Saturday, April 22, 2006


Singing the Psalms by the Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault

Today I was listening to a cassette series by Anglican priest, the Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault (pronounced, I believe, "boor-go"), titled Singing the Psalms. I ran across an interesting comment on how chanting the psalter informes our worship.

Bourgeault notes that chant requires four things--and these same four things make a big difference in our daily worship. They are: breath, tone, intentionality, and community.

First "breath": The Desert Fathers and Mothers talked of our lives and our chanting as being "the very breath of God." And of course many religious traditions, not only Christianity, reflect on the importance of breath control. "Chanting the psalter is like Christian yoga," she said. Every breath we take is a gift from God. The comments continue at some length. And naturally, a singer must have breath to sing.

"Tone," of course, is central to all singing. It is also central to life. The universe, after all, began with "the Word," or with a vibration of energy in space/time. There are many senses for the word "harmony," and all of them are important for Christian living.

"Intentionality," in Bourgeault's use of it, means that you can't sing well using only your lips. You have to sing "from your center," using your lungs and the strength of your whole body. You have to sing certain phrases "like you really mean them" or the chant is just flat and empty. In other words, the energy the singer brings to the chant is central to its success. The same is true of our journey with the Lord.

And finally "community": A singer of chant is always happier in choir rather than in solo performance. She said that in singing together we must make adjustments all the time, every day--24/7--in order to remain in harmony. In choir, it is much more important to be in harmony with the other singers than to be on absolute pitch.

Just a few thoughts here. Comments? Unfortunately, I think this series is out of print. Some copies are available, used, through the second-hand book dealers listed at Amazon.

Best wishes,
Mason Smith


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