I want to continue, in this part (if you've just found this series, start at Part I, to be found n the righthand side bar) to say something about singing the Office, and I'm going to do this by working through the various types of chant you will find in the Office.
I can't, of course, in one part, teach you how to sing the office. But I can give you some pointers to resources to help you, and provide a bit of a guide through as you attempt to work it out for yourself. The key text is of course the Antiphonale Monasticum, a page of which (for Sunday Vespers) is pictured above - click on the picture to see a larger version of it.
How music reflects the solemnity of the Office
One of the reasons it is important to tackle the music of the Office is that music is used, amongst other things, to indicate the degree of solemnity of the particular hour and day. For example:
- for many basic chants, such as the introductory 'Deus in adjutorium' there are different versions to use at the little hours (the simple tone), and a 'solemn tone' to use at Lauds and Vespers;
- the tone for standard hymns (at the minor hours) can differ between Sundays and weekdays, for different classes of feasts, and in particular seasons and feasts; and
- there are lots of beautiful settings of the concluding 'Benedicamus Domino...Deo Gratias' that vary depending on the type and level of feast, hour and season.
I said in the last part that it is always an option to sing everything on one note - called recto tono. My suggestion is to stat by doing just that - it will get you singing the Latin aloud and getting familiar with how it sounds. And that will help you immensely when you come to sing to the proper tones.
There are basically two methods of singing the psalms. The first is to follow speech rhythm, lengthening the accented syllables of the words (either the first syllable or the one marked). The second is to make all syllables the same length, slightly lengthening the last two syllables of each half of the verse. The first method allows you to put more meaning into the text - but the second is a lot simpler and particularly useful in keeping together large groups of singers, so is often used in monasteries.
Build up gradually
My second suggestion is, build up gradually. Pick a little section to add each week. There are many variants to the Office chants - ignore these at first and stick to it until you know it really well without worrying to much about whether it is the correct tone for the day or season at first. Then, once you are comfortable with it, add the next variant or element to your repertoire.
And start with the simpler types of chant in the Office. The main types of chant in the Office, in increasing degree of elaborateness, are:
- the common tones used for things like the Deus in adjutorium.., versicles and so forth, which often aren't much more than a few variations on one note. They generally come in two or more variants, a simple tone for the little hours, and a solemn tone for Lauds and Vespers;
- the set patterns - called psalm tones - used for the psalms and canticles. I'll say more about these below;
- the antiphons, which are typically very short, and often use the same tunes or phrases over and over, but can be quite elaborate;
- the hymns;
- more elaborate chants, often for feasts, such as the 'prolix responsories' that are an option for First Vespers of major feasts.
The Liber Usualis and Roman Office chant books
One way of starting off is to start off by working from the Liber Usualis, which contains most of the chants for the Mass, and a lot of the chants for the (Roman) Office, particularly the common tones. It is available online, contains instructions on how to sing the psalms, and is rather easier to follow in places to the Antiphonale, so a good place to begin. As well as setting out most of the chants for the (Roman) Sunday day Office (which is very similar to the Benedictine, but remember to skip the extra psalm!), as well as the antiphons for most major feasts, the Liber also has the proper antiphon for the Magnificat in with the Mass propers for each week (though for the Roman Office, they are normally pretty much the same as the Benedictine ones).
There are some minor differences in the chants between the Roman Office and the Benedictine - but a lot of them, I suspect, reflect nothing other than the state of the monastery of Solesmes' views at the date the various books were published (in general, Benedictine chant is the source for Roman chant!). In any case, if you start off by working from the Liber, you can always correct to the Monastic version once you feel more confident of the chant and have acquired the Monastic Antiphonary.
I won't attempt to give page references, you really need to sit down and look through the section starting 'The Ordinary Chants of the Office', and looking through the Offices provided for Sunday for yourself. Be careful though - though the chant tones are often the same, or differ only in minor ways, the Offices themselves are do have significant differences, so watch out for those as you work your way through it.
The psalms and antiphons
The psalms are of course the core of the Office. Essentially, the psalms are normally sung to one of eight set patterns. Which pattern or 'psalm tone' is to be used depends on the antiphon. If you look at the page from the Antiphonale above, for example, you will see it says 'VIIc2' on the line above the antiphon. The VII means psalm tone 7, and the 'c2' refers to the particular ending to be used (there is usually a choice of several) in this case. And in fact if you look down three lines of chants you will see a few notes with 'euouae' underneath them - this is the abbreviation for 'Et in saecula saeculorum. Amen', and shows you how those words fits against ending c2 in case you have forgotten which one it is!
A useful resource to get a flavour of the various psalm tones can be found in the sidebar of the chant blog. The examples given on the MP3s are, I think, all in English, but it will still give you the basic idea. Note that there are some minor variants in the ending labels etc between the Antiphonale and the Liber, plus a few extra purely monastic psalm tones, so if you switch from one to the other, watch out for these!
In order to sing using the psalm tones of course you need to know which tone to use (which tees off the antiphon) and then when to change from the reciting note to the midpoint and ending patterns in the verse. The Liber uses italics and bolding to 'point' the psalms to tell you when to change note so is a very useful resource. It points most of the psalms for Sunday Vespers, and a few others - you will find a lot more of the ones needed for the monastic office in the book I noted yesterday for Vespers and Compline (and the publication details can also be found by following the link in the sidebar under Office books available via Amazon - although 'available' might be too strong a word in reality - as they are mostly out of print, you will probably need to search out other sources for them!).
In terms of learning the psalm tones, I would strongly suggest learning them one at a time, then adding relevant psalms (or perhaps the Magnificat on Sunday in the simple tone version) in that tone into your Office. Start with the easiest, tone 8, then 5, then 2. Tones 3, 4 and 7 are the hardest.