Birds of a feather! The bird is certainly the big word! Tweet! Tweet! Check this out. Colonel Forbin’s Ascent! Famous Mockingbird! Fikus! Gumbo! Llama! What do all these songs have in common? Birds! The bird is certainly the word. Music started with a bird. It is said that Saint Gregory (Pope Gregory) was befuddled by all of the thousands of different chants that were being sung within the holy Catholic Church. Therefore, he wanted some easy way to write all of these intense chants down in an orderly way. It was the Sixth Century and the organization of music through the language of notation had not yet been invented. Saint Gregory was at a major loss! It’s too bad he never got to see a Phish show. Imagine his gospels if he had witnessed such enigmatic sonic visions as the Phish from Vermont! Actually, scratch that one! Music notation HAD been invented. Unfortunately, for the Godly Pope, he had no clue about it. Leave it to a Catholic to be behind in the times! The Egyptians wrote music on the walls of their tombs. It’s true! There are also ancient Greek tombstones called stele bearing funeral hymns. Leave it to the Greeks to be on top of their shit!
The Egyptian notation looks like hieroglyphs even though they are not. The Greeks wrote little letters over the lines of their poetic pieces. The presumption is that these markings correspond to the various modes of Greek music. Plato goes off about this but never truly explains the connection in detail. Leave it to Plato to be super vague! Gregory had a key problem with organization. He needed to set down music from the oral performance to paper so that it may be archived and referenced. Then, the bird enters! The bird says to Greg that he needs to draw several parallel lines to show how high or low the note is supposed to be and then show where the note is by placing a little black square on the line of the space between the lines.
What happens if the note moves while you are singing the same syllable? Just smear it to where it should end up! Gregory listened to the bird and started developing the idea. At least, that is what people say. What we do know is that Gregory is given credence for inventing what we now know as notation. Leave it to the Catholics to invent shit! The oldest surviving Gregorian chant actually is from a manuscript that came 200 years after his death even though the concept bears his name. Word on the street is that St. Ambrose was collecting chants 150 years prior to Gregory but they were never notated. Most people are convinced that Ambrosian chant was absorbed by the Gregorian style.
The big thing to get from this is that Gregorian chant is the first Western music to be systematically notated and served as the spine of music for thousands of years after the Godly Pope croaked. Have you ever heard Gregorian chant? Uh oh! Houston! We have a fucking problem! Even though it is music notation and even though it is still in use today, it appears that every time a liberal gets all high and mighty, some knuckle head deems that the people demand modern music! The people need stuff they can relate to in modern times! This is the idea! This is the idea that also took us out of the golden age of country music and into the shit show now that we know as modern country music. Blech!
Now check out this steaming pile of shit. He is a lot more American than you!
The chants are shelved and we lose our culture. Bummer dude! The first time this happened, Gregorian chant was just on the loser list long enough for those that were living the oral tradition to die off. Not good! Today, in France, there are monks that keep the traditions alive via the headquarters for Gregorian chant. However, what in the name of all that is good does it sound like?
It’s what we know as monophonic music. This means that only one note is sung at any given time. All those chords that you hear Trey and Page play? Forget about it! There are no chords. Check out those sick harmonies from the Phish show the other night! What about harmony? Gregorian chant does not have any of those either! They don’t even sing an octave apart. What the hell is an octave?!
An octave or a perfect octave is simply an interval between one musical pitch and another with half or double its frequency. This is known within the family of musicians as the basic miracle of music and is a natural phenomenon that connects us to the celestial language and order of things. Musical scales are written normally with eight notes. The interval or space between the first and last note of these eight tones is an octave. If you look at a keyboard you can find the tones CDEFGABC. These eight tones make up the C Major scale. The C at the beginning of this scale and the C at the end are an octave apart. They share the same pitch class. We will dive more into these terms on future episodes of The Philler. Stay tuned!
What does this mean for Gregorian chant? This rule adds up to a very small range for the world of Gregorian chant. There are also no very high or low notes. Anyone that has an average range can bust it out Gregorian style. There is a rhythm but can you hear it? It takes a well trained ear and is very slow.
Friends, isn’t music glorious? You know, all of the music, millions and millions and millions that move us with their motions that fill us with pride and thought. Who have created enourmous trends in philosophy and progress – more than anyone could have ever put into the great combined imaginations of the world. Who have spread love throughout this great marble we call Earth. And most of those that get too fucked up at shows to have little more intelligence than a common slug. This one is for you. We get busy and don’t take no for an answer. You grow the cancer on our scene and are better left at home than within our sacred spaces. Shine on. Grow up. Learn something about your surroundings. Show some self respect. Show some respect to your fellow fan. Clean up. Sober up. No wonder there are so many terrible jokes about the Phish scene. Some of them are so terribly true. The music is grand. The scene? A large embarrassment.
I’ll conclude by asking the reader one question. How is this connected to Phish in any way? Listen to this track that ends Hoist and the person with the best comment in this blog entry below will receive a free poster courtesy of The Sloping Companion. Let’s hear it. What do you think? Leave it to Robert Champion to leave you up in the air! Take care of each other.