Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Reflection: VOICE ART

Many religious communities pray some or all of the Liturgy of the Hours in common.  There is an art to such “choral prayer,” which focuses on the reading or chanting of the Psalms.

Choral prayer is different from private prayer.  The way one reads the Scriptural text alone in one’s room or elsewhere is quite personal.   Choral prayer disciplines such individuality in an attempt to create a one-voice experience.  Personal interpretations, expressed by individual preferences for pauses or dramatic accentuation in the recitation or chanting, are inappropriate in common prayer.

Communities wisely establish “rules” for their common prayer.  These include common agreements about “pace,” how fast or slow the common recitation or chanting goes.  Focusing on the natural accents of the words themselves can insure a unified flow.   The music accompanist or a designated cantor is usually charged with setting the pace, while being careful not to overpower the group.

Where pauses are to be observed is decided in advance by the community.  Depending on how the text is laid out, that might mean disregarding all punctuation within a line and pausing only at the end of it.  If pausing is preferred at certain punctuations, that must be determined by prior agreement of the group.

In choral prayer, no one voice dominates.  This requires mutual listening, with loud and heavy voices practicing restraint and timid voices increasing their volume.

A community that welcomes visitors to its common prayer needs to have a way to orient them to the prayer.  Visitors unaccustomed to common prayer, and particularly to that of this community, will have the tendency to go their own way, which can seriously disrupt the prayer.   

It goes without saying that a community's choral manner of praying is necessarily a matter of community discussion.  So is practice and periodic evaluation.

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