiously, the most powerful forms of music, or at least the forms which strike large numbers of people as powerful, are likely to be not the most articulated, differentiated types. These blow small numbers of people away, and leave everyone else cold, or else they offend by creating the impression of intrusiveness. This is often the fate of Wagner's music. No, the most powerful examples tend to be the simplest and the most general, and I would put our antiphon forward as a good example of something really quite simple, but one which can provide food for thought, literally, to large numbers of people.

For even this little piece offers many different places where something happens that is striking enough that someone may notice it, and that is all you need. We have already listed several such. Or, considering for the moment, different people, who have all felt drawn to the same place in the tune, the associations they bring to this place will be completely different. Have I in my life cried out, or heard someone cry out in great pain? I could perhaps read into that melodic ascent the impression of a great cry or wail. Have you been walking to work 'On the Sidewalks of New York', and walked past abject and defeated misery, which stands there, or lies there, in silence? All the world passes by, and absolutely nothing happens, except that the situation presents itself for observation to anyone who cares to allow himself the moment's reflection it requires. That would put a different coloration on the notes that form our little ascending melodic gesture, which, as music, is purely music -- a searching out of the highest note, still within the octave of our mode - and take them, perhaps more accurately, back to their liturgical context -- 'look, and see'.

All these places are marked out in the music by purely musical means. They happen as a lowest note, a highest note, a note approached in a strange or striking fashion, a turning around a pitch, or a note lengthened, but utterly devoid of ornament. These moments happen quickly, and they are what they are because they have been put into that musical context, that is, they stand out for purely musical reasons. But it is we who fill them with meaning, guided by the liturgy, and drawn from our experience. Their emotional impact actually comes from us. And that is why they can symbolize, and help create, that unity in diversity which is what a worshipping congregation is. I really can not know in a physical, emotionally convincing sense, the meaning for you, of some bit of thought which you attach to 'attendite', and you cannot intuit how the scooping down at 'qui transitis' has an emotional import for me. It strikes me as a particularly intense oratorical device, indicating that something important is coming: the reference to the street, the call to look and see. But the liturgical context guarantees that we do not have to understand each other's pictures of these things. What we recognize there, each in his or her own way, is an aspect of the Sacred Story, what one might call the cost of salvation to the Author of salvation. The liturgy itself, and its texts, make a group of us. This would be true if we simply recited the texts. But using the musical resource gives us an extra tool to make more vivid, more telling, both the liturgical occasion in which we participate, and the original scene, the eve of a Sabbath, a roadside near a city, a wooden frame, and a lonely, painful, and shameful death, which we call to mind, and make present again, by telling the story once more in this manner. The music helps us to borrow our own emotions, which are widely varying in content and focus, and fuse them into the story, so that what results is unity, and not discord.

You may ask, "isn't all of this simply a philosophy of any kind of Christian sacred music, or even of music itself? Is there anything about this which is specifically Roman Catholic? I think there is, and I would explain it this way. We began by thinking of the chant as a music perfectly emblematic of the Roman Catholic Church, though other branches of the Christian Church, particularly the Anglican or Episcopal, can also claim a very great closeness to this type of Western medieval monophony. And, taking a single piece of chant as an example, we spent some time thinking about what a piece of music, a musical object, is, and how it can take the individuals sitting in a church service, and help to weld them into a congregation, by giving them a common point of attachment and activity. I believe that this ability to create an interrelationship of people can be particularly important for sacramental, liturgical churches such as the Roman Catholic, because the idea in the liturgy is really quite a challenging one, particularly for members of the "me" generation. I would express it this way: that we do not come together here on a Sunday morning to have a blast praising God. That would leave the focus, after all, on us, and in us. The Church does not believe, if I am correct, that "where two or three are gathered together, something wonderful is sure to bubble up." It has to be a gathering in the Name of the Lord, and it is the ordaining of the text and action which is the guarantee that it will be the Lord, and not the opposing party, who will be present. With its liturgy, in which almost every word is specified, and drawn from one part of the Bible or another, or from the liturgical tradition, rather than from recent writings, the Church seems to be saying that we come here to encounter God, in His mighty and salvific acts. The new Catechism of the Catholic Church begins with this idea, that "God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness, freely created man, to make him share in His own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man..." [no. 1] We are to encounter Him, in the lesson readings, and in the liturgical action itself. The reaction of the believer (sometimes also the implicit voice of Jesus) is bound up in the liturgy through the frequent use of psalm verses; at the introit, between the lessons, at the offertory, at the communion. And it isn't my individual reaction, as I stand here today, but rather the generalized individual voice, who is the speaker in the psalms. "Behold, God is my helper, and the Lord is the support of my soul". This is the text of one of my favorite introits (and, yes, if you do them a few times, you do come to have favorites).

