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Improvisation and the Passion

One usually associates improvisation with jazz. But chant also holds the potential for improvisation, as the choir of Trinity Church (Episcopal) Wall Street, in New York, showed this past weekend.Their singing of the Passionaccording to Mark (see below)deserves to be widely heard. I know I was drawn into the meaning of the story deeply through their singing of it. The papers the singers are holding contain words only. The music is improvised. Even the choral parts are improvised. The singers'diction is exemplary. The emotional tone of each episode is right on target, without ever becoming exaggerated or false. And they did thisafter one rehearsal. Wow.

About the Author

Rita Ferrone is the author of several books about liturgy, including Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium (Paulist Press).



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Rita --Fascinating. How could the choir improvise? Did they use some sort of chant?I knew Ellis Marsalis, father of two celebrated jazz musicians, and himself a legend among the cognoscenti. He says that improvisation can be taught -- that there are rules (at least in jazz). In fact he taught a course in it at our school.Was the Mass done in some sort of jazz form?

Hi Ann,Thanks for your comment. Coming from New Orleans as you do -- and knowing Ellis Marsalis! -- I see that you *would* appreciate improvisation. No, this was not a jazz service. Rather, classical with chant and hymns. The Rev. Daniel Simons describes such chant (improvised on words with no written score) as the way "early monastics" used to sing (?). Here are his comments: Frankly, I would like to know more about what the model is, and how they prepared. Now that you mention it, it's certainly reasonable to suppose that improvisation has its own rules. And it is quite clear that the singers are playing with the sound within a charted territory.Here is the link to the entire service. (How I wish you could hear it! It's pretty good visually too, however.)

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