The Flowering of Chant

The Flowering of Chant

In the ninth century, Charlemagne joined various strands of spiritual practice—all having their roots in the ancient church—to help solidify his kingdom. Gregorian chant, as one of these strands, became a unifying force in Christian worship in an empire that included large portions of Western Europe. Although the Holy Roman Empire crumbled after Charlemagne’s death, the form of chant that he promoted continued in practice throughout the West for centuries.

During these centuries, monks made two major contributions to chant. First, they organized the chants into an ancient Greek system of eight modes (we’ll say more about modes in chapter 8). And second, the monks invented a way to write down the notes using elaborate markings called neumes—in some ways they resemble modern shorthand. The neumes represented the shape and the line of a melody.

The earliest chant melodies were simple, much as we would consider a children’s hymn to be simple. When later chants were sung to more fluid and elaborate melodies, they still maintained their purity of form designed primarily to enhance the sound and emphasize the meaning of the words.

Excerpted from The Song of Prayer: A Practical Guide to Learning Gregorian Chant

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