Monday, November 19, 2012

The Sarum Psalm Tones in Square Notes

I captured these images from "The Canticles at Evensong, Together with the Office Responses and a Table of Psalm-Tones", by Canon Winfred Douglas.  There are some differences between the Sarum tones and the Psalm tones from the Liber Usualis - but I'm not sure what they are yet, exactly.

I wanted to have them posted here, though, and then I can go through them and look.  So, here are those images:

On a related note:  I recently picked up a copy of "The Monastic Diurnal Revised" - the book used currently by the Community of St. Mary, and the original of which Canon Douglas put together for the Community.


Unknown said...


I've been hoping to contact you for some advice on using the Monastic Diurnal Revised. Commenting on this post seemed like as good a way as any since you don't have contact info on your blog.

I'm a little confused by the abbreviated way the psalm tones appear in the psalter for ordinary time, often there are only three or four notes and I have a hard time figuring out whats missing and what I have to assume in order to sing them. Do you know of a tutorial on using this system? I read the preface to the MDR but it still wasn't clear to me.

Thanks for your help, I've read your blog off and on for a year and its really inspiring.

Ian Warlick

bls said...

Hi Ian:

Thanks for coming by. The system is actually really easy - although it's definitely cryptic!

If you have the book in front of you, can you turn to page 163, and the antiphon at the top of the page? Do you see the notation on the right-hand side? It says "viij 1" and then, just as you say, it supplies five notes there?

Believe it or not, "viij" is referring to the 8th tone; I once asked "Why the 'j'" - and nobody really knows. It's an old monastic system for roman numerals, apparently; perhaps when you see the "j" you know for sure which tone? It's used in other cases, too; i.e. "iij" instead of "iii" for Tone 3.

The notes given there just signifty which ending is to be used. So, that notation there is referring to "Tone 8" - and those few notes are the ending for this particular antiphon/Psalm. I don't find this ending among any of my Psalm tone listings, so perhaps it's one native to the Community.

Does this help? If not, let me know and we can talk some more about it. You're right, I should put up a contact email, and I'll do that shortly....

bls said...

(Wikipedia to the rescue! I just looked up the letter "j" there and found this:

The letter 'J' originated as a swash character, used for the letter 'i' at the end of Roman numerals when following another 'i', as in 'xxiij' instead of 'xxiii' for the Roman numeral representing 23.

Who knew? So it was a typographical flourish, then carried into typography that didn't use the flourish at all....)

Unknown said...


Knowing that the notation is just showing the ending is a huge help! Thanks so much for the quick response. I was struggling to figure out where the mediant tones where and it just wasn't working.

Until I get more used to this system i'll have to get myself a reference sheet to know the tones, thankfully you've got them right here on the chantblog so I think I'm all set for now.

Thanks again!

bls said...

Oh, good - I'm glad that was the answer you were looking for.

"viij 1" is actually saying: use Tone 8, ending 1 - but, once again, I don't find that particular ending in the 8th tone anywhere. But, these endings do vary - even, I think, among monastic houses - so I'm not too surprised to see it.

At least they write out the notes so you have them there. When I was first learning the chant, I did it all by ear; I live nearby a couple of religious orders and went to Lauds and Vespers fairly often. But I never thought to connect that notation to what I was singing. Finally I asked somebody what it all meant - but by that time, I was so used to singing by ear that I hardly ever looked at it anyway.


bls said...

Here, by the way, you can get an image of the tones all on one page, from the Liber Usualis. I've been meaning to see what differences there are in the tones between the Roman Catholic and the Sarum, but haven't yet gotten around to it - so there may be stuff that isn't the same as what you might want to use. But, I suspect it will be pretty close.

bls said...

Actually, it is indeed the standard ending 1! The notation includes the reciting tone as the first note of the ending, which isn't how it's usually done.

I didn't recognize it because of that - but actually I'm glad to realize this! It would definitely be a little surprising for CSM to use something apparently very non-standard....

Unknown said...

I've only learned chant from the notation, so I've no idea whether what I'm singing is what its supposed to sound like!
Thanks for the page from the Liber Usualis, very neat and clean to have that in one page. I might tuck it in the MDR until I get the tones committed to memory. Glad my question was able to inspire you to do some other digging!


bls said...

Don't forget I've put up audio files for each of the tones here. You can get them all on one page here. You won't be able to hear all the endings - just the one on the file.

That's exactly why I did it, in fact - so people could learn by ear.

You might want to check out the Lutheran Liturgical Prayer Brotherhood's Psalmody page; they have lots of audio files there, and a pretty complete "how-to" section. I find it much easier to learn by listening and singing, myself - but I know others have a different learning style.

And there is at least one Catholic Benedictine site that provides audio for many of the endings. These both might be a bit different from the Sarum, too, though - but still close, I'm sure.

Anyway: Good luck! Thanks very much for reading and commenting.

bls said...

Oops - here's the link to Psalm tones on this blog. Just scroll down to find a separate post about each tone.


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