Thursday, July 27, 2006

Psalm Tones: Tone 3

Below is an image of Tone 3 in the old square-note notation; the main melody is labeled "III," and there are five possible endings (labeled "b," "a," "a2," "g," and "g2") to the main melody of the chant.     (Keep in mind that chant notation can be difficult to read if you're not used to it - but picking up the Psalm Tone melodies by ear is actually quite easy.  That's the way I learned, and I recommend it highly.  You'll find an audio file (mp3) of the chant further down the page - and there are links to all the Tones at the bottom of this post.) 

Here's an image of Tone 3, without endings and in modern notation, from the Lutheran Liturgical Prayer Brotherhood Psalmody Page.    The stuff in the parenthesis is the "flex," sung in the first half of the Psalm for a particularly long verse; it's rarely used, so you can safely ignore it for now.  Remember, too, that the "incipit" - the notes in the very first measure - are only used once, when singing the first verse; for all subsequent verses, skip directly to the "reciting tone," which is the first note of the second measure, used until you get to the end of the line.  (The "reciting tone" is the repetitive note in the chant; it's indicated on the score by the dark, heavy doubled note.)  Don't worry too much about endings now, either; you can easily pick that stuff up as you go.

(The notes of the chant melody pictured here - it's Lutheran-style - are slightly different from what's on the audio file linked below.  There are regional and other variations in Psalm-singing.)

Follow along with either notation, while listening to an mp3 of the first 17 verses of Psalm 139 sung to Tone 3 (they are using ending "a" here) by the St. David's Episcopal Church, Austin, Compline Choir.    The mp3 includes an antiphon (text:  "The night shall be as clear as the day; Alleluia") sung before and after the Psalm; don't be confused by the antiphon's melody, which is completely different from that of the Psalm Tone.   Remember:  it's quite easy to pick up these melodies by ear, so don't be discouraged!  Just keep listening and singing.

The translation is from the 1979 U.S. Book of Common Prayer:
Antiphon:  The night shall be as clear as the day; Alleluia

1 LORD, you have searched me out and known me; *
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.

2 You trace my journeys and my resting-places *
and are acquainted with all my ways.

3 Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, *
but you, O LORD, know it altogether.

4 You press upon me behind and before *
and lay your hand upon me.

5 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; *
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.

6 Where can I go then from your Spirit? *
where can I flee from your presence?

7 If I climb up to heaven, you are there; *
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.

8 If I take the wings of the morning *
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

9 Even there your hand will lead me *
and your right hand hold me fast.

10 If I say, "Surely the darkness will cover me, *
and the light around me turn to night,"

11 Darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day; *
darkness and light to you are both alike.

12 For you yourself created my inmost parts; *
you knit me together in my mother's womb.

13 I will thank you because I am marvelously made; *
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.

14 My body was not hidden from you, *
while I was being made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth.

15 Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
all of them were written in your book; *
they were fashioned day by day,
when as yet there was none of them.

16 How deep I find your thoughts, O God! *
how great is the sum of them!

17 If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand; *
to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.

Antiphon:  The night shall be as clear as the day; Alleluia

(Here's an even older look at the square-note notation for Tone 3, courtesy of the Order of St. Benedict;  you can see its five possible endings here, too.  These charts are quite a bit more confusing, though, I think - so look at it later, after you've gotten more of the hang of the thing by singing:

Here is a good, one-page tutorial on chant notation. On the left is the old Gregorian style; on the right is modern musical notation.

In my opinion, one of the most important things to know - and one of the only things you can't figure out on your own without hearing the music - is the "podatus." Here it is, first in Gregorian notation:

As the tutorial says: "When one note is written above another note like this, the bottom note is sung first, and then the note above it." Here's the modern notation:

That one is used over and over again, and many other neume-types are created from it.

I learned to Psalm-sing at a local convent - and I was actually learning chant the way people did, probably, in the monastic communities of the Middle Ages.  That is, by listening to it and then simply beginning to sing.   I can easily now pick up one of these tones and sing the various endings; it's all much easier than you'd think when you're starting out!  Again:  it's much easier to simply start singing than it is to read drawn-out descriptions of how to sing!  Sing along with the mp3, and you'll start getting it very quickly.

Here are Chantblog pages for all the Psalm Tones, with sound files included at each entry:

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