Music example: Ecce Deus adjuvat me (first two phrases)

(introit, Liber Usualis, p. 1016)

It is really as we spend a lifetime hearing, learning, singing these pieces, that they come to full fruition, bearing both their sacred liturgical grounding, which keeps us all oriented in the right way, and the gradual accretion of the emotional content of our individual lives, which will be different for each of us. The music is helpful in this liturgical encounter with God precisely because it can help us feel and understand both our side of the encounter, and, to the extent such a thing is possible, the divine side. God remains both mysteriously other, and utterly immanent and immediate, and the liturgical combination of text and music helps us experience this mystery, though it does not at all explain it.

And what is there to say of the music the choir sings? It's the same, only more so; music complex enough that you need to undertake training in music to perform it, yet still available to the congregation as a musical focal point. As we all know, and would never question in the field of popular music, rock, etc., you don't have to be able to perform a piece of music to know what it is about, to understand it, to identify with it, though I do think that one of the unacknowledged benefits of congregational singing is that, gradually and over time, it actually teaches you how to listen to music. It turns out that there is a very famous composition of our "O Vos Omnes" text, by the Spanish composer Victoria (it is actually a Respond, and not the Antiphon, so the text is a little longer, adding: 'Attendite, universi populi, et videte dolorem meum'; "Look, all of you, and see my sorrow"); it is a polyphonic piece, with a brooding, lamenting quality which to my knowledge has never been equalled.

Now the chant, to use the technical term, is monophonic (that is, the entire piece is melody and melody alone). Polyphony divides the voices by range, and has a different melody for each. It fits the voices together into what amount to chords (and here we stand at the entrance to an entire library of music-theoretical debate). Polyphony cannot be created or controlled without plotting the lengths of notes over a time-grid; in other words, the melodies are measured, or metered. This makes them harder to manage, though a child can learn to do it; in fact, childhood is the ideal time to learn how. This simultaneous combining of measured melodies creates the impressions of harmony and of shape or structure, and it is then employed to declaim the texts one might otherwise say or chant. Polyphony gives the composer many additional resources. You can use the resulting complex sounds for purely structural purposes (in other words, the harmony can tell you that this is the beginning of a phrase, or that this is the middle of a phrase, or that we are drawing to the end of a phrase or section), or, it can be used for expressive purposes, and in mentioning this, we bring up a musical procedure which reaches its apogee in the orchestral and operatic works of Wagner and Strauss, or Schoenberg and Berg.

Beginning around Victoria's time, there was a lot of experimentation in using the resources of polyphony to 'express' the text which is set. What does this mean? Usually it means one of two things: one either tries to create the effect of an enhanced oration of the text, thus one would pay special attention, in writing one's melodies, to the stresses and lengths of the syllables as they would be spoken, so as to create a coherent projection of the text, or, one tries to write melodies which seem somehow to picture what the text is talking about. Generally speaking, motets do the former, that is, they are intended to be serious and meaningful recitations of the text. There is a type of secular music, called madrigals, which tend to do the latter, to give pleasure to the singers, and any audience, by using gestures which seem to 'paint' the meanings in the text. The Victoria piece would seem to belong to the first of these two classes: it doesn't so much try to picture anything, as to bring the text to musical life. Accented syllables will receive longer notes, words of important meaning will be given striking settings (for me, the tenor upward leap of an octave at 'dolorem meum' remains the most striking of these), and, in particular, the harmonies of the piece are such that one cannot miss the earnestness and pathos of the situation. This is very important in our liturgical context, because, again, we are not trying to express a feeling that originates in anyone in the congregation. The subject here, as I said earlier, is the cost of salvation to the Author of salvation. But even here, while 'expressing the text', we find the same ambiguity of music, and in heightened form. For different performances of the same piece will bring out entirely different aspects of the setting.

