Pray Tell Live – NPM 2015: Panel Discussion on English Chant

3:30–4:30 pm EDT
On English Chant
– J. Michael Thompson
– Audrey Seah
– Caleb Wenzel
– Horst Buchholz
– Timothy Dusenbury
moderated by Anthony Ruff, OSB

Download (PDF, 423KB)



  1. Congratulations to NPM/Fr. AWR. The discussion seemed almost a break-through moment with JMT, Horst and father’s protégés. I quietly LOL’d when AWR looked at the camera and asked “Are you chant geeks still watching?”
    A couple of observations:
    Things that got duly covered: designation of “who sings what;” the advancing of the notion that the congregation, despite a legalistic interpretation of post-conciliar legislation, ought to be afforded access not only to chant Ordinaries, but the processionals as well; Horst’s caution about whether such FCAP of chanting a processional is at odds with the “other” FACP, actual visualization; the inherent issues of the integrity of text, chant and ritual that JMT emphasized not be congruent with translation of English to melodies that evolved due to the linguistic nature of Latin (or other traditions;) the issue of a presumed necessity to be faithful to the original melody, versus the Bartlett SEP and other such innovations; the shout out by AWR to Adam B. was appreciated, though there’s a sort of revisionist preference that he seems to even admit that his antiphons in Lumen Christi are superior to those in SEP; whether it’s a logical step upwards from SEP to Weber, or a step sideways to Kelly, or, IMO, perhaps a step backward to Ainslee based upon whether the tonal use of pentatonicism has gotten hackneyed and overused in many post-conciliar genres, notably the “Celtic” (faux?) style; the admission that the Grad.Simplex is one of those “like kissing your sister” compromises; the mention of Bruce Ford’s scrupulous interpretation in the AG (however, where was Paul and BFW, especially as there is a pending 2nd edition?;
    What was missing: melismatic usage is for lections, the gradual/tracts/alleluia verses as an “aural” contemplation of the readings.
    That was a worthwhile watch. I hope there were a number of CMAA adherents that took this in, or soon will.

  2. Thank you for this. It was very informative and interesting. As a “chant geek”, it was great to have all these styles of English plain chant compared and discussed. Kudos to “Pray Tell”!

  3. Thanks to this video, I feel somewhat more optimistic about the future of western liturgical music.

  4. Wonderful panel, expert moderator, discussing beautiful material in a well structured format. What else is there to say?

    Is everyone else experiencing hiccups in the video? Is that a defect of the livestreaming?

  5. Thank you. I found this discussion and demonstration very interesting and enlightening.

    After hearing the various examples of English chant being composed today, I’m inclined towards favoring an English chant much more melodic than what I heard. Much work is required to meet the challenge of creating a chant for a richly monosyllabic language that doesn’t deteriorate into something sounding tedious and predictable.

    1. @Brian Palmer:
      I might add there was a time I thought Gregorian chant and English were a good fit, but with my untrained layman’s ear ,and after listening to the discussants, I’m beginning to have second thoughts.

      1. @Brian Palmer:

        One thing the panel agreed on was that taking the Gregorian melodies for the mass propers and stuffing English into them does not sound good, and it is a betrayal to both the old music and the new words. Vernacular Chant done well though, (which I would not call “Gregorian”) is wonderful, and there have been enormous strides made in the last decade or so, as the Graduale propers enjoy wider use.

        Listen to the Simple English Propers and ask for their use in your parish… They are beautiful, and the chanted psalms are easy to pick up. Their use adds a dimension to the mass that most people never knew could exist.

        Adam Bartlett, as the panelists in this video all agree, has done a wonderful job. And they are free! It is easy to print guides for the people, (or to project them on THE SCREENS) and the four line notation is insanely easy to read!

  6. It was a privilege to be part of this panel. I would like to suggest that there was no “consensus” that putting English texts to the traditional Gregorian melodies “is a betrayal of the old music and the new words.” That oversimplifies what was discussed.

