Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song
Chant “back then”
Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of traveling to the city of Barga located in the northern part of Italy. As part of that travel, our chant schola chanted the midday office and compline in a church which was constructed and then added to over the course of several centuries. Towering above us in this church was a 12th century wooden statue of St. Christopher, still bearing its own wounds from centuries of war and unrest made visible in the arrowheads still in its torso.
As we chanted, I was struck by the thought that when that statue and that church were new, it is quite likely that chants we were praying were also relatively new. We were actually chanting in the surroundings in which these chants first came to life! Listening in this extraordinary building, the acoustic “told us” the tempo to take, allowed us to hear and experience the building of harmonies which hung in the air like incense, and gave us a sense that this chant had been heard in this room many thousands of times. The span of centuries was instantly crossed as we joined our voices with those voices of chant from “back then” – when the voice of the church was much younger and yet full of all the years that it would carry through. It made me realize again that we have the privilege every time we chant, of joining instantly with all of those centuries of prayer.