Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Chant, Matching Pitch, and Autotune?

The lack of trained singers seems to be a reason for chant propers being eschewed in our liturgies, and even for low masses being the norm even in some Old Rite venues.

Part of the problem, I think, is that intervals are hard, especially in a row, especially when the same visual interval can represent two distinct musical intervals in a scale. Sight-singing is difficult, but realistically we can't necessarily expect people to give more than an hour or two a week at choir practice.

However, it seems to me that with just a little bit of familiarity with the neumes, I found it easy enough to "sing along" with a cantor when I was in a chant schola after just an hour or so of practice before Mass. But I was thinking today, maybe you don't even need a cantor or trained person like that, in a pinch.

I've just done a little experimenting "singing along" to recorded chant pieces in videos that include the written music (for example) and recording myself doing that, just trying to match the pitch simultaneously. The results weren't great the first time around, but the melody was recognizable, and it got better and better as I did it just a few times through (though I still couldn't sight-sing the piece or have it memorized or anything like that).

And I'm sure in a group it would be better as singing in groups always evens things out. While the idea of just playing a recording of chant at Mass is pretty much anathema (the singing must be preformed live; it's real prayer, not just aesthetic ornamentation), would playing it just loud enough for the real choir to hear and sing along with (like an organ to keep pitch, basically) be all that wrong?

And various churches do have sound systems installed, and so I wondered whether some sort of autotune machine in the choir loft (all autotune does in live performance is, basically, correct imperfections by bending the pitch to the nearest semitone) might not help make this sort of thing even more feasible.

I don't know what I'm talking about, as you can probably tell, I have no musical talent or knowledge, which is probably why I'm even suggesting these rather decadent shortcuts in the first place. I'm not saying they're ideal, just that we need to be as shrewd as serpents, and if some of these "cheats" could provide at least tolerable chant propers to a parish with even just a small schola of interested (but untalented) men, when otherwise there would be no chant at all...why not?


Bryan said...

I have been singing chant at Missa Cantatas for some ten years now.

One does need someone who can cant, who can provide the pitch and start off - a pitch-pipe helps - if one is going to try to sing the propers from the Liber Usualis and not psalm-tone.

The key to mellifluous chant is the the singers listen to their own voice and to each other.

There are two styles of chant - there is Cathedral "Sing it loud as an organ" and there is Monastic soft.

For an inexperienced singer and choir the tendency is to raise the volume when things are going wrong - this should be avoided as the congregation will know things are not right but it is hard to avoid.

Each singer, singly softly and trying to sing the sounds consistently with each other should make every effort to ensure he is singing in time with the others, it is irritating and can be heard by the people if Jonny is always a beat ahead of the rest of the choir.

Each singer should ensure that his voice is not heard above or apart from the others - the key word here is melding of the voices - as a group sing together they get to work more and more to sing in a melded style.

The beauty of chanting the Propers is that if it sounds together no-one will know if it is slightly off-pitch or wrong.

To achieve this good results a choir needs to have a cantor who will signal and quieten down those who forget to sing in time and softly.

Trying to achieve this with/as a small group is a very worthy task.

I would not like to see recorded music or auto-tuning machines.

A Sinner said...

Recorded music could never replace chant, but pitch matching to it, even just wearing head-phones, might be a way to practice the melody.

Autotune I see fewer arguments against. Singers at concerts use it. The singing is still real.