Some years ago, I sang for a time in a different church, with a different director. We did this piece practically every year. We did it quite beautifully, and very dramatically. Its harmonies seem to demand it; the accents and lengths in the text are perfectly handled, perfectly composed. We roared at the congregation, 'attendite, universi populi'; we tried hard to use the long notes and descending melodies of 'dolorem meum' to make them feel the shame and the pain; we slowed down and grew hushed and quiet at the end, almost as if we were some suffering hero of an opera, saying "Non posso piú", "Mai piú, mai piú!" Not that this is wrong: it was very much the style of the conductor; the piece is, in all of its melodic restraint, very dramatic and oratorical; it seems stylistically consistent with the drama in sculpture which we find in the Bernini 'St. Theresa' statue, or with the architectural drama of St. Peter's Square itself. Clearly the motet is a product of an age of profound crisis, yet an age confident enough in what it believed to make very great statements, very great explorations indeed. And it still does not seem theologically wrong to me: the torments of Christ upon the cross are perhaps only faintly adumbrated by musical means such as these.

At Corpus Christi Church, we also do this piece quite frequently, and sometimes the whole choir does it. I was particularly struck by one performance we gave of it some years ago, using only four singers, one to each part, and using the somewhat high pitch range or tessitura in which it is notated. I was quite overcome, not by the management, the manipulation of the performance, but paradoxically, by its utter simplicity. To use a phrase musicians use, 'they just sang it'. Of course, the harmonies were still there, the long notes on the accented syllables, the descending melodic fragments, all those little 'hooks' and moments I love so much. What emerged, was an aura, an atmosphere, of desolation, utter, absolute, complete abandonment. Everything in ruins, all lost, nothing left, all in vain, utter darkness, complete emptiness. Do you recognize it? Isn't that just as much, perhaps even more so, the theology of Good Friday?

And how did the singers do it? By following the recipe in a very simple way. Of course, you do have to study singing a lot to be able to pull it off like that, to get your voice to the steadiness, simplicity, and clarity which make it to seem to embody so many things just by being actively produced. What effects did the composer put there? Really, just the mode, the melodies, the long notes, the harmonies. However he arrived at them, they are his analogy for what is behind that text. We, then, as performers, and as listeners, fill it in, and it will seem to have real emotional force to us because of our own experience, which we somehow mysteriously remember and relive, which is somehow awakened in us by the pitches, and by the rhythms, and by the harmonies. And the process is so quick and so intimate that it seems to us that these emotions are in the music itself, belong to the pitches, the rhythms, and the harmonies themselves, and not to us at all.

I would compare one of these choral pieces, whether it is sixteenth-century or not, to a panel from a stained-glass window: the choral piece, as well, is an image of one scene of the story we tell and enact here, although we 'see' it with our emotion and intellect, rather than with our eye. And it can change from week to week, so that all parts of the story can be made vivid for us in this way, whereas with windows, you've pretty much got to pick your dozen favorite scenes. I would also compare it even to a chalice, though on a lower order, for it does require specialists to create, and recreate, and it can become, in the manner I have described, the vehicle of a certain grace.

We do enjoy this old music. I think this is because it still seems right for the words, and because, a purely secular benefit or characteristic, we enjoy using our imaginations to think about the world as it was then, in which exactly this musical object was analogy the composer found. We seem to be presented with alternative modes of feeling to those we find around us every day. And we can take some hope from this, perhaps. We must believe that just as the world didn't always feel as it feels now, so it won't always feel as it feels now, and life goes on.

But we are not singing these chants and performing these choral pieces as an antiquarian exercise. If we do, our exercise will not be of long duration. Perhaps, after all, this music just came back to life for a historical moment, as an aspect of nineteenth-century romanticism, and has been sustained as an alternative to the difficulties of twentieth-century life. There is nothing I have said, in my view, which precludes someone from writing new pieces to perform this function of helping us sense, all at the same time, the nature, the transcendence, and the immanence of God. Just this morning, we performed one of these, a piece by Louise Talma on a text by Cardinal Newman, "O Lord, support us all the day long." We should be very grateful to Louise Basbas, for not only does she establish and maintain a very high standard of music making, but she is always looking for new things which meet those standards. What the Church needs, in any style, and what we have here, is breadth of vision and seriousness of purpose. With your help, we can, I think, help the Church to perform its function, which is, when all is said and done, to be the living body of Christ in the world.

And so, in so many ways, thank you! It has been a pleasure to have spent all these years here storing up these thoughts, and to spend some time sharing them with you this afternoon. May it long continue!

© Thomas W. Baker

Minor revisions made and musical examples and citations added May 27, 2006.

Tom Baker's Home Page