Friday, January 1, 2010

Seraphic hymn

I worked on the following track on new year's afternoon:

This is an attempt to render a musical setting for the Eucharistic Prayer (the "canon of the mass" if Roman, the "anaphora," if Eastern), in this case, prayer "B" of the current American Prayer Book.

(For those not familiar with the Eucharistic Prayer: it is the oldest and most unique Christian prayer. It is the prayer at the Christian liturgy whereby the congregation, through the voice of the presider, offers themselves sacrificially in the sacramental elements of bread and wine, and whereby Christians believe that the sacramental elements are made the body and blood of Christ.)

It is my first attempt at full-fledged sacred music. Here is what I was trying to achieve:
  • Something simple enough (even "minimalist," even "sacred minimalist") that a real congregation could memorize it and do it from "folk-memory," without need for written music or even words if they come to the Divine Service frequently enough
  • Something that allowed the clear word of the prayer to be heard and shared in by all while also, in a quasi-Eastern style, having over-lapping voices simultaneously singing, a kind of music of the spheres where the harmony is so simple that the words are not obscured but enhanced
  • Even though going quasi-Eastern, I wanted it to sound like Western chant and not simply be an Eastern-envy kind of thing
That said, the track is just a sketch. All the voices are mine, multitracked. I recorded it on my lap top with its own internal microphone, so, nothing fancy. I sing both sides of the opening dialogue (I had no one with me to be the "congregation"). The "ah" that I sing is really supposed to indicate a "drone-tone" hummed, closed-mouthed, by the entire congregation. The entire "congregation" then joins together in singing the Sanctus et Benedictus.

After the Sanctus et Benedictus, the other voice that enters would be the deacon (or, if the deacon can't chant, a cantor), in a single voice, continuing to chant the main tenor melody line of "holy, holy, holy," over and over again until the memorial acclamation. All join in singing the memorial acclamation (in the case of prayer B "We remember his death, we proclaim his resurrection; and we await his coming in glory"). After the memorial acclamation, the deacon then chants, to the same melody, "maranatha," aramaic for "come, Lord."

At the doxology, the deacon then simply joins the congregation in the drone-tone. Then the entire congregation sings the Great Amen in a three-fold form.

It is all my own voice, of course, so my voice cracks. I make noises as I move around. I don't have an Altar-Book with me, so I don't have the written music version of the chant. So the priestly chant is actually done from my own "folk-memory," and, for those of you familiar with it, you will notice where I goof up. I also chant the part of the prayer after the preface and up to the doxology to a simple collect tone.

I decided not to try to make it perfect, but to leave these mistakes in, in order to allow it to show how a real, living congregation might actually enact such a prayer, rather than trying to make it sound like some perfect, studio choir with no blood in its veins.

A brief aside: a question for Logic users: as I continued to add more vocal tracks, I started getting some real latency issues: even when other tracks were off, not monitored, and when there were no audio regions on those tracks. (You will notice that this causes me to chant more slowly towards the end: I keep hearing myself delayed in the headphones, and this slows down my chanting -- which should be fast and vivacious.) By the time I got to the Great Amen, I was also getting lots of glitchy artifacts. But when I bounced it, they seemed to disappear, more or less. What was going on? What could I have done to have prevented that? I would like to be able to do more of these kinds of liturgical sketches in the future.

Finally: what do you all think? Have I achieved my goals? Is it too ______? I invite constructive criticism and comments. My hope, as always, is that this can be a real meditation, and something working towards a truly minimalist and contemplative liturgical act.

Thanks for the encouragement. Peace