For the last few days the Chant CD has been playing on my laptop. This compilation from 1994 includes original recordings from 1973 and the early 1980s. It features the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos of Spain.
The sacred sounds fill my space and my heart. Though I understand not a single word of the Latin text, it is reverential, awe-inspiring, and holy.
So naturally I wanted to share this with you, dear reader, especially during the holiest week for Christians. There are just a few, slight problems with my good intentions.
First, I’m not Catholic so much of the history and significance of monasteries, monks, and cloisters is beyond me. David Foil tells us on the CD liner these are hymns of praise from the Divine Liturgy. ?Seven times a day, every day of the year, as their brothers in faith have for over 1,500 years, the monks of Santo Domingo de Silos sing the sublime music of an assured and serene spirit?Gregorian chant.?
Is this still true in 2010? At least one website I checked for more up-to-date information says ?. . . to say the quality of the singing at the Saturday morning mass we attended was ordinary, would be flattering. Maybe the A choir was touring?there was certainly no evidence of them here.? I don’t know about you but I hate having illusions dashed. I could have done without hearing that. Much of the centuries-old monastery and cloister are unavailable for public viewing. Web photos are the nearest most of us may ever get to seeing the breathtaking work of sculptors on the cloister columns.
Second, I can’t sing to save my life. In fact, my singing could probably get me killed. I can enjoy and appreciate music?at a more superficial level than a connoisseur obviously?but I don’t remotely understand the ?how? of its creation. The CD liner describes the music itself as ?made of a single melodic line, sung in unison and free of rhythm.? Huh? I understand the concept of a cappella singing (because of The Nylons), but this? Digging deeper into the web to find something even I could understand was hopeless.
Then finally it hit me. I don’t need to travel to Spain to see the monastery with my own eyes and hear the (maybe disappointing) chanting of the monks. I don’t need to spend days or years researching the history of the Catholic Church and monastic life. I don’t need to learn about modes or metre or neumes (notes sung on a single syllable). How about simply hitting play and letting the soaring sounds fill my soul? Countless times a day you and I use and exploit things we don’t understand. My favourite example is a fax machine. don’t have a clue how it works; nor do I care. The same applies to the Internet, radio and TV waves, electricity, how they get the filling in a Caramilk bar, and millions more such quandaries.
Leave the ?how? to the scientists and just revel in the ?what? is my best advice, from where I sit.