The subject line read: “What makes ‘Anglican Chant’ Anglican?” There was nothing in the body of the e-mail. I didn’t recognize the address; I can only presume it comes from one of our readers. I responded to the e-mail directly, of course; but any question worth asking by one is usually a question in the minds of ten, as I’ve heard it said.
Such things are perhaps easier to demonstrate than describe, so for your listening pleasure, the Choir of Westminster Abbey, singing Psalm 138 at Evensong (Sung Evening Prayer) during the Papal Visitation of September 2010:
The translation is from the Coverdale Psalter, which is part of the Book of Common Prayer 1662:
Psalm 138. Confitebor tibi
1. I will give thanks unto thee, O Lord, with my whole heart : even before the gods will I sing praise unto thee.
2. I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy Name, because of thy loving-kindness and truth : for thou hast magnified thy Name and thy word above all things.
3. When I called upon thee, thou heardest me : and enduedst my soul with much strength.
4. All the kings of the earth shall praise thee, O Lord : for they have heard the words of thy mouth.
5. Yea, they shall sing in the ways of the Lord : that great is the glory of the Lord.
6. For though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly : as for the proud, he beholdeth them afar off.
7. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, yet shalt thou refresh me : thou shalt stretch forth thy hand upon the furiousness of mine enemies, and thy right hand shall save me.
8. The lord shall make good his loving-kindness toward me : yea, thy mercy, O Lord, endureth for ever; despise not then the works of thine own hands.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost : as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
In short, harmony and (some) meter, and a history different but not wholly unrelated to that of Gregorian Chant, makes “Anglican Chant” Anglican. That’s the short of it, and we have ample musicological types who can supplement the details if they wish.
I should add — believe it or not — that this complicated-sounding chant is eminently singable, even by congregations with little formal musical training, provided that the pointing of the text is clear.
Of course, Anglicans are capable (some would say ‘must needs be capable’) of poking fun at ourselves, our liturgy and our music. Here are the Master Singers, presenting the “Highway Code”: