Rivers of Sacred Sound traces the flow of influences from East to West, from
BC to AD and from wordless jubilations to the setting of texts. It takes the
discussion about western chant beyond a European perspective.
The text of this book, preceded by an introduction, is presented in seven
chapters and covers a period of approximately five thousand years. There are
many references all over the world to praising the divine with sound. Thus
the starting point is the praise song, a fundamental impulse in mankind. The
Rg-Veda requests that our loudest-sounding hymn be accepted, as food most
delightful to the Gods. The Psalms request us to make a joyful noise unto God
and to sing forth the honour of His name. Spontaneous songs became ritual
events. In an aural culture what was the role of gesture and what is its role
now? There are many doors to open in pursuing these and other questions.
This book opens some of them.
Chapter 6. Rhythm in Chant
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Rhythm in Chant
‘Rhythm in Gregorian chant is a much debated question that generates, as a rule, more heat than light’.1 But the element of time and its materialization is more closely connected with music than with other art forms. Temporal rhythms of one duration or another are integral to the soul’s embodiment and music reflects this and articulates this by the ways in which it landscapes the element of time. As one writer on the subject has pointed out, it is not so much a question of acquiring rhythm in plain chant but of acknowledging and working with a rhythm which is already there.2
Time manifests in chant and in music as pattern and where there is pattern there is measure in some form, an idea which is explored, to some extent, in connection with alaṅkāras and neumes.3 There are those who say that the element of rhythm within Gregorian chant is determined by the text, by the rhythm of the words, and that the melody is to serve the purpose of the text. But it has been explained already that the essence of the melodic aspect of chant is more ancient than the texts which have been subsequently used. An important aim of Western chant is to bring about a feeling of peace and tranquillity through a particular use of melody and rhythm. Even at those times when the role of chant is to...
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