Sunday, February 24, 2013

Why Chant?

Today’s 10:45 service was a musical mixed bag. Among other things, the choir sang Herbert Howells supremely beautiful “O Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem.” There were other musical highlights as well. Also, there was Michelle Boomgaard’s chanting at the beginning of the Eucharist.

The Rev. Michelle Boomgaard
It is thoroughly inadequate to say that Michelle’s nervous chanting was bad. It was, in fact, excruciating. It was not only inadequate, but also distracting. It took one’s attention away from the text of the liturgy and surely caused many to think, “When is this agony going to be over?”

Now, I like Michelle. I like her the more I know her, in fact. Moreover, I understand that she practiced diligently for today’s assignment. She was not, however, ready for prime time. Why was she allowed to chant today? Her performance was particularly distressing in comparison with Lou’s chanting, which, as I recently noted, is quite good. That you don’t chant well doesn’t mean you aren’t a good priest or that you shouldn’t be one in the first place. Why was Michelle allowed to embarrass herself?

Why, in fact, do we chant at all at St. Paul’s? I have heard that chanting was developed because it allowed for greater intelligibility in large spaces without the benefit of sound systems. We chant now out of some sense of tradition, I suspect, but we don’t do it regularly. We don’t chant the whole service. If we are going to chant at all, why do it half way? But we are chanting in Lent. Are we doing so because this is a penitential season? If we were less sinful, could we dispense with Michelle’s chanting? Do any parishioners even like chanting, even if well done? I doubt it.

No comments: