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$8,205 pledged of $17,490 goal
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By Aaron Harburg
$8,205 pledged of $17,490 goal
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About this project

What is the goal?

Our goal is to produce a chant album that is beautiful. Stunning. Transcendent. 

Wassim and company have incredible talent. He has been regarded by leading chant experts as top in his field. His interpretation of these ancient pieces is absolutely captivating and unforgettable. 

We attempted to do this project last year without any real funding. Needless to say, it didn't work as well as we had hoped. Nevertheless, below are some samples of the chants we did record, which, in spite of the flaws, are quite arresting.

Ubi Caritas (used in the video). There is a noticeable pitch shift in the drone or "ison" from being pieced together from several takes. Text: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ubi_caritas

Ave Maria Stella. There is quite a bit of background noise. Text: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ave_Maris_Stella

One reason why this project is unique among existing chant albums is that showcases all 8 Gregorian chant modes consecutively (learn more below). This is intended to help musicians and chant enthusiasts learn how to distinguish the modes. As far as we know, this kind of album has never been done before. The chants we have selected are:

  • Ave Marie Stella - Mode 1 
  • Virgo Dei Genitrix - Mode 2
  • O Quam Glorifica - Mode 2 [Ancient Form]
  • Pange Lingua - Mode 3 
  • Alleluia, Veni Domini (4th Sunday of Lent) - Mode 3 [Ancient Form]
  • Creator Alma Siderum - Mode 4 
  • Adoro Te Devote - Mode 5 
  • Ubi Caritas - Mode 6 
  • Lauda Sion - Mode 7 
  • Ad Regias Agni Dapes (Vespers hymn on Low Sunday) - Mode 8

Why chant?

Gregorian chant is mesmerizing. It has ethereal qualities that lift the mind from the burdens of everyday life. This has even been corroborated by studies of how it can reduce stress. ( http://tinyurl.com/mbhg9dg

Gregorian chant is the root of Western music notation. This project seeks to give people a better understanding of how Gregorian chant might have sounded at one time in history.

Regardless of one's religious affiliation, this makes for some incredible music.

For Roman Catholics in particular, the Vatican II document "Sacrosanctum Concilium" states: "The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services." (par.116 http://tinyurl.com/ay8y). 

In "Tra le Sollecitudini," Pope Pius X called Gregorian chant "the Chant proper to the Roman Church, the only chant she has inherited from the ancient fathers, which she has jealously guarded for centuries in her liturgical codices, which she directly proposes to the faithful as her own, which she prescribes exclusively for some parts of the liturgy, and which the most recent studies have so happily restored to their integrity and purity." (par.3 http://tinyurl.com/cqftuz8)

Who is involved? 

Wassim Sarweh is the real talent directing the operation. Wassim has years of experience directing music and singing chant, and has been lauded by some of the greatest living chant experts. His vocal range and musical capacities are exceptional. He has given workshops throughout North America, and earlier this summer was a major presenter at the Church Music Association of America's 23rd annual Sacred Music Colloquium. Wassim also takes inspiration from Ensemble Organum and Chanticleer, especially from their relentless focus on scholarship and aesthetic excellence. 

The rest of the crew have all worked with Wassim before. The producer, Aaron Harburg, has almost ten years of experience in multimedia production. Vocals will be provided by Chris Sayers, Mary Grivas, Glenn Miller, and Jackie Robitaille, Detroit and Windsor-based musicians who between them have decades of experience as members of professional sacred music choral ensembles. Todd Sager, who since 1995 has recorded and mastered both live and closed-session choral and organ performances, encompassing over 100 projects for a variety of different labels, and who recorded the samples above, will again be the recording engineer.

Where did this idea come from?

Almost two years ago, chant enthusiast Aaron Harburg joined his friend Wassim in teaching a chant workshop just outside Detroit, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Wassim and Aaron's passion for the beauty and tradition of chant proved to be contagious, drawing a crowd of close to a hundred people. That was when the idea of doing an album was first seriously considered.

Last summer, Wassim gathered together his creative energy and a few professional musicians from the Detroit and Windsor areas to try and record an album. These musicians consisted of Chris, Mary, and Glenn of the aforementioned professional musicians, along with Todd, our recording engineer.

Unfortunately, the team ran into numerous complications and roadblocks, and lacked the resources to overcome them. The musicians and crew found themselves in a beautiful church in Windsor—in 100 degree weather. With no air conditioning or proper ventilation. The church was too close to the highway, which interfered with the sound quality of the recording. Thanks to Wassim’s innovation and the talent of the musicians, the recording is decent. However, under these conditions, the end result it was not up to professional standards, and we do not want to settle for anything less.

What is the plan?

We now have a new, very quiet, and historic location for our great crew to record the album. However, it’s not cheap and we’re not wealthy. The album will be recorded in multiple sessions with exclusive access to St. Albertus Church in heart of Detroit. This time, we plan to institute the use of meters to maintain precise continuity of pitch across multiple recording sessions. With the appropriate funding, we can truly make this album one of a kind.

St. Albertus, Detroit
St. Albertus, Detroit

Why is this chant not monophonic?  

Chant has evolved over the centuries. Today no one is entirely certain what chant may have sounded like in the High Middle Ages. Under most circumstances, chant is monophonic, a melody sung in unison. This project is an interpretation of how Gregorian chant may have sounded at one point in history. 

Some of the polyphonic elements also help to accentuate the differences between the modes, especially that constant background note, called a “drone” or “ison.” The ison adds a richness to the chant and helps the primary cantor to stay on pitch.


What are modes?

In modern Western music, there is a notion of "keys," which are sets of scales based on absolute pitches. For example, A440 is a specific pitch, a mathematically determined frequency, that is the basis for "A" in modern instruments. A mode, on the other hand, is more like a scale. It isn't based so much on an absolute pitch as the relationship between the notes. All major and minor scales follow the same interval sequence, and only change based on the first note of the scale. So C major and D major both have the sequence: T-T-s-T-T-T-s where T stands for "tone" or whole note and s stands for "semi-tone". A whole note is comprised of two semi-tones.

To a degree, these ancient modes overlap with the modern scales. Each mode represents a certain mood. When Gregorian chant was being written, these modes would be used to express the various moods of the psalms that were being sung. Because the modes aren't fixed, it was easy to transpose the chant based on where the cantor started singing, without having to rewrite the chant notation. 

The 8 modes are:

  • Dorian
  • Hypodorian
  • Phrygian
  • Hypophrygian
  • Lydian
  • Hypolidian
  • Mixolydian
  • Hypomixolydian 

Here's the mini-poster to help learn them:

Chant modes mini-poster
Chant modes mini-poster

Feel free to ask questions!

Risks and challenges

The biggest challenge to this project is scheduling, since all of the musicians have other jobs. It will not be recorded consecutively, so there might be complications with setting up the microphones properly to create continuity with the audio.

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Funding period

- (35 days)