The Center for Sacred Art is proud to have offered Gregorian Chant programming for well over a decade. During that period we published two CDs of Gregorian Chant sung by Seattle's Peregrine Medieval Vocal Ensemble. Those recordings are still available. See below for more details!
The Matins service was the most extensive of medieval liturgical forms: lengthy, extravagant, a complete experience—all taking place in the early morning before sunrise. Matins carried forward the tradition of night vigils begun in the early church in recollection of waiting at the tomb through the night before Easter. Monastic liturgical enthusiasm extended the vigil to every night of the year; each service entailed an hour or more of chanting and spiritual readings. For more important feasts (such as the feast of All Saints, which we sing here) the service could go on for hours. With its musical richness and unhurried pace, the chant unfolds gently in the pre-dawn stillness.
In 2003 Peregrine prepared and sang a complete Gregorian chant Matins service for All Saints at our St. Mark’s Cathedral home in Seattle. Bowing to the contingencies of modern life, we started the service at 5am (a bit late), and were delighted to be joined by about 30 stalwart and bundled-up audience members who stuck with us for nearly three hours. We loved the colorful and diverse chant settings so much that making a recording (albeit in abbreviated form!) seemed inevitable.
Our service is a hybrid, drawing on chants traditionally associated with the Feast of All Saints on November 1, but also those from feasts for specific categories of saints (martyrs, virgins, doctors of the church, and so on) celebrated on various occasions throughout the year.
Matins chants are grouped into “nocturnes,” each of which includes a group of chanted Psalms followed by a series of readings and responsory chants. For this recording we have represented the readings, so central to the rhythms of the Matins service, with evocative “tone poem” compositions and improvisations by the wonderful harpist Cheryl Ann Fulton.
This collection of Gregorian chants was assembled for a performance in the Fall of 2002 at Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism in Seattle. Designing that program, in which we would share the monastic tradition with contemplatives of another religious tradition, offered us a special opportunity to explore more deeply the meaning of music designed for meditation, and to identify shared aspirations. Tibetan Buddhism's cherished values of wisdom and compassion became our focus. Our goal was to articulate those values as they are expressed in the Christian tradition and the Gregorian chant repertoire.
In Christianity the icon of compassion is Mary, who made the choice to open herself, taking on the difficulty of birth, the challenges of nurturance, and the heartache of profound loss, so that a higher order of compassion could be available to the world. Divine wisdom (in Greek, "Sophia") is a powerful presence in Eastern Christianity. In the West, the fertile soil of monastic spirituality, out of which Gregorian chant springs, is in its own way a repository of the wisdom of the heart, the wisdom of contemplation.
The fruit of this union between Wisdom and Compassion is selfless love, known in the Christian tradition as Agape or Caritas: a clear-eyed, completely honest sense of the Spirit of Christ, embracing and transforming the humanity in our hearts and in the hearts of all those we encounter. And this love leads in turn to the action of making peace. As in the time of the Psalmist, Jerusalem remains today the most thorny, difficult and vivid image of the challenges of peace ”this ancient city symbolizes both the longing in our own hearts for connection and the sharp hard stones that stand in our way. And so we conclude with chants for the peace of Jerusalem.
Peregrine Medieval Vocal Ensemble
Peregrine Medieval Vocal Ensemble was established in 1993, and has gone through several phases. Initially a medieval vocal music performance group, in the late 90s it shifted its focus to offering vocal sound, often accompanied by harp, as a way to open up a space for prayer and meditation. In addition to providing music for liturgies and contemplative events at St. Mark's (including the New Year's Eve labyrinth walks), Peregrine's has sung liturgical music at Seattle's St. James Cathedral as well as participating in interfaith events and contemplative concerts in a variety of venues.
During the 2000s (when the Peregrine CDs were created) the group was conceived to create music in a meditative and collaborative environment. The mission was captured in this way:
We believe entirely in the process of singing together, feeling our way to the truth of each chant through experimentation, dialog, and listening. As part of cultivating spontaneity in our singing, we explore improvisation in the singing of Psalms. Using medieval church modes, we take turns at rendering the Psalm texts in ways that are colored with our individual understandings and energies. We also make use of both polyphony and harp accompaniment to color and enrich the simplicity of the chant. These experiments carry forward the great medieval music traditions of improvisation and elaboration.
As individuals, we have varied relationships with the texts we sing: our members come from Catholic, Jewish, Episcopal, evangelical Protestant and Congregational backgrounds. This diversity has quite naturally led us to a multifaith orientation. We sing chants within Christian contexts, honoring the teachings and rhythms of that tradition; we also sing for and with contemplatives of other spiritual traditions. With each other, our collaborators, and our audiences, we seek common ground: universals that allow us to hold our own convictions and yet be together in harmonious accord.
In 2014, Joseph Anderson stepped back from the group to pursue a new creative path (see www.josephhealing.com). Peregrine is now focused on providing Gregorian chant service music in Seattle's Catholic and Episcopal cathedrals.
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