  7. An interesting discussion, but I disagree with a number of things.

    1. I pray that we are NOT going to be restricted to ICEL’s translations for the SUNG Propers. ICEL’s work is intended for the spoken English. There are other translations out there, many of which have been “authorized” by the Church past. Not to mention that the Anglican Ordinariate is now a permanent part of the Western Church, and they ARE allowed to use more elegant translations.
    2. Melismas are melismas – don’t mess with them. This includes the Psalm Tones – no dividing melismas or adding notes. Ever.
    3. Stop worrying so much about accents. Chant must flow. The ictus marks are just to show you where the duple/triple changes occur.

    1. @Steve Collins:
      Thanks for your comments but I have another perspective on some things.
      1. In the U.S., according to the bishops’ Sing to the Lord, composers may set the proper antiphons in the missal (translated by ICEL) or another translation of the propers in the Graduale. This is a modification of the statements right after the Council that missal antiphons were only for speaking – they also may be sung.
      2. It is interesting to note that in the “Golden Age” of chant, the mss show that they did alter melisma and note groups to fit the Latin text. An example from Cardine (thanks for the ref, Adam Bartlett) is SG 381 p. 80, where the final cadence in Mode 5 of the text “Dominus spes mea est” has a clivis (for DB) on “spes” because it’s a one-word accent, instead of singing “Dominus” to CCD and just B on “spes.” (Either way, “mea est” has CAA.) They valued the text and were not at all fundamentalist about the musical formulas.
      3. I agree – chant must flow!

  8. Sorry, I meant my comment to revolve around the word “stuffing”. As in forcing too many clothes into a suitcase…

    The panel seemed to all agree that, in the ongoing process of setting Vernacular Propers to melody, if a composer is going to do it, they have loads of options. Father Ruff picked a great cross-section of examples to discuss, some better than others, some notations better for certain circumstances, etc. By saying “stuffing” betrays both the new words and the old music, I summarized what I saw as a bit of consensus on the topic from each of the participants. I hope you don’t take offense to that characterization. I didn’t think I was putting words in anyone’s mouth. They weren’t your words, just my one-sentence summary. I’m totally not the expert here; your discussion was far more nuanced than that, obviously. A Platinum star for Fr. Ruff for spending an hour on that subject! It was a beautiful nerd-athon.

    … And when is someone going to release a collection with chord symbols over 4 line notation for the guitarists and keyboardists?

    1. @Agman Austerhauser:

      … And when is someone going to release a collection with chord symbols over 4 line notation for the guitarists and keyboardists?

      I’ve given quite a bit of thought to this, Agman, and the SEP would most likely be the easiest to assign chords to the neumes. We use a number of different sources for the processionals (fall we go into Offertorios!) but Adam’s motifs can be set simplistically and/or with more compounded chords. I think though that in addition to Lead Sheet symbols, ie. Em7, one ought to also provide Roman numeral assignments such as “vi7” and perhaps even capo options because if the arranger uses “F” literally for a final that is “fa,” the tessitura might not be a one size fits all issue. I’m giving it some consideration.

  9. Wonderful, Charles.

    I know in some parishes, the SEP get the cold shoulder treatment from a few musicians because they feel excluded by it… there is no reason why a tastefully played guitar can’t be used with them… It would really sound great, I think, and we can’t expect amateur guitarists to write their own chords to it…… I agree totally with you that having the letters and numerals, and capo instructions would be a good project.

    It’s funny how many times we sing “on a ten stringed lyre” in the propers, and yet some people still rail against guitars in mass! It all has to do with the material, I suppose. We’re not going to play the SEPs like “Layla”… but well written instructions are needed to get people started!

    1. @Agman Austerhauser:
      I’ll have to check with Adam, provide him with some examples. I’ve done some chant/guitar videos posted on YouTube under tccovmusicministry. But I think Adam won’t kibosh the idea, he gave me shout in the SEP preface and, of course, he was once Matt Maher’s lead guitarist!

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