The Rules for Creating Chant; Comparing Two Styles

Hailey Blessing’s interest in chant-style singing began last spring while studying in Florence, Italy. Her Summer Fellow’s research is examining two different styles of world chant and hoping to find what acoustical considerations affected compositional rules. “I am looking at  Medieval Roman Catholic plainchant which was created in a manner that allowed the worshippers to understand the words,” she says. “The aim was to teach sections of the liturgy, so it was of the utmost importance that worshippers clearly hear the chant.”

Hailey Blessing

Hailey Blessing explores two styles of chant singing.

Compositional considerations had to ensure that despite being chanted in a large, reverberating space, the words would remain intelligible, says Blessing, who will be a senior in the fall.

A double major in International Relations and Music, Blessing also is studying the throat-singing chant styles of Tibetan Buddhists and Mongolia’s Tuvan throat singers, unique in that multiple pitches are produced by one performer. “This manner of chant is much more common for use in personal meditations than public congregational worship, and is often performed out-of-doors. The performance venue affected how the chant would sound through the acoustics of a room, thus influencing the scales used, as well as the types and durations of notes.”

Part of her work includes looking at the histories of each style and creating a test to perform in different spaces to see how each space reacts to chant-like sounds (different materials absorb or reflect sound). “I found research that hypothesizes that different frequencies can affect brain activity and I am looking further into this. I’m hoping that between the space testing and more historical reading I will be able to reach some conclusive results as to what influenced the rules for creating chant.”

The different attitudes towards music creation have been astounding, Blessing says. “To supplement my project, I delved into the history of each type of chant. A fair bit of Roman Catholic Plainchant’s development appears to have been politically based, which shocked me. I assumed that the music was created for artistic purposes and it’s really baffling to see that politics fueled creation to some extent.”

Blessing hopes to attend graduate school and earn a Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology.