September 9, 2013 by lucieromarin
To the unaccustomed ear, Gregorian chant sounds something like, “ErrrrrrrrrER!errrrr…” which is certainly not everyone’s proverbial cup. Even so, I’ve seen or heard people moved to tears (of joy!) by amateur plainchant, exhausted, worn-out, neo-conservative roadkill saying of their first experience of traditional chant, “That was so healing,” mourners at funerals – in which the circumstances of death were too horrible to describe – saying afterwards, “I did not think that anything could make me feel better today, but that music did,” and non-religious visitors requesting religious instruction after their first experience of chant, with the words, “I never felt anything spiritual in my life until today.”
I’m not gloating about chant. Not everyone loves it, and bad organum is torture. My point is that it’s interesting to think of music in general, and the Church’s liturgical music in particular, as something other than decoration, recreation, or personal taste. It’s interesting to think of music as a healer.
I’ll tell you something interesting. The eight modes of Gregorian chant are said to correspond to the four temperaments, meaning that different lines will soothe or fascinate people differently, depending on whether they are predominantly choleric, sanguine, melancholic or phlegmatic. So, given that the temperaments are biological in origin, we’re talking about the power of music to reach the whole person, body and soul. (And this is why bad music is so bad, because it disturbs both body and soul. And this is why shop muzak is evil, and why those of us who have worked in retail should be given compensation for it!)
No, I’m not saying that if we play a bit of Gregorian chant then all our problems will melt away. I’m also keenly aware of the problem of finding said chant routinely available at Mass, and of the attendant problems of poorly-executed chant, or of well-executed chant accompanied by bad preaching, or by weird parishioners. I’m just saying that it’s pretty amusing when you rehearse an antiphon in Mode IV, and suddenly all the cholerics around you sigh, saying, “Oh, I really like that!”
And, while we’re talking about music – nothing to do with chant or modes, but still cool: